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Black History

FORT WAYNE, IND. (WPTA21)-Theo: This is just my opportunity this is what I do to express myself and…for people to hear me.

Fort Wayne artist Theoplis Smith doesn’t paint on his canvas, he dances with it. Bobs and weaves like a prize fighter, leaning in, falling back, slashing at the work with bright, loud color.

You’re getting my expression from out of my mind out of my heart to actual canvas,” he explains.

And from what appears to be random thrusts with a brush emerges stunning, vivid portraits of men and women Theoplis Smith admires; 19th Century writer and civil rights leader Frederick Douglas. President Barack Obama, singer Johnny Cash. But Smith’s message goes deeper than admiration. Here Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. references football star Colin Kaepernick’s controversial protest against racism.

I’m not biased,” he says, “but also too I want to make sure that from being African American a male black African American guy that my voice needs to be heard as well.”

It’s not possible to look at Smith’s work and not hear that voice. His bright, vivid colors add desperation, anger, joy and hope to his portraits in a way subdued color couldn’t. Smith calls his art ‘phresh laundry’, he hangs it out for all to see. Part of his recent exhibition at the Allen County library’s Krull gallery resembles a backyard clothes line. This is Ray Charles emerging full throated from a laundry basket. More than anything else Smith’s work argues for respect and acceptance from a society that often withholds both from people of color.

Culture and people have distorted who we are,” he says, “and this is my way of my voice being said ‘Hey, we’re no different from anybody else…we’re here because God made us and we here with a purpose and a passion.”

There is beauty in this work and a demand to be heard and seen and respected. Smith’s paintings hang in galleries across the country, his dramatic take on social and cultural issues doing what art is supposed to do…wake us up, make us think and ask that we change. Eric Olson reporting out in 21 Country.

Eric Olson

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