Derek Smith 0:00
Hey everyone, and welcome back to another podcast episode. This is episode number 50. And for number 50, I wanted to do something a little bit different. And so I've invited back guest artists, Angie Montgomery, and Angie is going to be asking me questions for 50 episodes. So if you have ever wondered anything about me or what I do, you're this is it. So Angie, welcome. And thank you for coming in and doing this.
Angee Montgomery 0:35
Hey, Derek, thanks for having me back. I'm really excited to do the table's turned because I'd much rather listen to somebody else's story than tell my own. Plus, I think that yours is gonna be really interesting. So Well, I hope so. Well, so, for starters, I see that you've renamed the podcast, so it's not spotlight on anymore, is it?
Derek Smith 1:03
It's now, it's Mississippi artists, to artists, now. Mississippi artists to artists,
Angee Montgomery 1:08
I like it. And then I also saw that you have a hotline happening.
Derek Smith 1:15
Yeah, call and ask questions. I'm hoping it kicks off. It's one of those things that you know, you throw it out there. And I don't know what's gonna happen with it. So far, you know, we haven't had any callers. But I don't know, you never know. So it's just been the first couple of weeks that we've had that going. And it just reminds me of when I was growing up. And in the 90s, it was a fun thing that you could call into, like TRL, or anything like that, and leaving messages. And I thought that that would be fun. If other artists and art lovers in Mississippi, were able to find out who was coming up. And if they had any questions about their artwork, or lives, they'd be able to call in ahead of time, and leave their message and we would be able to ask it on the podcast.
Angee Montgomery 2:02
I really liked that. I like it a lot. So I didn't call and put in any questions. But I did ask other people around me. And I think that, you know, to start it off, we've all been dying to know Derek. What's your favorite paint color?
Derek Smith 2:19
My favorite paint color. That's really difficult.
Angee Montgomery 2:25
To put it this way, if you were locked inside a room, so you couldn't go outside, you didn't have access to Earth pigments. You're locked inside a room, you can only have one tube of paint, what would it be?
Derek Smith 2:38
Paynes Grey. That's been the only like, I'm not a I'm not a fan of black because I'm not very good at using grey is on this, this really super dark, beautiful blue level. And it just, it matches in with my paintings perfectly. And I'm able to go in and do like wonderful under paintings, and I'm able to take it super thin. And if nobody's are, if you're not familiar with my artwork, I paint in really, really thin layers in acrylic. So it's almost like doing a watercolor, but every layer needs to dry. And you know, and then I'll go over it again. And it's super transparent. And I like the way that the light goes through the entire painting bounces off the canvas and it almost looks like each paintings lit up from inside.
Angee Montgomery 3:32
I thought they were watercolors I saw I thought some of them were watercolors
Derek Smith 3:37
It comes from being cheap, you know, when I was in college, and they give you this huge list of stuff you have to buy to go into all of these painting courses. And, you know, that's $500 worth of art supplies, and I can't afford that every time and the tubes of paint they wanted me to purchase were, you know, 30 or $40 to buy and, and yeah, I've still got some of those tubes because I learned to thin it out and be really cheap. And I guess that's really how my method developed was from from a necessity of having to make things last a lot longer.
Angee Montgomery 4:12
Okay, all right. So paint is great. I love Payne's Gray, that's one of my favorites as well. So, you know, throughout history, our it's been a lot of things like it's been about communication, it's been based around religion, objects as rituals used as therapy. So I'm interested, you know, way back when, how did you develop a relationship with art? Where did it all start for you?
Derek Smith 4:47
Well, art originally came into my life, I think as a way to keep me quiet. We traveled a lot when I was younger, my parents print t shirts, their screen printers and they were really involved In the car show circuit pre 49. So, every weekend, we were traveling to a different location, and they would set up and do their screen printing operations. And I always had paper and pencil, and my parents noticed that I was good at that. And I was quiet when I did that, you know, that kind of became a thing. And then I discovered comic books, in particular, Stan Lee, the second, the second one, and X Men in the 90s. And I loved the way they looked. And I just thought it was the coolest thing ever. So I started, you know, copying his work and eventually learning, you know, figures through that. And fell in love with kind of people. And that's kind of where that's developed from.
Angee Montgomery 5:49
That's really interesting. So, so one of the the next questions I was going to ask you as what what did your art look like when you were an older kid and a teenager? And not only that, but when you showed it to people, what was the response?
Derek Smith 6:05
So when I was a teenager, I and I teach against this now I teach my kids you know, the power of having your own ideas and being proud of what you produce all by yourself. But when I was a teenager, my artwork was all reproductions, it was all copies of comic books, it was little Grateful Dead bears on everybody's bookbag. And, you know, I'm, I really wanted to be liked. And so I would do anybody's artwork on anything, just in order to have a friend. So that was really everything that my art looked like, in the past gonna be in the 90s. Yeah.
Angee Montgomery 6:49
So use art to gain friendships.
Derek Smith 6:52
Yeah, pretty much didn't always work. I was a weird little kid and in a different environment. So it didn't always play out to my advantage. But I learned how useful art can be in that way.
Angee Montgomery 7:09
Right? I think a lot of kids do that. Now. You know, they're all copying their favorite anime characters. And now, you have Anime Comics have moved to TV. So they're all copying their characters on TV. So yeah, I feel like I've been trying to find a way around, but still nurturing they're like, need to do that. So So you copied a lot of reproductions. Did you have any art training when you were younger, or in high school?
