We’re very pleased to be digging back into the art scene with the onset of Artists For Animals: Blow The Scene Fest I and thus present our first in an ongoing series of artist spotlights, as we focus on an intriguing Philadelphia-based artist, Dylan Garret Smith. With a niche approach that sees this young artist craft his works in the nontraditional fashion of dark to light on mediums that include black cotton rag paper and ash, the Pratt graduate has been picking up momentum.
Recent works have been completed for Metal Blade recording artists, Early Graves and The Funeral Pyre, including a series of art showcases in New York City and Philadelphia. Dylan was kind enough to go in-depth on his artistic processes, current shows, artistic development, the Philly art scene, and much more in this exclusive interview.
Without further ado, let’s hear from artist Dylan Garrett Smith.
Joshua BTS: Greetings! Thank you for taking a few minutes with Blow The Scene readers from around the world. Let’s kick off this interview by having you introduce yourself and your mediums for artistic expression.
Hello! My name is Dylan Garrett Smith, and I am an artist/printmaker from Northeast Pennsylvania. I earned my Bachelor’s Degree in Fine Art from Pratt Institute of Art in Brooklyn, NY. Aside from the occasional print, my current work is made primarily with ashes, chalk lead, and ink on black cotton rag paper. It’s a process of building layers and atmosphere from dark to light, rather than light to dark.
Joshua BTS: You have been kind enough to share some new works with us. Please get us up to speed on your creation process from idea to fruition. Let’s start with the “A House For Agatha” piece. What sparked this idea? And please take us through the creation process
Dylan Garrett Smith: “A House For Agatha” was inspired by a beautiful, old willow tree on a back road an hour north of Philadelphia. When I was traveling north to visit friends or family, I would take this road just so I could look at this specific tree. For some reason, I enjoy giving names to things like trees, my knife, etc., and developing stories about their personalities. At some point, I named this tree “Agatha” and a story about her started developing from there. These narratives often inform the work I’m making and, to me, are incredibly specific, but might mean something completely different to the viewer. This specific piece is in a show called, “Philias: Loved to Death” at Gristle Tattoo in Brooklyn, NY. In addition to the story I was already creating, the concept of achluophilia, or the obsessive love of darkness, ties in.
Once I have a narrative in my mind, I make a small sketch to finalize the composition. I rarely look at photos of forests when I’m drawing them, because nature, while being perfect, is equally as imperfect in other ways. Trying to find a photograph that will work for any specific piece is nearly impossible for me, so I create these scenes in my head before putting anything on paper. I then tone the black paper with ashes and from there I can create different tones with chalk lead or ink washes. For the more detailed aspects, I usually look at multiple images for inspiration and draw everything out on white paper with graphite, so I can perfect them to my liking and transfer the image onto the final piece after.
Joshua BTS: Did you approach “Mirror of Obsidian” and “Two lovers” the same way?
Dylan Garrett Smith: In some ways, yes, but for the most part, no. “Two Lovers” was created in a way very similar to “A House For Agatha”, while with “Mirror of Obsidian”, it was incredibly important to get the gesture of the figure how I wanted it. Drawing slumped shoulders is very different from drawing dark, wooded areas, so to me, there needs to be some adjusting in regards to how things are laid out, even if you are using the exact same materials.
Joshua BTS: When did the arts first spark passion in you? How did/do you approach your artistic training and development? And looking back- Would you embark on the same path or travel different directions?
Dylan Garrett Smith: Originally, I became interested in art through going to punk and hardcore shows. Whenever I would see bands I liked, I would check out the designs on their shirts, patches and albums. They all looked really great, but the day my younger brother brought home a Thrasher Magazine when I was 13 or 14 years old and I saw Pushead’s work for the first time it was like something clicked. All I wanted to do was see more of his work.. And whenever I did, I would immediately cut it out and hang it on my wall. From there, I started drawing and writing more, eventually deciding to continue my artistic education by going to college.
School was always difficult for me, though I usually did well. College, on the other hand, was almost a constant uphill battle. I was young, immature, and had an incredibly hard time articulating my thoughts to the people around me. Looking back, it’s difficult to say whether I would change anything. If I had waited until years later when I would have been ready to go, I may not have actually followed through. There are definitely things I wish I had cared more about while I was there, but rather than regret those things, I am doing my best to pursue them in my spare time.
Joshua BTS: You recently relocated to Philadelphia. Why the decision to base your art operations here? What are some of your favorite aspects of the Philadelphia art scene?
Dylan Garrett Smith: I strongly believe that Philadelphia has one of the strongest art scenes in the country. The amount of talented people in this city is astronomical and the range of venues to exhibit their work encourages creativity and growth. I love that everyone is supportive of other artists, rather than competitive. It creates an atmosphere where artists are constantly producing new work while progressing.
Joshua BTS: Who are some of your favorite local artists? Who are some of your favorite all-time artists and why?
Dylan Garrett Smith: Some of my favorite local artists are Paul Romano, Jess Schnabel (Bloodmilk), Michael Bukowski, Jeanne D’Angelo, Heather Gargon, Mike Wahlberg, Kat Gun, and Jeremy Hush.
As far as my all-time favorites go, I’d have to say Caravaggio, Francis Bacon, Jos A Smith, Pushead, Ralph Eugene Meatyard, Skinner, Dennis McNett, John Dyer Baizley.. It’s so hard for me to make a list because when I’m not making art, I’m reading magazines, books, blogs, and watching documentaries about art and artists. I’m constantly discovering talented people that I wish I had heard of years ago.
