Mr. Smith goes to China

Mr. Smith goes to China

China exports a lot of dragonsembroidered on robes, worked into jewelry designs, covering screens so why is local artist Mark T. Smith switching things by taking dragons to China?

It began when his talent gained him the status of official artist commissioned by the US Olympic Committee. He soon put his brushes and paints to work in creating a signature Olympic painting, but not before he had thought out what he wanted to express.

The dragon is the Chinese symbol for good luck, he said in a recent interview, and my dragon is coiled into a figure eight, which is also a good luck symbol there, along with the color red. The painting is a way of wishing good luck to all Olympic contestants.

He mentioned the importance luck and numerology have to the Chinese. They chose the Olympics date carefully: 08/08/2008.   The opening ceremonies will begin precisely at eight minutes after 12 noon, because they consider the number eight very favorable, and want the games to begin under a good omen.

The painting will hang in the Olympic Village, and will be part of the American experience, said Smith, whose artwork was unveiled May 20 at Teatro Goldoni in Washington. It is the property of the Olympic Committee, and will be for sale for their benefit. It will be tagged at $35,000, with posters available as well.

His dragon practically leaps from the canvas, and typifies Marks distinctive style of bold colors applied with passion, and a feeling of movement and energy that explodes inside his work. This paintings predominant colors are bright red, white and blue, with flashes of golden yellow.

Smith  is a graduate of prestigious Pratt Institute in New York, one of Americas leading art schools. His first important commission was from the Walt Disney Company. The work he created for them was the only time they had allowed an artists signature to be retained on his artwork.

Later, he was awarded his own national Absolute Vodka campaign, Absolute Smith.  He has created for companies ranging from Long John Silvers to AT&T.

Smith has a strong sense of fun, which you see in his work.  He once hand-painted a car for the Daimler-Chrysler Company, resulting in a Chrysler PT Cruiser that was a kaleidoscopic, flame-frosted mlange of color and style.  He called it rolling artwork that kicks you right between the eyes.

Driving it from Manhattan, after a send-off from the legendary Peter Max, he rolled down to an exhibition in Key West, Florida to help a charity. It was a benefit for Operation Smile, a non-profit medical service that does reconstructive surgery for children.

His paintings express his spirit of fun, with a serious under girding of technique and inspiration. He has had almost 40 major exhibitions, both group and solo. Now he does less work for corporations, and more for private patrons. Mark T. Smith paintings are exhibited in museums and galleries here and abroad, and hang on the walls of collectors such as Jay Leno, Neil Diamond and Elton John.

Smith is tall and lanky, with an exuberant, boyish grin. He is married to Lani Hay, a Fairfax-based IT consultant, who is equally outgoing, and who will accompany him to China.

When asked if he based his dragon on the fire-breathing terror of fairy tales, he said I see this instead as a melding of Chinese and American cultures, bridging the gap and open to all.

As for the fire, Smith said, referring to the Olympic slogan One World, One Dream, Think of the dragon as breathing that  fire to light the torch that will unite the world in the Olympic spirit.