Derek Smith 7:46
In high school in late high school, there was a teacher that taught at the public school here, and she started teaching private classes. Her name was Vicki land. And she actually passed away last year. But she, I was I was lucky enough to get into one of her classes. And through junior junior and senior year, she kind of caught me up on everything else. You know, here's painting, here's watercolor, here's actual drawing and pastels and pencils, and you know, all of the stuff that I hadn't been exposed to, and for in these books still exist out there. But there's the draw long books, you know, learn how to draw books, and they show you okay, here's the basic shape. Now, here's the next step. Now, here's the next step. And here's the next step. And if you don't know anything about drawing, or going from step to step to step, it looks foreign, like completely foreign. So I can go in and copy. But I couldn't look at something and structure it in order to reproduce it down in your brain. Yeah, I couldn't break it down in my brain the way that the book would show you too. And, and she was able to go in and, and show me how to do that. You know, she already knew that I could see everything that was there, but I couldn't make my hands do it. And she was able to kind of connect all those dots and, and got me far enough along where I was able to go to Koh Lanta, local community college, and, and get in and do things there.
Angee Montgomery 9:21
Okay, so I want to know about what you did at the community college and your training there. Because I learned that a really interesting thing that you actually have to double vocations. But before we leave your childhood, were there any other forms of expression that you're interested in? Did you get into like music or dance or writing?
Derek Smith 9:45
No, not really.
Angee Montgomery 9:48
Derek Smith 9:50
No, not at all sports. I tried sports. When I was when I was really young. You know, the old T ball and basketball and all that stuff that you go through. That kids put Another I mean, adults put all their kids in, you know, just I need time to go grocery shopping here and go to all this. And it just, I was never good at them, I didn't care. I want to sit over here and look at flowers and draw stuff, I don't know. I wouldn't go play superheroes was most likely what it was. But then there's a whole other part, I don't talk a whole lot about the negative parts of my childhood. It had nothing to do really, with with family, but it had everything to do with where I grew up. And, you know, I love for cavemen and I love Mississippi, but Mississippi doesn't love things that are different. And they have a hard time with it. And at a very young age, the people around me recognize that I was different. And I didn't know. And so you, you start getting these influential pressures, especially when it comes to organized religion, that shuts you down. And it took a really, really long time for me to be okay, with anything that would be considered sissy. So with dancing, or singing, or any of that stuff, it that was something that I felt that I had to block out of my life in order to feel normal or acceptable to those that are around me. And, yeah, so a lot of that got shut out, I love doing it, but I would do it in private, you know, I would sing at the top of my lungs when nobody was at home, and then turn beet red, when my brother would walk in, or, you know, it's just, it was it was those types of things that were kind of stopped all that from happening.
Angee Montgomery 11:56
So you know, this plays a very big part in, in my work, and I think in yours as well. But there is a detriment to, to loneliness. And you know, I kind of wanted to flow through the timeline of, of your life and your college and where it all led to, but you know, you're having, you know, certain internal conflicts from a young age like, you know, I know that you're a man of faith. Right? Yeah. Grew up in church, probably just like me, and, and, in that a, you know, we're told, from a young age that there are proper roles for a man and a woman. And anything that doesn't fit inside those roles is, is a sin. Right? But it's just not true. And I think, I think over time, like over history, a lot of people secrets and desires have been hidden from the timeline. Like, my, my uncle, my dad's brother, who's not living anymore, you know, he eventually came out to the family that he was a gay man, and my grandmother would joke to the stage, she was like, Oh, David, he's just over in the corner playing with jazz dolls. Again, he just does that it's fine. So, you know, he might have gotten a little bit of kickback from, from some of his brothers or the men, but at the same time, you know, it was just, it was just who it was. And it was kind of recognized within the family that some families aren't as accepting. So you don't have to go into too much detail about your personal life, but, but I would be interested in knowing like, how, how does faith and then you know, your your personal expression play into the work, the beginning work that you created.
Derek Smith 14:16
So I would have to say that the the work that I create, even now it stems back to trying to figure myself out, trying to give myself an acceptable form of expression. The, and it took me a long to figure a long time to figure out what I was doing. You know, because it's hard to start out and say, oh, yeah, I'm gonna accomplish this. This is what I want to do is what my brain is saying. For me, it took a long time of acting on passion and instinct and saying, I need to paint this I need to paint this I need to paint this and then having 30 or 40 paintings in front of me, and looking at them all and being like, Oh crap, this is what I'm talking about. Because you get to you get to go back and read your body of work, you're the only person that can actually read it, like literature, like, you are going to be able to figure out what you need to talk about, and how you're talking about it. And for me, I use a lot of single subject matter. Mostly, I think it comes to that point of isolation and feeling alone for a long time. And then I also dug deep into finding emotions that I wasn't comfortable with expressing, as a Southern, even though they wouldn't be expressed, especially as a child, you know, I'm gonna boohoo, I'm going to do everything like that. And then now, I'm an extremely sensitive guy, like there's a Charmin commercial, where a baby, your dad teaches the baby dad how to wipe his butt, and it makes me cry, it's just as I have those types of emotional reactions to things, and I was, I hated myself for it for a really long time, because that was a key indicator, you know, that's going to be a big flashing light bulb above you, for everybody else to automatically hate you, because you're different. And it's just how I felt. So I started creating all of these portraits of women displaying different emotions, you know, through their face, and, and their, their body language that reflected the ways that I felt on the inside, especially after different experiences. And now that's grown, I don't, I don't really share a lot of my work. Now I focus on promoting other people's work. But, but the workout produced now is still the single subject matter. But it's surprisingly, it's changed into the male figure, which I've never expected for me to be for me to want to pay. And now they're starting to tell more personal narratives, you know, personal experiences that I've had. So it's just it's always been about trying to find a way to connect my internal emotions to an image to hopefully connect with somebody else's emotions are their internal conflicts, so maybe I don't feel so alone in the world, and they don't feel so alone.
