Patricia Smith’s eyes, like her art, spill with emotions so real, so consuming, and yet so gentle.
In an instant, her melodic voice glides over the multiple shades of the palette that is her life. With each burst of color, another country she worked in passes by, another historical character influences her and another medium of self-expression is used for her experiments.
In a few breaths, the Woodbridge resident spans over her years spent in Jamaica as an art teacher with the Peace Corps where she engaged both students and teachers in art appreciation workshops to later years pursuing and acquiring a doctorate in art education from Pennsylvania State University.
With her calm, methodical manner of explanation, it is easy to recognize the decades of her teaching experience.
Smith’s works in drawings, paintings and other media have been consistently exhibited in national and international shows for years. She is currently the featured artist in the “Etched in Time” exhibit at the Artists Undertaking Gallery, a quaint gallery in historic Occoquan that houses a wide range of artworks from 14 local artists.
On center display are five of Smith’s etchings, and several other prints of various sizes are at the rear of the gallery. Each work offers a taste of exotic abstracts where textured surfaces and dramatic colors engulf feminine themes and far-away worlds.
“I like to take images that don’t usually go together, like a bonsai tree and the desert, and I play with them until they just fit,” she said pointing at “Desert Bloom.”
Similar to designing a collage, Smith combines historical and social concepts that resonate with her, she said. “I just keep playing around with different images, combining different ideas. The freedom to play is something I’ve learned from working with children.”
Gender stereotypes, inequalities and oppression ? dominant themes in Smith’s works ? serve as reminders of her travels through Morocco, the Caribbean, South America and Europe. Art offers a means for increased understanding of genders and cultures of the world, she said.
“I was always interested in the visual aspects of other cultures, how people make meaningful lives through art,’ she said.
In today’s instant-culture, defined only by the
constant flipping of channels and clicking of the mouse, the actual process of creating art is equally as meaningful as the final design, she said.
“I am fascinated with the process of creation, of fully developing and thinking through an idea. Every artist at this gallery has such a unique style and approach to creating,” said Smith.
In this exhibit, Smith relies on a form of printmaking called intaglio, derived from the Italian word intagliare that means “to carve or cut into,” she said. She fell in love with this relatively complicated process more than 30 years ago as an undergraduate student when she bought her first work of art, an etching by the 18th-century printmaker Piranesi.
Each of her intaglio prints was created on zinc plates, which were then inked in a variety of acid and non-acid techniques, including etching, photo-editing, aquatint, open biting, lift ground, soft ground and chine-colle. Each technique added detail to her vision.
“Etchings are so process-oriented,” she said. “Like a dance they are unpredictable, always unfolding. You have one image of what you want the print to look like, but often you end up with a completely altered final image,” she said.
Smith hopes that more people can enjoy the potential for constant discovery and invention that this process offers, she said.
“I hope to see more art education programs for people of all ages. There’s never a time in life when it isn’t necessary to be creative,” she said.
“Art allows you to connect what is beautiful in the world to your soul,” she said.
Holding some recently sketched note cards of soaring angels, Smith said, “Art is a bridge between the spiritual world and the material world.”