Casey Jex Smith is another artist that I struggle to articulate. He is prolific, intricate, bizarre, humorous, and incredibly talented. His work makes me think what might have happened if Waldo had joined the Fellowship. Smith is a self-described ‘8th level artist’ and he obtained a BFA from BYU and an MFA from San Francisco Art Institute. He lives in Ohio with his wife, the artist Amanda Smith, and their children.
Your style is so unique. Do you get tired of describing and explaining your work? I do get tired of explaining. But not so much because my work is hard to explain, but because I know people are being polite when they ask. They aren’t interested. Very few people care about art. It’s hard to keep my wife and mother interested and they are both artists and invested in what I do. Then again I don’t speak with many artists these days. I guess if I wanted to keep it short and sweet and would say, ‘I mostly make drawings’.
You once said, “I am a big believer in putting your all into something.” It seems like that could describe your art career. Explain your evolution a bit. I think I’ve changed my mind a bit on that. I wish I had put more of myself into other things. I might have failed as an artist earlier and still have had time to change careers before I had kids. I might have learned a bit more math or taken some advertising classes. I am certainly not happy where I am as an artist and provider for my family. I still believe that if you want to be great in any of the arts, you do need to make tremendous sacrifice. Something big has to go like kids, videogames, or sleep.
You also once said, “Half of my original intent is to help push the definitions of what “Mormon Art” is for Mormons.” Are we as a Mormon community succeeding in that regard? I think our “Mormon Art World” has certainly diversified. There are plenty of artists that use their Mormonism in identity work and there are more artists that don’t use Mormonism identity in their work, and are successful, and happen to be Mormon. As always we have a large contingency of artists that have left Mormonism but still consider themselves culturally Mormon and still reference that part of their identity in their content. The MFA structure is just producing more of us and a few have had some moderate success. I don’t know if Mormon audiences are looking at art besides Greg Olsen. I know that my work has not sold very well within the LDS community. But if this audience is looking, there is a lot more to choose from than just 10 years ago. Mormons are cheap. That hasn’t changed. And the new race to the bottom with Etsy and prints just feeds into that cheapness. The BYU Art Department seems to be putting out some good graduates. Their visiting artist lecture series is well funded and brings in some heavy-hitters. There are some young artists like Noah Jackson and Jacob Haupt who are making some great work while still students. It’s fun to watch that program evolve. Still need to wait and see how many will be relevant in contemporary art. So far, only artists who have left the church like Wayne Thiebaud, La Monte Young, and Paul McCarthy have made a lasting impact.