Angee Montgomery 17:26
That makes perfect sense. No, it does to me, because I think my art is very similar in that way. So, so you mentioned painting a lot of women. And when I looked through your work, I noticed that there was four main buckets of subjects that you have explored, or at least the ones that you've shared publicly, women being one of them, icons, or maybe people you look up to, and inside of pop culture misses Mississippi, so your, your connection to your homelands. And then the fourth one is collaborations, but not only collaborations, like, like you said, you're trying to connect on an emotional level, but I think the collaborations are collaborating when people's darker sides. So I just want to unpack these, these buckets for a second. So you talked a little bit about the women, but I want to know, why women? Why did you start with women,
Derek Smith 18:38
there has been one constant in my life. And it has been that women bond with Me faster. They do not. They're less judgmental, about me in general. And they tend to take me as a personality and a person first, and not necessarily care about anything that the person above and beyond who did that was, you know, my grandmother, my, she, she had my back no matter what, from the day I was born. And it didn't matter who anybody was, what they had done in their life, or what they looked like. She loved them first. And if I go back and think about all of the people in my life, the women have been the strongest people. And they've also been, you know, in the other side of that, you know, I see I I'm able to find the emotions in women because it's a little bit more acceptable for them to show or at least be photographed with the emotions that that I want to portray. And it really is, you know, I like stock photography, but I also have, you know, like deviant art because they have these telephoto ographers that wants you to work with their photos. And so I'll, you know, I'll spend months and months just collecting all of these interesting photos of women and portraits and stuff like that, and then I'll get in my fields. I'll get anxious one day, and I know that I have something that I need to figure out how to what I'm feeling. And so I play flashcards, and I go through them until I find the one that it's there. That's exactly what I'm feeling right now. And I need to get it out of me. And I need to put it into this portrait. And so I feel like that's
Angee Montgomery 20:38
like emotion, emotional Rolodex,
Derek Smith 20:41
yeah. It really is. I wasn't taught growing up, and I don't need it as much. Now, I've gone through enough emotions and finding them and identifying them to be able to work with them easier. But in the beginning, you I couldn't identify what emotions that we're feeling our I was feeling, you know, it just you weren't supposed to, as you just, you ignore it, and buckle up and get on with it. So it took me a while to kind of figure that out. And that's a lot where the women came from.
Angee Montgomery 21:19
Okay. So what about Mississippi, you have quite a few, you know, subjects that are very reminiscent of the south and this place that we live, which is, you know, I think very beautiful in its own way. And even now, you're starting to kind of meld your Mississippi with, with these figures, which is really interesting. So, and I think, too, you know, we just, we, we paint or we create our lives and what we know. So it's inevitable that it's going to come through a little bit, but how do you feel like this place the land or whatever it is that so connected to your memories, and all of that feed, feed into your work, past and present.
Derek Smith 22:19
I think Mississippi is a difficult place. I love Mississippi, it's gorgeous. And my family's here and people like honestly, people love each other. But Mississippi has a lot of issues, and it's very complex. And it's it's history is complex and difficult. And you know, and when you dive into it, it's it shouldn't be a place that I enjoy being. But you know, that being said, with all the child stuff, your childhood stuff I went through, at the same time I was surrounded by people that loved me. You know, and, and you being famous, you understand this too, you know, you go into a church or organize and it's it's encapsulating with love, they make sure that you feel the love. At the same time, they make sure that you feel you know, the pressure to change. But, you know, it's it's a southern thing that people around here we make you feel seen and loved. So I I appreciate that. I appreciate the beauty that Mississippi has to offer. But it's it's a rosebush. You know, you can smell the roses. But as soon as you start to grab in there, you're going to reach back a bloody paw. It's just it's, it's not always the most fun place to be. I think that the paintings I'm creating now celebrate the beauty, but talk a lot about the complexity of diversity and the lack of acknowledgement of diversity. Mississippi is an extremely diverse place, but everybody just can scream who they are. It's not a place where everybody gets to wear, you know, their badge on their sleeve with honor. You know, it's, it's a hard place to do that. So I think that my art now is starting to meld those two concepts together, at least where I can deal with it.
Angee Montgomery 24:23
Yeah, I can see that I can see I have a few things to say about your art now but all that for just a little bit. But I think it's really interesting. I think it's going to a very interesting place. So the last few bucket's was icons, people that you've looked up to and the collaborations that you've done, or, you know, collecting from others to then start sharing, you know, maybe Some of their, you know, where I was pushed towards
Derek Smith 25:10
Pop culture has always been really important to me. You know, going back to, again, childhood that you had the weekends where I traveled, and I was encased in 1940s and 50s pop culture, and I loved it, you know, the James Dean and Marilyn Monroe, and the beautiful cars and the neon pink and, you know, in jukeboxes, and records and all of that stuff, you know, dice dominoes, checkered floors, like dance halls, it was great, I loved it. And then as I started to get older, I found John Waters, who loves pop culture, especially from that era as much as I do. But he puts a ton of messages into his movies and his productions, his plays, you know, you look at the original hairspray that he created. And it was, it was deeply about, you know, not only class warfare within the white community, but also how the black community was being completely alienated and wouldn't be allowed into anything. And how in the end, you know, he brought the story around and showed segregation in a way that could happen but also showed segregation in the way that it nor the deconstruction of segregation, in the way that it normally has to happen is with an explosion. And then you've got movies that, that I fell in love with, like, cry baby that celebrated that that era, and just all of this culture that came out in the mid 90s, that was wonky and reflective, and I love that. So I I fell hard for for entertainment like that. Also, my grandmother, she used to do tickets at the movie theater. And so after school, we would get dropped off at her house, and my parents worked until late and so I would always go to work with her and get set into a movie until my parents got off work and come pick me up. So from like 1987 until 1997, all I did was every day go and watch a different movie. And it was fast forward that a little bit when I'm in my teenage years. And I find things like the Golden Girls on Nick at Night, and got to start seeing and designing women. And those were two shows that were extremely influential to me because both of them had queer characters and accepting storylines. And that was, but but controversial, accepting storylines, you know, you had in, in Golden Girls, you know, the Blanche had rejected her gay brother. And it took the rest of them explaining the situation to her to kind of get her to come around. And it helped me cope a lot with myself, you know, having them explain it to somebody who was rejecting that whole aspect of life was them explaining to me how I could start to kind of cope with accepting that aspect of my life, it was the little bit of visibility that I got to see. So I got to see how pop culture could really change the world. And I paid attention and when it came time to, to kind of start honing your skills as an artist, everybody goes through it, they're like, you just have to start banging out and get your 1000 hours, right, get your 10,000 hours, just keep going. Painting. I'm not as good at doing that without a goal. And so my goal was to go back through and find people in pop culture that I admired, I felt like their lives really mattered, that they changed something for the positive when they came through the world. And I started creating series based on that just so I could, you know, bang out the paintings, and I love these people anyway. And also gave me an opportunity because every one of those portraits that I did, I didn't just sit down with a picture, I would play their music, or I would have their movies on or I would have their interviews on or I would just I would have all aspects of their life kind of surrounding me. So hopefully I would be able to get an inflection of their spirit. something in there that was a little spark of their, what they actually accomplished in their life. I wanted to honor it. So that's kind of where the pop culture stuff came on. It was melding what I knew was easy for me to come up with quick and then I loved and then filling that need of having to pay and get my hours in.
