While cover artist Randy Smith is not a local artist, his various plein air paintings of the East End seem so authentic that we’d swear the artist was born and raised here. The truth is, he grew up in New Jersey and then moved from place to place for several years, finally settling near Charlottesville, Virginia. No matter what the setting, however, Smith has a penchant for the land and historical structures. In a word, his images convey the essential character of the environment.
Smith’s professional interests mirror his personal ones: he and his family live in the Virginia countryside where the past is king. He and his wife reside in a little old schoolhouse with no electricity; their four children—one is a photographer, another is a musician, one is a forger and another a welder—are situated in the larger main house. The historic James River (a subject for many of his works) is located in the area.
Your cover image, “Sunset Over Montauk,” represents your favorite kinds of places, often-historic landmarks that are connected to the environment. Tell us about your cover, which was done on-location, so to speak, “plein air.”
I did it in March, 2009; it was the first painting I did on the East End.
I remember it was a real challenge because I was using a sleeping bag to paint from. It was snowing and raining in Montauk at the time. Then the sun came out.
That was really challenging, logistically speaking. What drew you to Montauk in the first place, all the way from Virginia?
I was working on Long Island for two weeks on renovating a house. I was also here recently doing a commissioned painting for a restaurant in Southampton.
You first came to East Hampton in the 1960s, but grew up in New Jersey. But you didn’t stay put.
I went to the University of New Mexico in Albuquerque and majored in art.
Why New Mexico? It’s so different from where you lived.
It’s alphabetically right after New Jersey.
I bet it was a good experience. After graduation in 1977, where did you go?
I relocated in Petaluma, in the California Bay Area, and met Mark di Suvero, who became my mentor and taught me how to run a crane. Then I settled in Virginia where my two sisters lived.
How did your time in California with di Suvero influence your art?
I used the crane for large sculptures, but I don’t do them anymore since I have a back problem. Instead, I do small paintings that are two-dimensional sculptures.
As I previously mentioned, many subjects for these works are buildings or structures that have interesting histories and are related to particular settings. Can you be specific about what they are?
Historical buildings in Morristown, New Jersey, where I was raised, Alexander Hamilton’s House in Harlem. I also paint bridges a lot.
Where else in the world would you like to capture local scenery and history?
Dubai and the desert, the Great Wall of China, Hong Kong. But I’m happy painting in Virginia. Oh yes, Taos, New Mexico. I’ve been there, but I’d go back any day.
Besides painting, what else takes up your time?
I do hot yoga and study Taoism.
And how does Taoism influence your art? Does it make you more disciplined, focused?
Taoism makes it easier to live.
Randy Smith’s work can be seen on his website, randysmithart.com, and at Sag Harbor’s Romany Kramoris Gallery, 41 Main Street, 631-725-2499, kramorisgallery.com