In the Flesh Of Trees ….evolving work 2015



                                                                                                                                                                 In  The  Flesh  Of  Trees

                                                                                  new  work  by  Claude  Smith



early life:  I have had a  lifelong relationship with writing, drawing, and writing as drawing. My father, Sid Smith, was a classically trained painter and calligrapher (decades before the computer age). There were stacks of art books and calligraphy books in our New York apartment, and as a child, I would trace the different letter forms that I found in the books, sometimes creating my own variations. With my father's guidance, i was able to identify many typefaces by name and salient characteristics before i started elementary school.

After earning a B.F.A. from Pratt Institute, mark-making and writing-drawing began appearing as regular features in my work. Discovering the art of Antoni Tapies and Cy Twombly was both revelatory and inspiring, but a little disappointing in that they had so thoroughly mined the territory of contemporary mark-making. That said, I was committed to finding my own voice and have persisted in exploring different media and concepts ever since. 


graphology: In 2005 I began a 3 year course of study in graphology under the tutelage of Janice Klein and mentorship of Roger Rubin. Theirs was a Gestalt psychological approach to the art of graphology, sometimes referred to as handwriting analysis. During this time, I examined and analyzed 100's of handwriting samples, and came to realize that people, all people, are somewhat bent, damaged, or struggling with their own inner torments and demons. I came away from this course with a greater appreciation of the scars, visible and invisible, that we all carry, and realized, more than anything, the need for more compassion and understanding. 


1000 tiny cuts:  In 2011 I began documenting bits of graffiti carved into trees I'd find while walking the streets of downtown Los Angeles. To date, I've taken about 3000  photos of tree-scrawl, incised by innumerable carvers over several decades. As a student of graphology, I was interested in what the marks could tell me about the writers. As an artist, I was interested in the historic lineage of this kind of mark-making throughout the world, but more than that, the aesthetic and social implications of these expressions of our contemporary culture and consciousness. Man's relationship with nature is but one of those considerations.  


In the Flesh of Trees:  This body of work includes new pieces from late 2015.  My art-making process has evolved from documentation to transformation. The graphological DNA from the original tree-writing is still embedded in the latest work which resemble totems, and mandala-like configurations but is firmly rooted in  urban, multi-cultural and contemporary culture.  In short, I am seeing and reorganizing the pain and beauty of our society, as it has been knifed into the flesh of trees.


                                                                                                                                                      Claude Smith, 2015


This is an ongoing series that began sometime in late 2012.   Inspired by walking  downtown  Los Angeles, where glitter meets gutter,  dreams fall away, grime and graffiti become the streets, and  time moves terribly slow.  where are we going? so busy, so important. 

My poet friend, Jack Crimmins says it better…..

Scratch Metal/ L.A. Graffiti

men scar the world with knives

scratch metal down to new vision

graffiti the street until the street is new

crossing the danger

dead men crossing

men cross over into spirit

alive to knives

to metal ways

this earth, this time, this now.


men scratch metal down

new vision


earth into spirit

alive to knives 




the street is new



Writing, drawing, scribbling and scrawling have always been an integral part of my life. This series is dedicated to my father, Sid Smith, painter and calligrapher , who introduced me to beautiful writing and art-making in NYC back in the 1950's and '60's.  I would also like to thank master graphologists, Roger Rubin and Janice Klein for their mentorship and friendship in the study of graphology, and more. 

Words Fall Away is an ongoing series that began in 1998. The work emerged from open-ended experiments in non-verbal communication as I moved through my daily life in silence. I was interested to see what would happen internally and externally if i chose to stop speaking for moments, hours, days, weeks at a time.  

Over the years, as the experiments and artwork evolved, I noticed how we humans have a need to leave our mark, one way or another….. to let it be known "I am here….I was here….I matter….I have mattered."

words fall away….

what are the implications...

what remains...

ineffable joy

unspeakable sorrow


the storm's eye?

y'know, words will fail you,

hope will betray you,

faith will mislead you,

your flesh will slowly tear from the bone and all your dreams will fade into the night.

rejoice !!


