Tag Archives: Fire House

Inside the Artist’s Studio With Trina May Smith: Chasing the Work

MIssoula

I grew up in Missoula Montana, a liberal arts college town nestled in the Rocky Mountains. As a kid I wanted to be a writer and was always writing stories and poems. In seventh grade I wrote and typed a 15 page single spaced story for fun. I read constantly, and just knew that writing was my thing.

I had a free elective my freshman year of high school and decided to take an art course. Taking that art class had a profound effect on me. I gave up writing and have been an artist ever since. I completed my undergraduate work at the University of Washington in Seattle and then ran an art program in a middle school for five years. After five years of asking students to reach for their potential I felt that I needed to walk the talk and go to graduate school. I was accepted at the University of Wisconsin-Madison and had an amazing three years of developing my work and gaining an understanding for more seriously pursuing a professional practice. Upon graduating in 2012 I became a lecturer of art at the University of Wisconsin-Oshkosh, teaching painting and Drawing. I plan on continuing to teach at the college level and to persist with my desire to chase the ever-elusive carrot as I pursue my artistic intensions.

The Studio:

WPStudio

The studio is a very complex space. It functions as a physical place as well as an emotional and intellectual space. I have had a variety of studios over the years but have currently converted half of my large living room in my house into my painting studio. I have always been interested in minimizing the separation between everyday life and the work. I am guessing that it is not coincidence that once I established my studio in my living space, the work began to get more personal. In the past when I went to my rented studio space I was essentially “going to work” and when I left the studio there would be a distance between my art making and the rest of my life. Now when I come home I am also in the studio and am always aware of the work regardless of if I am actively painting or not.

WPStudio2

wppaint

In my undergraduate studies I had a professor that suggested that you should be in your studio at least 6 hours a day. That you should live with the work, look at it, exist with it in order to develop it. At the time I thought this was a bit idealistic and reflective of his own process but not particularly relevant to my work. Now I understand what he was trying to say. Making paintings is more then putting paint onto a surface, it is understanding WHY you are putting paint on a surface. It is wanting something from the work that has little to do with the pictorial subject and more to do with the process of making itself. The more paintings I make, the more I want from them, and the more of my own history goes into them.

The Work:

Fire 2  Oil on Panel 6x9" 2014

Fire 2 Oil on Panel 6×9″ 2014

The series of Fire paintings played an interesting role in my practice this past year. They acted as a sort of bridge between the work that I have been producing for the past 3 years and my current work that is based on my personal ideas and experiences.

In Graduate school I began a series examining industrial decline and urban decay. This series stemmed from having grown up in Montana where every industry is declining. I took multiple trips to Montana as well as through the rust belt cities such as Detroit, Gary, Pittsburgh, and St Louis.

Stripped. Oil on Panel. 7x10" 2012

Stripped. Oil on Panel. 7×10″ 2012

I documented the urban settings that had the mark of degrading industry and invested in the duality that these spaces represented. They simultaneously signified progress and failure, growth and loss, change and nostalgia, and spoke not only of large companies but also of people’s lives. The abandoned houses became particularly important to me. Growing up working class in Montana with a logger Grandfather I know well of the stress of seasonal work and the complexities of how industries surge and cycle. I was compelled to capture these abandoned houses as a mark of time, a portrait of circumstance, and a narrative of lost hope and change. The paintings’ small size and careful application fell in line with the importance of remembering. They took on a precious, jewel-like, quality and had a specificity that felt intimate yet spoke of a broad idea.

Forced. Acrylic and Oil on Panel. 6x30". 2012

Forced. Acrylic and Oil on Panel. 6×30″. 2012

When in St Louis I noticed a particularly large number of houses that had been burned. I was lucky to have a friend whose mother lived and grew up in St Louis. She agreed to come with me one day as I took pictures and gave me a great deal of insight. She said that neighbors would purposefully burn the houses to deter people from squatting in them. It was used as a strategy to keep neighborhoods in decline as safe as possible. I then watched a documentary called Burn about the fires of Detroit. The statistics of how many fires were set to abandoned structures was startling. In the documentary they talk about how setting abandoned houses on fire became a sort of past time within certain subsets of the population. There were so many fires that the fire fighters had to pick and choose which fires to fight at all. Whether the house had been abandoned, or caught fire while inhabited, the sight of a burning house evokes an emotional response. It asks you to question your own security and circumstance in a much more immediate way then the abandoned houses did. Fire is simultaneously beautiful and alluring, yet scary and dangerous.

Burned House in St Louis

Burned House in St Louis

WPFire

As I painted the series of houses on fire, I began to look at them more and more as abstractions. The repetition of the fire from piece to piece began to interest me and I began to look for other visual elements that intrigued me. I started looking at the plywood on boarded windows as both a signifier of abandonment and beauty of nature. I saw traffic cones as urban guides to navigate and wanted to place them in forest scenes as imposters. I am interested in the tension of not wanting the cones to be in the natural setting and enjoying the visual experience of them. They are both misplaced and desperately trying to “belong” or “fit in”.

Imposters. Oil on Panel 6x10". 2014

Imposters. Oil on Panel 6×10″. 2014

Imposters 2. Oil on Panel. 16x20" 2014

Imposters 2. Oil on Panel. 16×20″ 2014

Boarded 4. Oil on Panel. 27x58". 2014

Boarded 4. Oil on Panel. 27×58″. 2014

Boarded 4. Oil on Panel. 36x36". 2014

Boarded 4. Oil on Panel. 36×36″. 2014

I feel like these plywood paintings and traffic cone paintings speak of the industrial decline tensions and urban circumstance but also have my own translation or spin. They open up the possibility for humor and for a more playful or painterly approach. The plywood paintings also allow me to revel in the things that I love about the process of painting, which is mixing paint, thinking about color, and the simple pleasure of putting paint on a surface. I am excited to open up the possibilities and continue to bring my own desires into the work in addition to thinking about the social and natural environment that we live within.

Boarded 5 (Detail)

Boarded 5 (Detail)

Trina has three Fire paintings in Main Street Arts’ Small Works exhibition, and won Best in Show for her unique and thought-provoking paintings. Stop by the gallery by December 29, 2014 to see Trina’s art in person.

Check out our last Inside the Artist’s Studio post, by watercolor jewelry artist Alicia McGloon.