By Kevin Zimmerman
It’s impossible to put a dollar amount on any of Dave Smith’s paintings, mostly because the Astoria artist only gives his work away.
“I decided not to sell the art,” Smith, 31, said. “For me, it’s about having fun and making people happy. You can’t buy my art, you can only receive it as a gift.”
Smith, a Queens transplant from Canada via Wisconsin, has always expressed his creative side through art and music. He’s even been a member in dozens of bands, which allowed him the chance to play his fair share of half-empty clubs.
Part of being an artist is communicating your point of view to others, Smith said.
“It was like pulling teeth to get anybody to the shows,” Smith said.
He decided if he couldn’t get people to come see his art, he would send his creations out to the world.
This past spring, Smith made 40 paintings with the intention of handing them out to a few friends. The art-giveaway proved to be a huge hit with his pals, who clamored for more. So, this software developer decided to up the stakes.
“I know a thing or two about engineering and scale,” Smith said. “After my friends’ satisfying reactions, I thought it would be fun to attempt something much bigger.”
Smith quit his job, hired an assistant and spent the summer creating 5,000 paintings, which he then proceeded to give away.
During the summer, Smith started out painting portraits but quickly moved onto other subjects, including giant cicadas, black cobras and burning ships at sea, among other things.
The clean designs created on cardboard canvases overflow with vibrant pinks, blues and yellows.
“There’s a lot going on in them,” Smith said about his paintings. “It’s compelling stuff but I also want to make people happy.”
Some went to friends, others were handed out at various events around town and some were hung around Astoria available to anyone who picked them up.
“It’s impossible to say exactly, but by now, thousands of people have my paintings,” Smith said. “I reached a much larger audience than I ever have before.”
But the images are only half of Smith’s artwork.
On the back of each Smith has included hand-written essays, poems and stories to further connect with his audience.
Originally Smith wanted to create images that were so compelling passers-by could not help but take them. Then, when they looked closer, they would read some of his autobiographical poetry, progressive propaganda about public policy and anti-war stories.
“In a way, my art is all about trying to communicate,” Smith said.
For example, he said, sharing is a theme throughout his art. It’s an obvious point when the artwork is given away, but it is something he also writes about in his poetry and essays.
“Let’s bring it back to kindergarten basics,” Smith said. “Share. Tell each other stupid stories. Have fun with it. That’s how you relate to people.”
This past weekend, Smith held an event at LIC Kleaners, a boutique specializing in skateboarder apparel on Broadway, where he handed out most of the paintings.
And with that, Smith’s great art experiment is over for now.
“Since I ran out of money and had to go back to work, I haven’t had the time or the resources to make anywhere near the same volume of art,” Smith said. “So this is a rare event, not likely to be repeated for years.”
Reach news editor Kevin Zimmerman at 718-260-4541 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.