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Arvie Smith is a painter, educator, and visual storyteller whose work addresses the complex histories of social and racial injustices in the United States from the perspective of a Black man. Living and working in the Pacific Northwest for decades, Smith creates large-scale, figurative oil paintings that are rich and vivid in color. He addresses complex subject matter by compiling narratives of stereotypes and biases historically placed on Black bodies, incorporating semiotic reference points like those found in advertisements, which relate to the inequalities and oppression experienced by Black Americans. Smith states, “I pull images from the charged air and merge them with my life experience in a power structure currently referred to as systemic racism. I respond through my art, always attempting to move the needle from transition to transformation.... By critiquing atrocities and oppressions and creating images intended to advance dialogue, I hope my work makes repeating those atrocities and injustices less likely. These are the reasons I paint.”
In speaking to Arvie Smith’s achievement as a Hallie Ford Fellow, Grace Kook-Anderson, Arlene and Harold Schnitzer Curator of Northwest Art, Portland Art Museum says, “I think it is very important to acknowledge Smith's career and impact on the region as a devoted painter and enthusiastic educator. Smith has been unusually prolific late into his career and it is one that deserves greater recognition. Smith has continued to maintain the use of taboo or uncomfortable images consistently focused on the message at-hand.”
Smith is one of nine African American artists presenting work in the 2022 Venice Biennale. A retrospective of his work was shown earlier this year at the Hallie Ford Museum of Art, Willamette University. He is the recipient of several prestigious awards, including the 2020 Joan Mitchell Painters and Sculptures Award, the Oregon Governor's Award for the Arts in 2017, and an honorary PhD from Pacific Northwest College of Art, where he is a Professor Emeritus. His work has been exhibited extensively both internationally and nationally, and can be found in the permanent collections of the Petrucci Family Foundation Collection of African American Art, Jordan Schnitzer Family Foundation, Hallie Ford Museum, Portland Art Museum, Reginald F. Lewis Museum Baltimore, MD, among others. He completed a Master of Fine Arts from Hoffberger School of Painting, Maryland Institute College of Art and a Bachelor of Fine Arts from Pacific Northwest College of Art, Portland.
Arvie Smith, (left to right) Cupid and Psyche, 2021. Oil on canvas, 72 x 60 in. Photo: Alice Christine Walker; Hands Up Don’t Shoot, 2015. Oil on canvas, 48 x 48 in. Photo: Dan Kavitka