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Art exhibit explores flawed figures

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    Artist Ashley Smith stands with her first, and favorite, piece in the collection: a portrait of musician Thom Yorke. Photos by Julianne Hodges
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    A portrait of actor Robin Williams was displayed in the front window of The Clever Tiger.
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    This wall in The Clever Tiger is filled with some of the pieces from the collection of paintings by Ashley Smith.
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    A portrait of filmmaker Stanley Kubrick.

An art collection painted by a local artist exhibits the fragility of humans and the failures of creative leaders, turning their flaws into beautiful opportunities.

The collection, which was displayed at the Clever Tiger art studio in December and opened with a reception on December 7, is owner Ashley Smith’s first work with portraits. The paintings feature many famous actors, film directors, musicians and more types of creative figures. Additionally, a number of poems are included to explain some of the artworks.

“The overall purpose of this exhibit is to highlight the strengths and weaknesses of my creative leaders,” Smith said. “They all have to tie into something creative that I’ve done, whether it’s music or movies that I watch or things that I like to read.”

Some of the paintings aren’t necessarily just portraits, but portray weapons made out of body parts to symbolize a deeper meaning. For example, a painting combining a heart and a gas mask symbolizes feelings and the protective layer people put up to protect their feelings.

“It seems very strange and out there,” Smith said. “But to me, it has a deeper meaning. It’s the same thing (as the portraits), I wanted to highlight how delicate and strong every single part of us is.”

The connecting theme between the portraits is creative people who have experienced failure.

“Many of them, such as (journalist) Hunter S. Thompson, aren’t known for being that perfect kind of leader that you would really strive to be,” Smith said. “But I do better off learning from failure. So, when I look to creative leaders … I want to see failures that have been turned into opportunities. They have many failures, and they’re not afraid to show them and to expose themselves.”

Smith said it’s important for people to talk about and embrace their failures in order to grow and learn from their mistakes.

“Everyone has failures, but what I’ve found is a lot of people don’t really like to talk about it,” she said. “And if you hide that and you don’t really celebrate and discuss it with others, then you’re not going to learn and grow from those mistakes.”

She knows personally what she’s talking about; as a high-school dropout who is now pursuing a PhD., Smith used to give motivational speeches about turning opportunities into failures.

“What was it that had me go from that big failure to, now, a big success?” she said. “It was conscientiousness—I thought about it a lot. I discussed it with other people. And I realized that it was a great learning experience.”

Her first painting was a large portrait of Thom Yorke, the lead singer of Radiohead, which was the first person on her list of potential subjects that really stood out to her. Smith finds Yorke’s self-titled music inspirational and often listens to it while painting.

“He stuck out, and I made him first out of all of these,” she said. “He set the stage, and it all had to fall into that same category.”

Music, by Yorke and other musicians, helped Smith make it through through countless hours of painting. The biggest paintings, of which there are six in the collection, would take about 40 hours each. A few of the paintings were done several months ago, but the rest were completed in about three weeks, with Smith putting in 12 to 16 hours of painting per day to finish.

“That’s a lot of hours,” she said. “But it worked out.”

Some of the pieces sold in December, and after the holidays, some pieces are still visible in the studio. After that, Smith said, the pieces will be available to view by request.

Smith said she is now working on ideas for public art plans to present to the city. She’s also already thinking about her next project, although that would be months in the future.

“It’s going to be fun,” she said. “I already know what I’m going to do, but it’s going to be very different from this.”