robert e smith: Paintings, Drawings, Poems, and Stories
“Folk art can help you to lead a halfway decent life,” Robert E. Smith (1927-2010) was heard to say; but Springfield, Missouri’s most famous, eccentric, and beloved painter pushed his work into the realm of outsider art. Self-taught, Smith began painting while a young man: forcibly institutionalized following a nervous breakdown, he retreated into his art. Unsurprisingly, his art brut is unbounded by logic, time, and space, brilliantly colored, at once childlike and troubling.
But Smith’s art reveals more than an imagination unfettered. The work of an inveterate story-teller, his paintings present witty, savvy, complex visual narratives. Cartoon animals mingle with sidewalk preachers, movie stars, and U.S. Presidents; in busy street scenes, bicycles and trolley cars bustle below while blimps and airplanes and UFOs—and an occasional nuclear bomb—fly overhead. Smith’s painting revels in satire, revealing an eye for incongruity and an inherent love of life. Even a cursory view of his work reflects a man who led a rich, wondrous life and whose fanciful yearnings inspired the community that cherished him.
Born in St. Louis, Smith moved to Springfield in 1975. Drawn mainly from local, privately-owned collections, the present anthology features thirty full-color illustrations along with cartoons, poems, and stories by the artist.
Eric Pervukhin is Professor of Art and Design at Missouri State University. His paintings, drawings, and book illustrations have earned international acclaim.
Carla Stine is a designer, collage artist, and illustrator. She is an admirer of Robert’s work and life and honored to have been his friend.