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From Pain to Portraits

Written by G Streat



Both are important when it comes to creating work. So is an artist’s motivation. Enter 1980s America, the era of “trickle down economics”, dookie rope chains and crack. The latter’s influence on our community was, and in many ways still is, disastrous. But out of that darkness grew something unlikely. How many of our community’s most prolific, brilliant minds were inspired by that time? How many of them had a spark within that was ignited by that tumultuous decade? How many of them renewed our hope, our faith and our resolve in ourselves?

Patrick Smith is one of those bright spots. Growing up in a single parent home, he found solace in this art.

“In the inner city, women had kids at a young age so sometimes they may not have been ready to have a child. I caught the brunt of my mother’s frustration. So my way of escaping what she was going through was my artwork.”

Although he had no way of knowing, Patrick was beginning to hone a skill that would define his work. Transmuting his interpretation of the struggle, he creates work that is rich in raw emotion.

“Growing up during that time in the 80s in the inner city where there was crack and people dying and killing and you know that was my sanctuary. That was my escape. I could just go in my room and draw and the outside world didn’t bother me. “

The discipline and skill Patrick would develop by going within laid the foundation for his unique style.

“Being Asiatic or an Afro-American descendant, as an artist if I don’t put a part of our story into my work then I’m not making a legacy for my kids or the next young artist that might come and see my artwork. So I like to take from that struggle that we’ve all been through. It’s emotional.”

An alum of the Duke Ellington School of the Arts, Patrick created a heartfelt piece inspired by his mother.

The bond between a black man and his mother can’t be accurately described with words. The influence that Patrick’s mother had in his growth as an artist is the same. Without her, one could argue that Patrick as an artist may not have come into being. There’s a special kind reverence and love in his voice as he speaks about her. The compassion he expresses for her condition is one of pure, unconditional love.

“I guess I’m some kind of hurt because she never got to see a lot of my artwork and never really got to see it blossom and me mature as a man, so I said when I can put my emotions aside I can just paint a portrait of my mother.”

There’s a type of magic, soul if you will, that can only be felt when you see it.

“I think I owed it to her because if it wasn’t for her, I wouldn’t be here. And in a sense, if she wasn’t as hard and stern on me as she was, maybe I wouldn’t have concentrated so hard on my artwork. That was my escape. That was my peace. That my sanctuary.”

Without a doubt, his mother’s efforts paid off. Her son’s work graces the walls of his former high school, gallery spaces and walls nationwide including the Touché Jazz Club in Washington D.C.

It’s subjective whether or not an artist can create the perfect work. That’s not going to stop Patrick though. With each piece, he continues to refine his craft determined to make his mark while fascinating anyone with the privilege of encountering his work.

“I try not to emulate any other artists. I’ve worked on my own technique so I have my own way of painting. A lot of people say that it stands out with the colors, the subject matter and the way I chose to manipulate the lights and darks and try to capture the expression in the eyes.”

As our time with Patrick concludes, he gives us a bit of wisdom that every artist needs to hear.

“Whatever you go through emotionally, you try transfer it to the canvas. Some people say ‘I can look at your work and I can see you were in love when you did this, or you were going through a lot of hurt when you did that.’ If all of that reflects on canvas through your work, then as an artist you’re doing what you’re meant to do. You’re reflecting yourself into that canvas, no matter what subject you chose, you’re reflecting yourself.”


Find Patrick Smith work on Facebook @WashingtonDC.VisualArtistPatrickT.Smith Twitter @PatrickSmith @Patrick39791501 or reach out to him via email to commission a piece,

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