Trains, diners, and muscular women characterize the outsider art of Lewis Smith.
His vision gives us a connection to his early twentieth-century adventures.
But who was this outsider, and how did he come up with his art?
Let’s take a look!
The Story of Lewis Smith
Lewis Smith, born in 1907, was an eccentric outsider artist from Ohio. His father worked for the railroad. As a result, Lewis had a lifetime rail pass and traveled to destinations beyond rural America’s small towns and farms.
Smith began drawing trains in great detail in the 1920s. In time, he compiled a fascinating historical record of railroads through photographs and other documents.
Lewis lived most of his life alone in the woods of Ohio. However, he subscribed to over 100 newspapers from around the country. His writing and image commentaries reveal a highly intelligent man with an unusual association with random facts. He coupled these with his unique observations and expressed it all in his artwork.
Old boxes, paper bags, and other discarded items were the canvas of choice for Smith. The walls of his house and outbuildings were a canvas too. His favorite tools tended toward pencil, crayon, and ink pen.
Untrained and prolific, Smith compulsively recorded what he saw with humor and fantasy.
Is Lewis Smith Still Alive?
Smith died in 1988. Like many outsider artists, the complete unconventional genius of his work wasn’t revealed until after his death. Unique creations filled his home. The interior and exterior walls displayed splendid examples of his favorite subjects, trains, and women.
No one knew of Smith’s artwork until a New York gallery displayed his pieces. Today, individual items can auction for up to $2500.
What Inspired Lewis Smith’s Art?
Smith once wrote, “I want the whole world to be in my head and still wear my own hat.” Throughout his life, he documented his experiences in journals and pictures. Early drawings of trains were quite meticulous. Later in life, he expressed his memories through more whimsical and colorful expressions.
Lewis highlighted ordinary destinations he visited in his artwork. He illustrated places such as restaurants, railways, and sporting events with color and humor on recycled materials.
One of Lewis Smith’s favorite subjects was muscular women, specifically boxers and wrestlers. Abstract erotic drawings are also part of his collection.
Tell Me More About Lewis Smith’s Art
Smith took advantage of the materials available, often incorporating the words or images found on the recycled material. The paintings on the walls of his house were usually bigger than life. Here we look more closely into Smith’s objects of inspiration.
Women on brown paper bags is a collection of Smith’s artworks on discarded grocery bags. The crayon, marker, and ballpoint ink images reflect his preoccupation with muscular women.
Drawings on white paper are colorful images created with markers, crayons, or pencils. Most are abstracts written with Smith’s own poetic takes on life.
Lewis used most paper-related items like biscuit boxes and cardboard. Some of these pencil and crayon scenes depict architecture – many are whimsical, while others have a keen eye for three dimensions.
We love Smith’s unique and down-to-earth view of the alleyways he visited. They portray the people living there, often with fun commentary as they lean out their windows, calling to each other across the alleys.
The animals in Smith’s work evoke a carnival atmosphere. They wear colorful costumes and pull carriages while a crowd cheers in the distance.
Reading Lewis’ text and graphics is an intriguing way to learn a little more about his thought process. Some of his writings are labels and illustrations for his destinations. The more personality-revealing commentary uncovers an intelligent man with an excellent memory and a strange wit.
Where Can I See Lewis Smith’s Art?
You can find preserved collections of Smith’s art at the American Folk Art Museum, American Visionary Art Museum, and Collection de l’Art Brut, France.
None of them have current exhibits of his work. Still, the correct requests may make it available to educators and researchers. A quick online search for Smith reveals websites with authentic original pieces on sale.
Our personal collection at Outside Folk Art showcases Pop’s Hideout. This fun piece on a cracker box is one of the diners visited by Smith. We love the colorful barstools and the hostess wrapped in a snake, ready to pour up a Shasta for five cents.
Outside Folk Art is an online gallery that celebrates the work of classic folk artists and gives voice to rising black, Native, immigrant, and working mother artists. Pop over to Instagram to see Pop’s Hideout and tell us what you think.
Wearing His Own Hat
Lewis Smith’s work provides a glimpse into ordinary American life, such as taking the train to reach a destination and stopping by a diner for a bite. And Smith didn’t cover the walls of his house with artwork for notoriety. He did it for personal amusement and self-expression. We love the idea of having that kind of outlet!
What do you think of Lewis Smith’s art? Let us know in the comments!