Angee Montgomery 29:55
well it sounds like to the these people that you painted. were, you know, even if you didn't know them personally, they were huge mentors in your life. And they were, you know, someone that you can look to and find a commonality with your storyline and their storyline. That was positive. Right? Instead of, you know, here Mississippi, I can only imagine like, it's hard to find a kindred soul.
Derek Smith 30:25
You know, they move
Angee Montgomery 30:29
in many ways, but you know, along the way, like, I have to imagine that this whole series because you did a ton of them. I mean, I don't know how many hundreds, maybe not hundreds, but it seemed like a whole bunch. I might have done. You said, and how long does it take to make a painting, you know, at least?
Derek Smith 30:51
Well, those were small. So I did an eight by 10s, and nine by twelves, for those and so it was a painting a day challenge. Probably this was 2015, I think I was listening to Lesley Stata. And she was doing the 30 days and the 30 paintings and 30 days challenge. And she was doing it in January and in September. And so that's when I jumped on. And I was like, Okay, let's, let's do this with her. And so that's why that happened that way. That's where the all of those came from was me trying to get as many done in a month that I could.
Angee Montgomery 31:35
Do you think that that was life changing, like spinning day after day with these mentors that were so positive?
Derek Smith 31:42
yeah, the experience of them. And like just getting to sit with their lives every day was special. It really was. I knew a good amount about these people in general, because they're people that I'm slightly obsessed with. But this was the chance for the deep dive on every one of them.
Angee Montgomery 32:04
Right? Yeah, that's wonderful. I recently painted a picture of my grandparents and the whole time I was listening to music they played in the kitchen. And it was crazy. Because, you know, when you're painting, at some point in the process, it comes to life. Like it all just comes to life. And you know, I cry, I was like, Ah, it's just beautiful. I feel like I'm with them. So I can only imagine that, you know, painting these mentors, the process of getting to know them being surrounded, and all your senses, being surrounded with them, and then watching them come to life before your eyes. Yeah, it's really special. So I think that's beautiful.
Derek Smith 32:46
It's humbling. Like, it really is humbling, because it's, it's taking in an example of what a life can be. Right? No, how world changing that one life can be. And there were many that I tried to do that I couldn't make it through, I would get like too emotionally upset over, you know, this person, because there's so many, so many. Just people that have changed the world that were taken out in the middle of their lives are you know, and something tragic happened to them. And you, I would start a painting thinking I could make it through it. And then it would get to that part of their lives. And I'm in the middle of painting it and it's just a whole mental breakdown and the other spirits not even on the earth anymore. And then and it was just too hard to take. So some of them would get shut down. But but for the most part, it's it's been, it was a really good experience.
Angee Montgomery 33:47
And I don't know how many people out there listening are painters, but painting is a mind app. Really, that's the whole process. So, you know, when, like, very recently, I started being just dead honest with, with a workout, create one creating it. And it's crazy, but when it when I started being honest, it seemed like the world started listening to what I was trying to say. And I started making, you know, really sincere connections with people in beautiful ways. So I'm wondering, do you have a memorable connection that you've made through your work?
Derek Smith 34:39
I think the more memorable connections I'm making are the ones I'm making now. And it's not necessarily through the work I'm doing as a painter but the work I'm doing as a creative and getting to, I mean getting to do things like this, this this means the world to me, getting to sit down and talk Walk with another person that is going through the something similar as to what I'm going through that that special painting is painting, you know, painting always be painting, that's fine, I can do that. That's a, that's a technical aspect. But the any, any type of relationship that I can get from creating is what I really, really like, enjoy and thrive on. And you had mentioned collaborations earlier. And I think, I think the collaboration you're you were starting to get at was the
Angee Montgomery 35:36
Derek Smith 35:38
Yeah, leave your baggage.
Angee Montgomery 35:41
Okay, let's talk about that.
