Cliff Smith – Artist & Photographer

by: Jnet

Cliff Smith – Artist and Photographer

By: Jnet

 What struck me when I viewed was the wide variety of subject matter. I find this to be refreshing and intriguing. However, Cliff gives some insight into this on the main page in saying “I have been travelling a slow river of reflection and introspection striving to find a visual centre that says it all but have discovered that the creative process is a metaphysical journey without end.” Cliff Smith has had and continues with an impressive artistic lifespan. After attending the Ontario College of Art and Design he won awards for his work with airbrush. His focus then shifted to repeat design work and received employment from several large international design studios. His current focus that of a “creative path of self discovery and awareness.” I was able to chat with Cliff and pick his brain about his artistic journey thus far and what’s in store for the future.

VR: How did you originally get into art?

Cliff: I have always been into visualizing my ideas. As a toddler one of my few memories is drawing, with lipstick, what looked like reptiles on the walls of my parents house. From that day forward I was labelled an artist.

VR: When and how did you figure out that you are an artist and decide to do that as a career path?

There was never any doubt that I would follow a career in the visual arts though there have been moments of self doubt. School actually assisted my progress . The high school system had just started a special art course for people like myself who didn’t seem to fit anywhere else. Upon graduation I was offered a spot in 2nd year at OCAD and these things helped me to keep moving forward. I would have taken this path regardless but an education is always useful.

VR: How and why did you switch from your original medium of airbrush to repeat design work?

A large part of my nature is to explore and master new techniques in order to enhance the ways of expressing myself. My original mediums were oil paint and carbon pencil. I learned a lot from great Canadian artists like Dennis Burton and Eric Freifeld. Upon graduating from OCAD I became interested in exploring the idea of pushing colour with air instead of hair. I did very well in that medium for a time, having won several national awards. At some point I felt that I had to move on. Just can’t be satisfied doing only one thing for life.

I have always had an interest in patterns, fashion and colour. Eventually I found an opening in a design studio and that opened up a lot of opportunities for my exploration in design and colour.

VR: From there, how did you end up getting into photography?

I have had 35mm cameras since the mid 70s. In high school I worked with a large format industrial camera as an artistic tool but I really didn’t like working in the darkroom with those chemicals. Later on in the commercial studios I worked on photographs and occasionally did some product photography along with my other creative projects. I was a pioneer in the digital art world and with the evolution of digital photography I found that it got to a level where I could see its usefulness to me as a fine art medium once more.

VR: The photos on your site have a wide variety of subject matter. How do you choose your subject matter or how does this all come about?

Some might call it ADD. For me it all comes down to exploring relationships. I enjoy expressing my take on a variety of subjects in my life. Regardless of what the subject is I try to find the heartbeat that makes each image relate to the observer.

Galleries 7 and 8 [on the website] show images of landscapes near where I live now. These same scenes used to exist where I was growing up as a child and I loved the experience but they are now all paved over, turned into industrial parks or suburbs. I find that most green areas in cities today are a sad joke and I felt it was important to show how beautiful our everyday landscapes can be as well as how impermanent they are. The Alterscapes are part of the image evolution in altering perceptions. It was very rewarding to have strangers approach me at the show and actually say that they got it.

VR: Why such a variety of both subject matter and mediums?

I would like to start this answer with a quote from Umberto Boccioni:
“There is neither painting, nor sculpture, nor music, nor poetry. The only truth is creating.”

I used to think that my lack of focus was a problem. It took a long time to realize that expressing an experience, by any means that I feel is appropriate, is my focus. It may not bring me fame or fortune but it sure is satisfying. I once built a small “Baby Reject Factory” to bring attention to the test tube baby controversy in the early 70s. Any medium can be my palette and no subject is taboo though currently I prefer to effect change through positive means.

VR: You told me you have started getting into found art. Can you tell me what inspired you to try out this art form?

Over the years I have created a few functional found art pieces such as arbours, trellises and gates from old cedar wood but when the “Habitat For Humanity” approached me to create an art piece for their upcoming auction I didn’t hesitate to participate as I fully support the wonderful work that organization is doing. I enjoyed creating “The Garden Gate” so much that I will be creating a few more different pieces this summer. I went to their Restore with one idea in mind and ended up with a final piece that was totally different. This type of abstract journey into the imagination really excites me and I can hardly wait to see what shows up next.

VR: Previously you worked commercially. Why and how did you make the switch to the creative path you are on now?

The studio I was working in was down sizing and I was left with a decision to sign up with another studio or start taking direction for visualizing ideas from myself. It was a great decision.

VR: I often find that most artists enjoyed the commercial work they did but find their own creative personal work even more rewarding. Can you tell me about how that is for you?

I have no regrets about having worked for other studios as they were wonderful years and I worked with a diverse lot of very creative individuals along the way.

Now that I am creating for myself I am experiencing something intangible when finishing an image and I realize that it evokes the feeling I was after. I want my images to be more than about what you see and more about the feelings or energy or life within them.

A quote from Buckminster Fuller may help illustrate this idea: “The water is not the wave. The water merely tells us of the passing of the wave”.


VR: Where do you see your artistic path heading in the future, or where do you hope it will lead?

At this point I really see a rather diverse set of projects ahead and in varying medias. I will be  focusing more on bringing awareness through a positive means as that works much better for me.

This year is my 40th wedding anniversary and we are heading to New Orleans for another dose of celebration and inspiration. I can hardly wait to see what I will be creating from that experience.

VR: What advice do you have for young artists starting out?

I don’t usually give advice but I can say this:
I would say to keep at it. Being an artist has it’s own rewards.
Even when the voice has left you it may only be sleeping.
It took me a long time to realize that security is a state that dwells within you.


You can check out some of Cliff’s work on his website:

For info on the Habitat for Humanity ReCycle, ReCreate, ReImagine Art Gala check out:

It takes place on March 23rd, 7 to 10pm at Stratford City Hall.

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