Honoring The Artist: Dinah Maxwell Smith

This week’s cover by Dinah Maxwell Smith is a good example of the artist’s interests and styles. Called “Beach Read,” it combines Smith’s signature beach scenes, often including a figure, and her love of reading. The background/foreground composition gives the image depth (although this is not always the case in many of Smith’s paintings). What is common in her work, however, is the love of life that the artist evokes and the familiarity that we feel with the subject matter. That sense of familiarity is particularly important to Smith whose search for a “connection” with people and experiences has been a lifelong commitment.
Q: The idea of familiarity certainly applies literally to the cover.
A: It’s an image of my mother in her twenties. It’s from a photograph.
Q: So there’s obviously a meaningful connection there. How else has connection, or lack of it, played a part in your life?
A: I moved away from Southampton, where I was in the same house for 30 years. I went to live in Taos, New Mexico, for two and a half years. I bought a house, which was a former five-car garage, with a beautiful view of Taos Mountains. I had five cats, five dogs and one horse. But I missed it here; I missed the trees and the ocean. I missed the connection I had here.
Q: How was life in Taos?
A: Everyone was a transient there. People came and went. They go there to find themselves. I already knew myself.
Q: What did you know about yourself? And did your parents have a hand in that?
A: I knew when I was five years old that I wanted to be an artist. When I was 13, I knew I wanted to go to the Rhode Island School of Design. And I did. My father was encouraging about my art. He was an art director at Y & R Advertising Agency.
Q: You grew up in New York and lived in the city as an adult. What was the art scene like then?
A: I lived in a loft on Bowery near Spring for four years, playing a hippy in bell bottoms, but I wasn’t a hippy. Bob Indiana lived in my building and was very helpful when it came to my art. Roy Lichtenstein lived across the street. I remember I had my first show in 1970 and put the announcement on a postcard. It was a photograph of my mother with a book. I sent the postcard to The New York Times, and I got a review. I think I was the first person to use post cards for announcements.
Q: You moved to a lot of places in New York.
A: I moved to East 20th Street, the Upper East Side, 51st Street and Second Avenue. Then I bought a place in Southampton.
Q: Is there any other place in the world where you thought of living?
A: No place except here, although I would go to Paris every year to visit because my parents would go.
Q: So if you want a change, you wouldn’t move. How would you change your style?
A: My signature use of details holds me back. My thinking is abstract. I don’t need to explain all these details. I don’t want to spend all this time with backgrounds. I would do less “noodling.”
Q: But I bet your photographs that you’ve collected over the years would still remain an important source for your ideas.
A: I was always a truth-seeker. That’s how I approach my art. Photographs are a kind of truth.
Dinah Maxwell Smith will be showing her work at 4 North Main Street in Southampton from June 6 -18. The reception is June 9.

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