Derek Smith 35:43
Yeah, that was rough, that shut me down completely. So leave your baggage. Trying to figure out who I am as an artist, what I'm supposed to be doing just in general on Earth, I figured out that my, some of my strength lies in being in service, I was a phenomenal waiter, like, amazing waiter, I cared when you sat down, I wanted your food to be right, I was there on a bank. And all of these roles I've had where I've been in service to other people, I just excelled. And they made me happy. So I needed to figure out a way to do it with my art too. And I had gone through and done the project with the women, and kind of discovered that that emotional connection is what I really wanted with my art. And in that process, I was having to dig through a lot of things from my past or my emotions that I felt lonely with. And I didn't want others to feel lonely. And I also again, I needed that something that I could take from somebody else and translate so I could better understand myself. If that makes sense. You know, I, I needed their experience. So I could bond with their experience and identify it and place my own empathy with it. So that could pull out something. So what I did was I created these plaster hands that were outstretched, and I took them around to places and I had all these little luggage tags. And it was titled leave your baggage. And so what people would do is they would write down the things that they carry around with them every day, and get rid of them, throw them away, you know, give them to me. And then I would take that and it was all anonymous, then I would take all those luggage tags, and go through one by one and sit with it. And let it kind of soak into me and figure out how I relate to this. Why this came to me Why was this particular thing written on this tag and handed to me, it had to be a reason, right? We believe in faith, there had to be some kind of reason. So I would do my best to go in and create imagery that I connected with that connected with their story that hopefully the next person that views it, would be able to connect with it and again, not feel so alone in the world. And they gave me some rough stuff. You know, we talked about eating disorders, we talked about drug abuse, we talked about parenting, neglect, we talked about abortion, we talked about you know, there, there's just a subject matter after subject matter after subject matter that these people were dropping in there. And I felt honored. You know, it broke me mentally because you have to dig up all these memories out of my life to You know, like the growing up in the place that I grew up. surprising enough in high school supplies, I developed an eating disorder, you know, between finding like getting, getting my driver's license and being able to travel to the town next to us to GNC and get a veteran when it was still legal. You know, I was popping those pills and not eating for weeks and vomiting when I did eat, you know, in order to fit in with those people that I was around at the time because the high school that I went to I don't know what happened there was something in the water but they were all models like everybody was that you had to live up to that was ridiculous. So I was able to take in that in the time when I you know somebody. One of the things that was written in was that I wish I wasn't addicted to pills anymore. And so my immediate reaction was the time that I dropped a whole bottle of ephedrine on the floor and like scrambled to get them back in the bottle to you so they wouldn't get wet the casing wouldn't get wet and they wouldn't have that pill anymore. You know, and it's just things like that, that I was able to relate to. Again, I wasn't so alone in the world, they didn't feel so alone in the world, hopefully, they were relieved by at least being able to put it into words,
Angee Montgomery 40:19
breathe out, and let someone else carry their load for a little bit
Derek Smith 40:22
let somebody else, you know, if we hide everything, and even if you just write it down, just just put it into existence, the things that you're thinking and the things that you're going through. You don't have to tell anybody, but you do need to acknowledge it and recognize it and recognize it's something that you deal with, it's almost giving respect to your problems. So you can move past them.
Angee Montgomery 40:46
Can I tell you something crazy?
Derek Smith 40:47
Angee Montgomery 40:52
I did a project eerily similar to that. Where I collected secrets from people, I was working at a bar, I collect the secrets from people that came into the bar. And then I took the messages. And I opened up fortune cookies in the microwave, and took the, the, you know, the fortune out and inserted the secrets into the cookie. Right? So I took all these fortune cookies to school, I was in college and on critique day, I made the whole class choose their fortune, right. But instead of a fortune, they got someone else's secret. But the strangest thing was, they all related? Like, they picked up these cookies. And they felt like, the secret is, for me, because, you know, the essence of a fortune cookie is it's about your life. Right? So when they opened the secrets, they all found something relatable to what it said. Even though it was all, you know, random, like who knew whose secret you would get? Who is we don't I don't even know whose secret that was. But we're all just walking around with a bunch of secrets and pain. And you know, and we hide it a lot. And I'm not saying that we should all be, you know, like you worse and depressed and be woeful about all of our pain all the time. But at the same point, you got to have a balance, right? Got to have a balance to what you're carrying around. And, and then just knowing that everyone else is walking around, carrying the same things. Yeah. So I think that projects really, really cool and crazy that I stumbled upon it. I was like, it's the fortune cookies.
Derek Smith 42:48
Well, I remember talking to you in your interview, and you as you started to talk about that. And I almost was like, no. Yeah, it was. I I was watching, I was looking at your project, because you had listed somewhere. I don't know if it was on your website, but you had talked about it somewhere else. And I had gone in and stalked it.
Angee Montgomery 43:12
So you saw some I don't have a lot of pictures from it. Oh, you remember what all the messages were. But there was a couple caught it, spill it.
Derek Smith 43:22
That's a good title.
Angee Montgomery 43:26
Okay, so I know you said painting's, painting, painting's painting, but I love the howl of painting. So can we talk for a minute about your technique? And specifically, you know, you have so much to express right? You're, you experienced the world pretty deeply I can imagine. As, as well as many other artists do. I think we all are maybe a tad bit more sensitive than the most people. But you have a lot to say. Right? So I'm interested in how do you take this feeling this emotion, this thoughts? And what is the next step from this stage into a painting? So yeah, so how does how does the idea start for you? And then what is the very next step you take?
