Smiley’s Way

Reading Time: 4 minutes
Art by Jess Smiley

No matter how wonderful the art is, the community usually doesn’t care about about some random townie’s work. Why should they? We live in the Interweb Age, where eons of entertainment are a double-click away. Folks seem generally more comfortable with art by people they don’t know.

Perhaps that removal is a stamp of approval. If someone besides the artist recommends the art, it seems likelier that it is worthwhile. This is 2010 – everyone is their own agent and PR firm. But if a local artist doesn’t have the wherewithal to even pretend that other people are interested their product, very few people are even going to pretend to care.

The sudden decimation of Provo/Orem’s gallery scene only makes matters worse. Since 2008, Mode Boutique, Coal Umbrella, Coleman Studios, the Sego Art Center and F Stop have all shut down. Maestro’s Gelateria, which also hung local art, is currently on hiatus. Longtime fixture Gallery One Ten’s website is now something in Japanese about smart phones. With less local space to showcase their talents, there are now even less opportunities for artists within the community.

Jess Smart Smiley, however, seems nonplussed. “On one hand, it was great to see more people looking at the art, but I don’t feel like losing galleries is the end of the world. I reach more people through Facebook than I did through galleries.”

Art by Jess Smiley

Smiley, an artist, musician and UVU graduate, has built a more-than-functional promotional machine out of this sort of nonchalance. “My audience is me, first. I still feel the tension of that relationship, between artist and audience, but it’s less important.”

Smiley started off working in the vernacular of fine art, but soon found himself restless. “I can’t bite it, make it bleed,” he says. “Plus with ‘fine art’, you either get it or you don’t get it and you pretend”

He also found dissatisfaction from the formalities of art education. “Its great to learn how Da Vinci drew. But you should also learn how you draw. People who study art often walk away thinking that if you don’t create in a certain way, it’s wrong. They should embrace their mistakes, embrace the natural – in a way, everyone should be an outsider artist.”

Smiley tends to be unorthodox when it comes to getting his work to the masses. “I straddle the line between the way things are done and the way I want to do them.”

Many times, Smiley’s way ends up being the way he best connects with others. Recently while performing music from his self-released album THINGS THAT LIGHT UP, he held up a sign with his phone number, announcing that the fourth caller would receive one of his coloring books. While working as a promo man for the online math tutors, Smiley came up with the Human Vending Machine – a cardboard box on the street in which Smiley sat and did drawings on commission. The City of Lindon liked this concept so much that they hired Smiley for their annual art fair two years in a row.

Art by Jess Smiley

This sort of creativity, not only in his work, but in the distribution thereof, has led Smiley to very positive ends. Recently, Smiley’s 15-page conservationist comic A MAP IN THE DIRT was picked up by Grimalkin Press. If that weren’t enough, Smiley will be joining the ranks of respected graphic novelists such as Craig Thompson (BLANKETS), Jeffrey Brown (CLUMSY) and Alan Moore (WATCHMEN), when Top Shelf Productions publishes UPSIDE DOWN, the story of a young vampire who loses his teeth, in 2011.

Smiley offers his opinion with a very unpretentious air. One starts wondering if the problem of local art might lie with the artist rather than the audience. Anyone with a computer or even the most basic cellphone has access to thousands of people’s work at any given moment of the day. Is it the fault of the audience that, amid the throbbing mass of supplications to look at this or listen to that or become a fan of this on Facebook, a crappy flier and a mass text is not going bring the kids out to see your work?

Smiley may not speak of himself or his work in any kind of proscriptive manner, and may not explicitly recommend his methods to everyone. It is clear from his example that perhaps local art may only survive when artists begin thinking outside the handbills and the venues and starting leading with their instincts.

“I pretty much want to have a good time and have meaningful experiences,” Smiley shrugs. “I think most people do. But whatever the reason, they don’t allow themselves to do it.”

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