Gary Ernest Smith (1942- ) was born in the rural Eastern Oregon community of Baker. Early on, he showed talent in the visual arts, which his parents encouraged by enrolling him in a private art school, but his talent had already surpassed the teacher. By the time he started high school he had earned a reputation as an artist, doing landscapes and portraits. He attended Eastern Oregon State College and Brigham Young University, where he earned a master of fine arts degree. He served in the United States Army for two years as an illustrator, and he was on the faculty at BYU and acted as gallery director for three terms. Smith has been self-employed as an artist since 1972. He and his wife, Judy Asay Smith, have four children and live in Highland, Utah.
His paintings, some of which depict rural America from the turn of the century to the present, and others, which depict early Utah and 20th-century Oregon life, hang in museums, in private, corporate, and university collections, as well as in churches along the Wasatch Front. Though famous for his paintings, in recent years he has also turned his talents to sculpture. He is extensively published as an illustrator and has received many major commissions for his paintings and sculptures.
Smith strives for simple, direct statements that capture the essential character of his subject: icon and image are more important than explicit detail. “Large bold shapes, ” he says, “with minimal detail, are the substance of my work. Most of the detailing in my pictures is ‘implied’ rather than painted.” Termed a neo-regionalist, Smith works on the basis of reinterpretation of rural, mid-America themes. While acknowledging the appropriateness of the term, he also feels it’s too limiting. As an artist he concentrates on spatial and coloristic solutions, and his themes are often spiritual, though the interpretation is clearly unique in form and style. The subjects of Gary Smith’s art lie in three major areas–overt and latent religious subjects, landscapes, and evocations of the rural west, each born from poignant personal experiences in his life.
Donald Hagerty has written a book on Smith, which is part of the Orem Public Library’s collection, Holding Ground: The Art of Gary Ernest Smith.