Derek Smith 44:23
It's different now than it used to be, you know, used to, like with the women, I would just I would get in the mode, I would go in and start drawing or whatnot. And then I would have something that I would need to express and I would go through all my stock and find something that related to me at that moment and just go to town, right and start painting. Now, you know, years later after you figured out kind of what you're doing and what you're talking about, at least what inspires you to create. I have a binder and every time I have Have an idea of just a random show, like, because I think now I think in terms of almost a grand scale of, okay, if I want to talk about something, what do I need to talk about? How would I make it into a full series, but these are all things that are just in my brain, you know, I would be thinking about them anyway. And so now I write it down, and I put it in a binder. And so I have a binder of exhibition ideas. And they'll they'll come back up everything cycles with me, I like to say I have the memory of a peanut, because I don't remember, I can remember years ago, but I can't remember two days ago. And then years from now, I'll remember two days ago, it's really, but I'll leave myself. I'll leave myself tons of notes. And I'll start to experience something again. And I'll find a note that says, Oh, you have this, and I'll go and pull. And it's just a whole bunch of inspiration I've already pulled for that idea, it just now happens to be time that I need to execute it. And the things before I used to, like I said, I would get a photo that reminded me of something I needed to express and I would paint from that photo changing at how I needed to, to be my work instead of their work. But now I take and I do a lot of collage and Photoshop, and, you know, a lot of changing of the environments and stuff like that before I go in and paint it. So I go in and try to build in a story before I do that. But the other, I think another important part of my work to realize is that I paint in extremely vibrant, bold colors, a lot of the subject matter, like if you look at my subject matter, it's a lot of fun. I like I like having people look at it and smile, even though they might be looking at a painting that is heartbreaking. Once you learn all of the story behind it, you're not gonna know it just right off the bat, you're gonna you're gonna see something that's a little bit joyful. And I almost feel like that's the way that that that I present myself in my life. You know, we've got this joyful side that I love of myself where I get to interact and be happy. But then if you dig to two inches back, you're gonna start hitting some really, really deep, emotional stuff. And that's kind of how I present my art.
Angee Montgomery 47:32
Do you think that that comes from your your pop culture love, like all these glamorous aesthetics that you are drawn to?
Derek Smith 47:45
I think that that can play a part of it. But I think that the need to be loved and accepted first plays a bigger part of it. I've created a couple of pieces that were hard to look at, and it was hard for me to put it out in the world. I think only a couple of friends ended up seeing that at a very personal show. Yeah, I just I think I think it comes from the need to be just accepted and loved on site, instead of you know, and then
Angee Montgomery 48:18
good first impression with your colors.
Derek Smith 48:21
Here, let me let me surprise you with this. And then we can talk about addiction.
Angee Montgomery 48:29
It's terrible, but I'm laughing That's exactly what you want.
Derek Smith 48:40
Like I want you to be I want you to be comfortable with what you're looking at, at least at first before I have to to make you think
Angee Montgomery 48:49
that's very hospitable of you. So are there any artists that you've studied whose technique has shaped you in some way?
Derek Smith 49:02
John Singer Sargent,
Angee Montgomery 49:04
Derek Smith 49:06
John Singer Sargent. It I think it goes to the way that he captured people. The end he liked to play his boundaries to like he liked to push his levels. Rembrandt had had the technique of the super thin layers and oils and being able to have the light reflect off the canvas. I didn't know that was what I was doing until I studied Rembrandt. And then I was like, oh, yeah, other people did this. Okay, now I have something to go off of. But I think the most influence I have now come from the people that this is gonna sound so cliche, but I'm gonna say like Andy Warhol changed the world. You know, Andy Warhol had the factory in New York, and it was a moment in art that you You can now look back on look at the Bauhaus movement look at I mean, if you want to go some you've got the Impressionist movement, you know, all of this comes from artists getting together themselves and communicating and creating a moment in time where it was important. And I think that that's been the most influential stuff in my study, to see how their lives start, because if you if you have the chance to read any biographies on any artists just dive into, it doesn't matter, the artists you're gonna find an entire life there that you can relate to, and fall in love. Yeah, you know, it's just, it's all this information is out there on how art careers and how art movements and how this entire world works, even though it's the most unregulated market.
Angee Montgomery 50:59
That's true. Do you? Are you trying to start a movement here?
Derek Smith 51:04
Yeah, I want to movement. I want Mississippi to be important for its artist, like I really, really do. We have incredibly diverse talent that, again, we go back to saying that we're talking about things, it's not just about creating a pretty picture anymore, are, you know, a decorative piece of art, there are contemporary Mississippi artists that are saying things that have to be heard. And Mississippi is not a place where people look. So at least, when the time comes, and people start looking, I want these biographies by podcast out there, I want these published shows that we've been doing, I want people to be able to find these moments where we all came together and created something. And then we went our separate ways. That's its history, you have to leave markers for people or they're never going to know.
Angee Montgomery 51:58
So out of all the Mississippi artists that you've interviewed so far, and connected with, what would you say, is a common thread between all of us? Because I'm interested in know what, what our movement would be, you know, what is the commonality? And what does that look like? For someone who's looking back,
Derek Smith 52:24
the thing that everybody as a whole has needed, has been more opportunity. That's been a big thing. You know, we've got, we've got some galleries, and we've got some shows, and they're all spread across the state. But But we, we, it's not enough, it's never gonna be enough to service everybody that needs to be seen. Another thing is, and this is nothing that anybody talks to, but I mean talks about in any of the podcasts, but Mississippi is not well connected with Wi Fi, or internet Are any of that we have these huge dead spots where talented people live and they don't have access to, to things that could further their career. They don't even have access to information where they can understand that this is a possible career. And that's a big dump. I know that they're making progress and movement on on getting broadband out to rural areas. But it is it's something that, I think once it happens, you're going to see a ton more extremely talented, diverse artists being able to show their work again, you know, it's the internet is free, if you can get to it, but there's so many people who can't get to it. And so, I think that that's another big common thing.