Thank you for visiting my site. You might have noticed that it is made up of mostly images, with very little info about the work.  This is intentional.  I want the viewers to experience the art as it is (albeit online), untempered by the usual data(date, size, title, medium etc.) .  If you'd like to know more about specific pieces, write to me and I'll be happy to furnish that information. 

I"m planning on using this blog section to write a little about each series o f work featured on this site.

MARGINS:  This is work that I'm currently developing. I don't have much to say about it yet, other than it has something to do with those of us who are living in the margins of the margins, in one way or another.   The thing with making art (for me) is that the visual/tactile impulse tends to lead, and words about the art come later.  That's where I'm at with this series right now. 

A Life In Art

By the age of six, I knew I wanted to be an artist like my father and his friends. In one of the rooms of our NYC apartment, my father, Sid,  had an easel, paints, brushes, and a drawing table where he did his work. I had an area on the floor next to him where I did my work.

In addition to being a fine artist, Sidney Smith, was an art director in a large NY advertising agency, and an excellent calligrapher. It was not unusual to see him at his drawing board in the hours before dawn working on an ad campaign, or sketching out preliminary drawings for future paintings.   

I have a clear memory of making my way through the smoky darkness of our apartment early one winter morning. Both of my parents were heavy smokers, and there was always a cloud of dense, acrid smoke, drifting languidly, hanging in the air.  I crept into my father's studio, drawn to the humming glow of fluorescence filling the space above his drawing table. The dramatic contrast of this man and his work, lit up inside the smoke and darkness of the room was nothing short of magical, made all the more entrancing by the ease and finesse with which my father could make marvelous somethings appear on gleaming white paper, where there had previously been nothing. Witnessing the process of his imagination being transformed into narrative images and words made a profound and indelible impression on me. It was on one of those dark, smoke-filled winter mornings that I knew I wanted to be an artist.

During those early years my father nurtured my creative spirit. He taught me to draw, paint and to write beautifully. We would make frequent trips to the great museums and galleries of New York. The cutting edge paintings of abstract expressionist artists,  Rothko, de Kooning, Kline, Pollock and Motherwell were familiar to me,  and I could differentiate one artist's work from another, very early on. 

At the age of twelve or thirteen I was enrolled at the Art Students League of N.Y. where I studied figure drawing. By the age of sixteen I was admitted to Pratt Institute where in the course of four years I had three significant teachers. The first two were German-expressionist Jochen Seidel, whose roots went straight back to the Bauhaus, and Ed Dugmore, who was a well known American abstract expressionist, often associated with Clyfford Still.  Robert Natkin was the spiritual descendent of Paul Klee and Pierre Bonnard. Seidel, Dugmore and Natkin instilled a deep appreciation for the traditions and history of art and its painters as well as providing an introduction to the sensuality and complexity of color, line and composition. Most importantly, they illuminated the path of the artist's way, one that is infused with passion, tenacity and uncertainty.  After earning a B.F.A. from Pratt, I studied with Phillip Pearlstein, who also had a long-lasting influence on my life and art. 

Beginning in 1967, I began exhibiting my work in NYC.

In 1979, I relocated to rural Sonoma County, in northern California, where I have maintained a studio, and have been fortunate to have collaborated with some stellar and noted musicians, dancers and poets in the last few decades. 

The art work I create mirrors my inner life, serving as an ongoing journal without words.  For me, painting is a means to access and process feelings, sensations, and information buried in the unconscious. It is also a way to reflect the beauty, depth and richness inherent in nature and humanity. 

I spend a lot of time outdoors, both in and outside of cities…. walking, observing. There is an organic, unselfconscious harmony created from chaos and seemingly random occurrences, fully charged with a sense of mystery rooted in the unknown that inspires me, and continually renews my reverence for life. In appreciating the beauty, fragility, wildness, mystery and transient quality in all life, it brings me to living/creating in the same spirit, and asks that I move through this world with greater stillness, awareness, and compassion.