Joshua BTS: Do you create simply for the passion of it or do you hope to one day sustain yourself from an art-based business?
Dylan Garrett Smith: I think for most artists, including myself, it’s a mixture of both wanting to sustain yourself through something you love doing, and it’s also about having an inherent need to always be making things. Some people need to stay busy being creative, using their hands, drawing, painting, building things, writing, making music, etc. People that aren’t artists, in one way or another, usually don’t understand that fact. A lot of the art that I make won’t ever be seen by anyone, but I made it because I needed to at that time. Over the last couple of years, the response to the art that I do show and make available for sale has been really positive. It’s an incredible feeling to receive attention for work that you would make whether people were seeing it or not.
Joshua BTS: You recently designed for two bands we dig, Early Graves and the Funeral Pyre. How did this come about? How was the experience? And are you looking to work with more music artists in the future?
Dylan Garrett Smith: John Strachan, from both Early Graves and The Funeral Pyre, contacted me through my site about doing some design work for him. I really enjoy what both bands are doing, so the experience was great. It’s usually a good experience when you are working with people that are making art that you enjoy.
When I was younger, I would design for my friends that were in bands locally, so it’s something I’ve been doing since I started making art. I always look forward to working on projects with bands and musicians; it’s a challenge. It’s easy for me to come up with an idea, imagine it in my head, and put it on paper, but at times it can be difficult to hear someone’s idea and create an image that is true to your aesthetics and their concept. That being said, I think the most fun projects are ones similar to what I did with Early Graves and The Funeral Pyre. John sent me a song/lyrics for Early Graves and an album title for The Funeral Pyre and essentially said, “let’s see what you come up with.” I love when that happens.
Joshua BTS: What are some of the challenges you face as an emerging artist trying to get your name out there in the world?
Dylan Garrett Smith: One of the biggest challenges is getting people to take you seriously as an artist. When I’m working on art constantly, it can be difficult to take the time to go to openings or events to meet other artists and talk to gallery owners or curators, especially when someone is as introverted and reclusive as me. You can’t walk into a gallery and say “look what I can do!” and expect them to care.
Joshua BTS: Do you listen to music when you work? If so- What are some recent picks?
Dylan Garrett Smith: Absolutely. When I’m working, I love playing a few specific records at full volume and working for hours on end. Some of my favorites are Times of Grace by Neurosis, Torn Beyond Reason by Woods of Desolation, Black Cascade by Wolves in the Throne Room, Burning for the Ancient by Addaura, Long Division by Low, Pentagram by Gorgoroth, Left & Leaving by the Weakerthans, and everything Dark Dark Dark, Cursed, and Burning Witch have ever made. It’s rare for me to find new bands and musicians, so I find sites like BTS are really awesome.
Joshua BTS: Thank you! Obviously you have a knack for visual art. Do you have any other artistic outlets or passions that you are pursuing.
Dylan Garrett Smith: Aside from two-dimensional art, I’ve been working on a few concepts for installations lately. I imagine the installations being in addition to the two-dimensional pieces I create. I’m excited to start photographing them in the next month or so.
One of my favorite things to do when I’m not making art or looking at other artists is hike and look for bones and feathers. Over the years, I’ve acquired a few dozen skulls from various animals that I’ve found in the forest. It’s incredibly relaxing to walk through the woods and look for interesting things. Now that I’m in Philly, I have to travel a little bit for seclusion, but it makes it that much more enjoyable.
Joshua BTS: You have a number of pieces that will be shown during several upcoming shows. How do you decide which shows to show your art and any shows coming up that you are particularly looking forward to?
Dylan Garrett Smith: I like exhibiting my work in spaces and with artists that are passionate about what they are doing. From October, 2012 to January 2013, I had a solo exhibition of my work at Grindcore House in South Philadelphia and was incredibly happy with the response. Since then, I’ve shown work at Left Hand Black in San Diego, CA, and Gristle Tattoo in Brooklyn, NY. Opening April 27th, I’ll be exhibiting more work in a show at Gristle Tattoo called, Metamorphosis: Liminal Beings and Legendary Creatures. All of the spaces I have mentioned are great and worthy of support. In the future, I look forward to finding more venues to exhibit my work and coming across more artists that are devoted to their craft.
Joshua BTS: For those interested- Where is the best place for admirers of your work to keep up with you?
Dylan Garrett Smith: The best places to keep up with my artistic endeavors, my antique/bone collection, and anything else that I might be up to are as follows:
Joshua BTS: We really appreciate you taking a few minutes with Blow The Scene readers from around the world as we look forward to keeping up with your future projects. Any final thoughts?
Dylan Garrett Smith: I want to thank you for taking the time to interview me, Blow the Scene, and the readers for checking out my work and seeing what I have to say. If you are reading this and love looking at art, I would like to meet you at an opening (though you may have to introduce yourself to me first) and if you love making art, my advice is to never stop making things. As a young artist, myself included, it’s difficult to understand that for every person you make art FOR, there are 10,000 that your work will never appeal to. The best thing you can do for yourself is embrace the fact that you wouldn’t want them liking your work in the first place.
Interview and photo by BTS Editor in Chief, Joshua T. Cohen
Photo from our En(danger) benefit Gallery