Angee Montgomery 53:55
Yeah, it's true. I come from a place that didn't have internet for a long, long time. And you know, as I've gotten older, I just steadily keep moving further and further north to the point where I'm almost out of Mississippi, right? I'm 15 minutes from Memphis. Where, where there's opportunity, right,
Derek Smith 54:15
and we're in the studio right now, which I have great Wi Fi on. But if I drive five minutes down the road to my house, I can't send a text message. And there is no Wi Fi there is no internet out there. You have to do it through thanks to laws and regulations and all that kind of good stuff when they were building these companies in the beginning. You have to do it through cellular Wi Fi. Which sucks so you know you there there's no internet out there. So I you know if I have something important I need to do doesn't matter what time I'm going to bus back to the studio and try to get it done so I can actually be connected when it happens.
Angee Montgomery 54:57
Yeah, although I kind of like it sometimes. If I go visit my mom, it's like I've dropped off the face of the earth. Nobody can reach me. And I can just emerge from her house like I was in Pleasant Grove. Sorry, guys. It is.
Derek Smith 55:13
You can tell the weekends where I don't come back to the studio because you don't see any social media posts. You don't see anything.
Angee Montgomery 55:23
So I want to get into to what you're doing because anybody who's seen what you've been putting out online knows that you are very busy up and coming tastemaker, I must say in Mississippi, you are teaching. You've got this podcast going? You are doing curated exhibitions for people. And I don't know if it's out yet. But the publication the magazine, right? Yeah. So. So tell me, tell me a little about your grants plans, with all of these things. And in the future, like what can we expect from Mississippi artists, the artist and the magazine and the shows?
It's continually developing, it's continually turning into something different. It's not anything I ever expected to happen. It all started in the pandemic. And it used to be you know, I used to have it when it's still called Spotlight on the whole first season, I had, you know why we existed in the in the opening credits. But it was created during the pandemic, because I was lonely. You know, I didn't have any students at the time, I was working on my work. But again, I wasn't running into anybody, I wasn't able to have any conversations. And while the world was physically shut down, I decided to play to my strengths. And I knew how to do things online. And the way it originally started was I just sent out emails of questions. And it was just gonna be a blog, I wanted to promote artists and take down their their history through a blog. So I'd send out questionnaires and that was kind of working, they would send them fill them out and send them back and cut it all up and put it up, but it took too long. So now that's streamlined into the podcast. And I think what I would eventually like to do is to take off, I've got to start getting them transcribed anyway. But I would like to take all of them and put everybody's interview into one collectible book. You know, just so you have, again, a documented history of people that are living and creating art and Mississippi right now. Where else are you gonna find it? On these, it has been so personal. There are artists that have come on that don't quite understand themselves yet, you know, and I like having that wide variety of artists. I like having the student artists and the recently graduated artists in the mid career in the late career. But I think taking all of it, and eventually putting it together and just kind of a compendium would would make me happy with the Mississippi artists, artists, I just hope that people are able to discover it, or to discover whoever they're going to love in life. You've got all these great artists, here's a ton of different profiles that you can go and pick out something new to enjoy, and discover new artists that you maybe never knew about. And so that's kind of the goal of that,
Do you think that you would take this nationally like and try to show people outside of the states, what's happening here?
Derek Smith 58:49
Well, you know, you can't keep a podcast in borders. And when I when I switched over in December, I went from one company that hosted and sent out my podcast to another company. And the company I moved to started giving me the analytics. You know, here's where people are listening, here's how many people are listening. We have, you know, the majority of my listeners are, are from Mississippi or you know, living here. But then we've got listeners in the UK, we've got listeners in Scotland, there's one in Brazil, there's several in California and north in the northern United States, like I'm able to see all of these different places of people that are paying attention. And I think it goes back to that greater connection of well if their life is like this, maybe my life can be like that.
Angee Montgomery 59:42
And maybe they won't all think that we're just dumb Mississippians
Derek Smith 59:46
Yeah, just open up a different side of our state because we are on the news a lot these days for things that I would really want our state to be on the news for so I do that I didn't want to put out documentation of these points of view, you know, we're living in the state where here were Mississippians, and we don't necessarily agree with everything. And it's tragic sometimes, and we get a bad rap. But there are a lot of us in here that try our best to kind of counteract those things and to show how wonderful Mississippi can actually be.
Angee Montgomery 1:00:31
Yeah, I completely agree. I think I think that might be one of the common threads between all of us have this place. And as artists, we try to find the beauty in it. And we're all trying to show show our, our beautiful side to what we see. I have have two final questions for you, Derek. The first is related to your work. And the second is related to your creative work, as you called it. So what do you think is the big vision behind your personal artwork? And how do you want it to be perceived in the world?
Derek Smith 1:01:16
I think my biggest vision with my artwork almost goes hand in hand with trying to be perceived in the world. I want to get my artwork to a point where I'm comfortable with what I'm talking about. And I'm able to share it freely. And as of right now, I'm not comfortable. You know, there's lots of things that I'm talking about that I don't I don't feel comfortable sharing. So I think that's, that's what I'm trying to accomplish. And my art. And the overall long term perception of my art, I hope is just look, here's a person at that point in time that had that point of view, art that was living here that was somebody different as it would have been useful for me, when I was younger, if I would have been able to see somebody besides Ellen getting lambasted on TV are willing Grace being you know, torn apart in church, it would have been more useful for me if I could have seen a queer artists making a living are just being heard talking. Because that wasn't available when people got ran out of town. So yeah, I think that's that's what it is. I think I just bought some time mark in history that says that this person was here and it was okay.
Angee Montgomery 1:02:49
I think I think that's coming. The COVID. And all the stuff happening right now with with race relations and acceptance in general, is, is changing. So we're going to talk again, in a year, it's gonna be it'll, it'll take about
Derek Smith 1:03:11
20 more years.
