Collen Smith

About the Artist

Colleen Francis Smith is an oil painter currently working out of Raleigh, North Carolina. She holds an M.F.A. in Painting from the University of Missouri and a B.A. in English Literature from St. Joseph’s University. In her paintings, she employs myth, folklore and the natural world to create dreamy environments that explore feelings of solitude, loss, complacency and yearning for connection, especially in such a time as this when humans are coping with the climate emergency. Using the landscape as a psychological character, these worlds are often populated with solitary figures who, left to their own devices, are venturing into worlds previously unknown. Smith has exhibited her work in several states, as well as Ukraine. Her studio assistants are Dave, a curious and luxuriant black cat, and Olivia, a chirpy, nervous, white and orange cat who both enjoy lounging about in the studio as she paints.

Artist Statement

In my oil paintings, I strive to capture the quiet drama of the human subconscious as it relates to the landscape, both tamed and wild. I employ folklore, myth, botany, and the natural world to shape new narratives of the human experience, exploring feelings of solitude, loss, complacency and yearning for connection. The forest and gardens that connect my paintings are not wild and unadulterated, but ones which human intention has been imprinted upon. The path winds through backyards and fantastical spaces and seamlessly shifts the narrative from being grounded in reality to being consumed and trapped by one’s own perception and imagination.

 Even though gardens, forests, and everything in between have been so integral to human history and survival, these spaces have become othered and romanticized as humans have moved away from nature and into communities of industry. In this distancing, these spaces have also become a place of mystery, an environment from which we draw symbol and meaning, but fail to completely understand. We go to nature to feel safely lost, to run away knowing that we will be found again. 

In my paintings, I reconcile our loss of connection to our deeper selves and the natural world through winding pathways, twisted roots and gardens dripping with acidic color. When I paint these wild worlds that simultaneously feel idyllic and sinister, I offer a space in which to navigate the physical and psychological mess that is our current reality. In these painted worlds, the nature character exists as something both strange and familiar, encapsulating the figures as they move deeper into it. Using both wild and tamed spaces as psychological platforms for journey, the subjects in these paintings escape their daily worlds by wandering down pathways and tripping over tree roots, chasing after something they cannot name.

What is your “Dreamland” ?

In my personal dreamland, I find that I have an actual geography of my subconscious. I have always been a vivid dreamer and tend to visit the same places over and over again, where I often problem solve issues I have in my waking life, sometimes presenting themselves as metaphorical beings and sometimes as experiences that are unmistakably relevant to reality. The way that I dream has immensely affected how I paint from the way the light hits the environments to the characters themselves. As dreams are a way for humans to cope with and sift through the trauma and insecurities of our waking lives, my paintings are tableaus of my own subconscious trying to understand the unstable reality that we collectively find ourselves in. By mixing in mythic tropes that meld with each other and crafting lush environments that feel like my own lucid dreams, I create dreamlands that simultaneously address issues of complacency, seduction and empowerment.

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