Arts & Entertainment

The magic behind the brush

It's hard to say what inspires the soul of an artist. Is it a place or a color? A face that touches the heart? Or perhaps a lifelong appreciation for fine art.

Pasco artist Larry Smith can't explain it. It's just something that happens when his eyes and hands work the magic with a paintbrush on canvas.

It's difficult for Smith to define the process he uses to create. The 67-year-old is a self-taught artist who spent 36 years in newspaper advertising overseeing the Tri-City Herald's graphics and layout departments.

Though he dabbled in his personal art occasionally, it wasn't until he retired in 2002 that he began devoting more time and thought to his talent. Now his portraits, landscapes and seascapes are displayed in homes throughout the Pacific Northwest.

And now Smith is sharing billing with renowned Prosser artist Ken Carter for a showing beginning June 4 at You & I Framing and Gallery in downtown Kennewick. The show will be part of the monthly Art Walk, which is the first Thursday of each month.

A dozen of Smith's paintings will be on display, along with about 10 paintings by Carter.

Like Smith, Carter had a career based in advertising. He spent 15 years as an art director for Marlboro cigarettes TV and national print publication advertisements.

But Carter is perhaps best known in the Northwest for his Western art, as well as several murals he created for the Toppenish Mural Society.

A reception for Smith and Carter is from 6 to 9 p.m. June 4 at the gallery, 214 W. First Ave. Their paintings will remain on display through July 1.

Smith began honing his talent as a boy growing up in east Texas. He said his dad prodded him to perfect his pencil replications of Red Rider comic book characters.

After Smith retired he found more time to spend in his small studio in the Pasco home he shares with his wife, Fay. He's making up for lost time and is a prolific painter.

But he also admits to impatience, and hates to wait for the oil paint to dry on a portion of a project before continuing. "I wish someone would come up with oil paint that dries quicker," he said with a smirk.

His portrait art gives the viewer a sense of realism at first glance, though that is something he actually tries to avoid.

"I don't want my art to look like a photograph," he said. "I want it to look like a painting. But viewers see what they see and there's nothing I can do about that."

Fay said her husband's landscapes evoke a sense of calm and quiet and beckon viewers to "come inside and experience the place and time."

After seeing one of Smith's portraits, Jim and Cassandra Lake of Kennewick commissioned him to paint a 36-inch by 48-inch oil portrait from a 1930s black-and-white photo of Jim Lake's late father.

"I walked into Larry and Fay's house one day and saw all these fabulous paintings and asked who did them," Cassandra Lake said. "Fay told me her husband painted them all and it just blew me away. There is such a lifelike quality to them. I loved the old photo of my father-in-law and his brother when they were boys so I asked Larry to paint it. It was so perfect that when we had our new house built we designed one wall to fit that painting."

There are similarities between Smith and Carter that go beyond art and their previous careers.

Both are silver haired, bearded, soft-spoken and unassuming. They're not eccentric or flamboyant, instead showing a simple, down-home casualness that is reflected in their art.

Carter, 62, focused his artistic talents on the West while working as a young man on his grandfather's Texas ranch. He earned his fine arts degree from the Art Center College of Design in Pasadena, Calif., served two years as an illustrator for the U.S. Army and spent more than 20 years as an executive art director for Leo Burnett Advertising Co. in Chicago.

He also was commissioned to do paintings for the office of the late Gen. William Westmoreland. Those paintings remain part of the Pentagon's permanent collection.

Carter left the corporate world in 1995 and has been painting in his studio in Prosser ever since.

"I feel so honored to be able to share this show with Ken," Smith said. "When I look at Ken's paintings I wonder to myself, 'How did he do this?' When I paint I have no particular strategy. I usually just fly by the seat of my pants most of the time."

The You & I gallery is open from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday and from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Saturday. Admission is free.