Angee Montgomery 1:03:13
Maybe we'll be comfortable with this art. It's gonna be that fast. We're gonna make it happen. I'll hold you to it. My second question is, what is your what's your big vision for the little yellow building, and everything you're creating inside this space? So you're teaching as well as the opportunities you're making? Well, first,
Derek Smith 1:03:41
I'd want to say that and I put out a statement not long too long ago, we're not a gallery, the little yellow buildings, not a gallery, you know, the closest thing that I can come to describing it would be a production house, where I, I take these calls for arts calls for art, I take these call for art and find Mississippi artists and put them together and get them talking about something. Whether it be like our first show, we talked about hope, all the different ways that Mississippi artists interpret hope. And we put that together. All of that's just part of a bigger plan to again, have continual documentation of the Mississippi artists that are working together and working forward. The new thing that we're kind of playing around with and I sent out several invitations and we're slowly building it is called the collective and it's, it's just artists that we've worked with in the past that want to support each other and want to talk and want to know what each other are doing and help push everyone forward. And it's important for me that I get these people talking because I need to, you know, I need the community just as much as anybody elsewhere. So that's why I'm trying to that's, that's what I'm trying to build is just everything that I need. I want to provide to everybody else as well. Because it's pointless if it's just me. And what's the point of any of that? No, it needs to be lots of personalities, and it needs to be lots of talent, and lots of creative ideas that are going to push Mississippi forward. And it's next evolution of art. I don't know if,
Angee Montgomery 1:05:27
yeah, no, it's so exciting. I had a huge sigh, I want to open that email from you, as an invitation, because I think it's wonderful to, you know, not only be exposed, like your work and your voice be exposed, but you know, as me little Mississippi artists here, trying to trying to speak and trying to say things and only only getting so far, you know, just being able to make a bigger connection. Plus, I think that this collective should involve, at some point in the future face to face, field trips. Everyone has to,
Derek Smith 1:06:09
it's exciting. It really is, I don't know what it's gonna do. I don't know what it's going to be, I had to describe it to somebody the other day, and I called it a for artists, because it's just, we need each other. And we need to be accountable for each other. And we need to be making sure that not only are our voices being heard, but the artists around us their voices are being heard. And the issues that I want dealt with in Mississippi, Mississippi is not ready for. So I'm going to take my time and make sure I support all the other issues that can move us forward, in order to get me to what I need to have, you know, and having a big arts community that speaks with each other and communicates and holds each other accountable. That's, that's what I mean. So that's what we're playing with.
Angee Montgomery 1:07:02
Well, I love it, you know, as I was a very, very brief director for a nonprofit here in Hernando. And I thought that that would get me closer to the art community, right. But, but it didn't really, it just connected me with a bunch of old basically, you know, older people who are retired, and now they've decided they're going to make some art, right? But nobody who's trying to make it as an artist, and even leaving that place. And, you know, saying, Well, I'm just going to try to be an artist, everybody. It's like, Are you crazy, you know. So, you know, I get that, what you're doing here with, with the little yellow building, and the podcast, and the collective is just so beautiful. And something I know, that I've been looking for for quite some time, and I haven't been able to find it. So I know personally, I'm excited to be part of it. And I just want to say that, you know, I think that your art and your work is a I'll say a cultural entrepreneur has to get where you can add that to your resume. It's bold. It's, it's striking. It's inspirational, and it's this good. So I just want to compliment you in that way. Because I think that you're doing amazing things. Thank you. I really appreciate that. You're welcome. Well, shall I wrap it up?
Derek Smith 1:08:46
Yeah, go for it.
Angee Montgomery 1:08:48
How does one wrap up a podcast? Oh, guys, Derek, thank thanks for coming on today. I really enjoyed getting to know you better. And, you know, I just want to say that I still have four more pages of questions that I didn't get to here that I really wanted to learn about you. So there's still time in the future. We'll do this again. But for now, I hope everyone enjoys this context. We're talking on a Friday, February the 11th. And I think it's midday, so it's probably 70 degrees outside here in Mississippi, which is insane. But I hope everyone enjoys their weekend. And thank you. Thank you for letting me do this.
Derek Smith 1:09:37
Hey, everyone, thank you for tuning in to our 50th episode. This has been a wonderful ride and I cannot tell you how much I appreciate all the feedback and all the comments and the congratulations. It's really meant the world to me to be able to do something like this where I get to reach out and talk to artists. We have a question on Facebook from Bob Brozek The photos in the latest art mag are great little glimpses of the places you visit, tell us about the Polaroid vibe you're going for. So the first of all the photos that were sent in I unfortunately did not get to go take them my car is just riding it last legs and I haven't been able to travel lately. But churchgoing mule who runs the membership, who runs the programs of their sent pictures, these wonderful nostalgic pictures and they reminded me of when I was a little one, I would go to local lake Lincoln with my parents and their friends and they would bring the camper and they would set up the lights on the camper and, and I just remember the pictures that were taken, there were all Polaroids. And it reminded me of someplace I could go to get away. And to kind of enjoy the moment with filtering out the world. And that's kind of what the Polaroid bought went for. I wanted nostalgia and it reminded me of when I was a kid. Thank you, Bob for the question. And thank you to the Friends of the little yellow building their membership make all of this possible. Beth Breeland Mary Hardy Gwen fury Mary Adams, Jenny Howard, Jenny Moke, Evelyn Peavy, the Evans Family, Janet Smith, Buffy Jordan, Jennifer drink water, the Smith family, Bob Ruzek and Hannah Hester. Your support is just the world I appreciate everything. All right. Until the next episode. Bye
Transcribed by https://otter.ai
The Little Yellow Building is the creative art studio of Mississippi artist Derek Covington Smith. TLYB was established in 2018 to help grow and promote visual art in the state through opportunity, exposure, and education.