You Can Be Anything: Dancer Dylan Smith's Barbie Art Makes Hamptons Fine Art Fair Debut
Walking through the 2023 Hamptons Fine Art Fair earlier this month, one would find hundreds of paintings and dozens of sculptures by world-class artists ranging from Picasso and Norman Rockwell to Hans Van de Bovenkamp and Tony Rosenthal, and in one corner of the Pollock Pavilion, under the sign for Booth 204: Loves Gallery in Southampton, hung three unique mixed media works featuring painted Barbie dolls front and center.
The artist, Dylan Smith, stood out just as his art did, wearing an eye-catching shirt emblazoned with one of his signature artworks as he greeted fairgoers enthusiastically.
Anyone interested in perusing his other artworks and fashion pieces would likely search his name online after the fair. They’d find him on Instagram @DancerDylan and discover a multifaceted, multitalented artist who won’t settle for one artistic passion.
As a child in the early 1990s, Smith’s artistic expression shone through his drawings of fashionable female figures. However, when he began to immerse himself in performing arts in his middle and high school years, the visual arts were put on pause.
Following this passion as a young adult, he attended Marymount Manhattan College, graduating with a BA in Dance and the nickname “Dancer Dylan.”
He’s enjoyed success in dance, theater and choreography, earning a 2023 Emmy nomination for Outstanding Choreography. He currently teaches dance and theater choreography in Hollywood and describes these mentorship roles as a “huge part of my career and passion.”
Smith’s urge to draw resurfaced around 2016, while he was still “heavily immersed” in theater and dance, and people began taking notice of the drawings he’d leave on bar napkins and the like. When the COVID-19 shutdown dried up all the performance jobs, he went “hardcore into creating” visual arts pieces, especially on a larger scale, from his place in Palm Springs.
During that time, the Palm Springs Public Arts Commission put out an invitation to artists to apply for the opportunity to refurbish one of the city’s benches with their art. Without a visual arts resume to speak of at the time, Smith was among those selected and got to leave his mark on the city with “Dame Judy Bench.”
“I’m very good at dance, well recognized, and people seek me out to teach, choreograph and perform, but (the Public Arts Commission) didn’t know me at all. This was merely based on my submission, so it felt really empowering to have that standalone (opportunity) without any sort of background,” Smith says.
From that opportunity sprung more, including a local business owner there who hired him to paint window activations on their vacant storefronts.
“Within one month’s time during COVID, I was getting a lot of opportunity and recognition for my visual art, which boosted my confidence and gave me a lot of experience, as well as a bit of clout behind what I was doing as a sort of COVID hobby,” he adds.
Ready to give visual arts the same level of professional passion he’s given performing arts, Smith collaborated with his close friend Jen Contini, an established artist and owner of Loves Gallery, on several exhibitions and events that bolstered his place in the New York and California art markets.
In addition to his shows at Contini’s Southampton gallery, one of their most memorable events, Smith shares, was an Oscars party at the Beverly Wilshire hotel in Beverly Hills, where they gifted their artworks to the celebrity guest list.
“We’ve been a force of art, friendship and love together,” he says. “We’re always constantly thinking about what’s next, what we can do to move forward and share our art with the world.”
The 2023 Hamptons Fine Art Fair was an exciting step toward that goal, made even more engaging by Smith’s decision to wear pieces from his artful Hair Pop Out Mania clothing line. “Oftentimes when I wear my clothing, I get a lot of inquiries from strangers, and I love that art can spark conversation and can bring people together that normally wouldn’t talk to one another,” he says, adding later, “Launching my clothing line — that was such a dream.”
We hopped on a call with Smith, who’s back in California after his eventful trip to Southampton, to talk about his unique style, new Barbie pieces and Hamptons Fine Art Fair experience.
A Conversation with Dylan Smith
How did you develop your Hair Pop Out Mania art style?
Since I was probably 9 or 10 years old, I’ve been illustrating with the same four, shall we say, female figures. … They could be interpreted as trans or as nonbinary, but there are four female figures that I always drew. When I was in my mid 20s living in New York, I found all my childhood art from when I was a kid, and it was such an amazing discovery to see how I was creating before the dominant dance and theater aspect came. I, to this day, still start with the face and the hair and my patterns that I was drawing as a kid. They’ve evolved into a larger scale with mixed media, and obviously there’s the public murals, but it always starts with these faces or bodies of these women.
How did you come up with the name “Hair Pop Out Mania” for your art/fashion brand?
The name came from one of my childhood drawings of them all having these clips in their hair, (creating) a fountain effect that’s very late ’80s, early ’90s. So I took the name from what I had named it as a child and let it just be that, because part of what my art is about, and my message now as an adult, is creating in a childlike way — just doing rather than getting in your head. The way we created as children and the way we play as children is that we don’t know boundaries; we don’t know judgment because we’re sort of pure. … It goes back to my story as an adult: Being that you can rediscover another form of art that maybe is not the one that has been the most “successful” or the most recognized.
What inspired you to begin incorporating Barbie dolls into your art?
As a young boy growing up, Barbie was probably one of my favorite toys to play with. It felt glamorous. It felt like the world that I wanted to be in. The patterns of her clothing had bright, vibrant pink, and pink is definitely one of my signature colors that I use in a lot of my art. The ’80s and ’90s Barbies that I played with have all heavily influenced my current art. I happened to have a few Barbies lying around in my art area, and with the hype of the movie coming out and knowing that I was going to be in the Hamptons Fine Art Fair, I thought it was a great way to utilize them for the show because of how timely it was.
What was your first Hamptons Fine Art Fair experience like?
I’ve done smaller vendor opportunities and events, but nothing like an art fair of that scale. I didn’t know what to expect, and I just tried to show up authentically and create things that were authentic to me and my brand, and obviously to inspire people. I was blown away for several reasons — at the camaraderie that I felt between the booths and the people and the higher-ups at the art fair. It all felt very inclusive. It felt very positive and inspiring through all the events and even at the art show itself. I was really pleased and excited about the response that I got from the Barbie pieces that I created, and I’m sure that had a lot to do with the movie and the timely nature of that. But again, it’s because I was there and able to speak personally and in-person about my pieces. It goes back to those moments of conversation and human connection.
In what ways does your art support the LGBTQ+ community?
I was asked to collaborate with a friend of mine, a really well-known trans artist (Love Bailey), on some pieces. She has a ranch in Temecula that brings artists out of all types, and it’s like a queer haven for people who need to come out and clear their mind, seek refuge or acceptance. I did an artist residency with her, and it culminated with this photoshoot of me creating my ladies on her with foam core board where I made this outfit and this whole world on her, as opposed to it being one-dimensional on a flat surface or a painting — I had brought her to life. And that got quite a bit of recognition.
Then we were asked to do a show at the Connie Norman Transgender Empowerment Center here in West Hollywood, which is the only transgender center of its kind in the country. So from that and my friendship with her, I’ve been immersed and have done a lot of work with the trans community, collaborating as an artist and also as a volunteer and ally. …
(In support of the broader) LGBTQ+ community, the city of West Hollywood licensed one of my images to represent National Coming Out Day in 2022. It was a big celebration for me, being part of that community — West Hollywood being one of the queer meccas of the world — and for such a special holiday.
What do you find most rewarding about being an artist?
What’s most rewarding is the fact that I’m still going, and that the longevity of something that was just a childhood passion has evolved into a career — that it’s evolved into something that I’ve been able to travel around the world through, that I’ve been able to create the most amazing memories with the most amazing friends that I’ve met. It didn’t dissolve as an adult, it’s actually flourished, and it’s been able to create many offshoots in different other artistic realms.