Artist Tom Smith is almost breathless when he talks about his work.
“I love the line between what is formal, designed, almost constricted — and what is natural and rank,” he said. “I love the border between the cultivated and the wild.”
Inside the Vineyard Playhouse gallery space, on a Saturday morning that is too hot, Mr. Smith fiddles with track lighting, adjusting the fixtures so that they shine on all 12 pieces of his artwork. The recently renovated room is now playing host to a series of art exhibits. A reception for Mr. Smith’s work took place on Saturday, July 24. His work will hang in the gallery through August 1.
Mr. Smith, a former architect, considered this space when he chose what he called quiet works of art. The title of the show, Stick With It, refers to his recent work that explores a geometry of the ground: subtly bent sticks that are arranged in a whirlpool pattern on a black background, a large abstract painting that shares the curves of these sticks and delicate three-dimensional works made from the stems of Concord grapes.
At home in Connecticut Mr. Smith has a two-acre vineyard and he shares his time between his art and the land, although really the two intersect broadly.
He described the “beautifully trained plants that look like menorahs,” adding that “if you plant them, you can’t leave them a minute without them taking a side street and so you have to prune the branches.”
Mr. Smith stores the cuttings and creates sculptural work from the thin, twisting shapes. The cultivated branches bear fruit and the rogue cut-offs become art.
As Mr. Smith shares stories about his life as an artist, it is clear that the name of his show also swells to its full potential as an idiom. He grew up in New Jersey and with an architect for a father and a painter for a mother he reached immediately for the arts. Mr. Smith’s childhood was filled with artists. His uncle, Tony Smith, was a famous sculptor known for his large-scale geometric designs. His mother taught art classes to neighborhood children and artist friends of the family came and went.
Mr. Smith studied architecture at the Rhode Island School of Design, Pratt and Virginia Tech, and painting at Hampshire College. Over the years he has worked what he described as all sorts of weird jobs, and through them all Mr. Smith has never stopped creating.
The ideas come to him quickly and frequently. “I just wake up in the night and I have to do it. I use what’s at hand, any kind of material that is bountiful and cheap. I’ll use shoe polish if I have to.”
Or, he will use clippings of oak leaves as he did in Glory, a mesmerizing piece that from far away looks like uniform tiles and up close reveals how he highlighted each unique mark in the leaves. And he will use chunks of grass that fell off a lawn mower, preserved in a wide gold frame in a piece of work titled Lawn Bricolage. He has a series of abstract paintings that are layered over some of his father’s preliminary architectural drawings, each is named for the client: Rowett, Art James and Dedick.
Each piece of work, wild and contained, seems at home in the Vineyard Playhouse gallery, a space that Mr. Smith described as “an inspiring place for any artist.”
Other artists who will show their work in the gallery this summer include Brooke Adams, whose show Cast of Characters will run from August 3 to 15 and Kate Feiffer, whose show From Doodles to Drawings and Back Again will be on display August 17 to 29.
Mr. Smith’s show is dedicated to the memory of Dr. Kenneth Ralph Briggs (October 7, 1927-June 10, 2013) and to his widow Mrs. Janet Briggs.
The gallery at the Vineyard Playhouse is located at 24 Church Street in Vineyard Haven and is open Mondays from 1 p.m. to 5 p.m., Tuesdays and Thursdays from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. and Fridays and Saturdays from 4 p.m. to 8 p.m.