Library to showcase works of local artist Johnnie Smith
by Rory Doyle
Oct 07, 2012 | 700 views | 0 0 comments | 10 10 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Johnnie Smith poses with a recent pastel painting he completed of the renovated Grover Hotel in downtown Cleveland on Friday. Smith's collection of paintings of local buildings and culture will be on display at the Robinson-Carpenter Memorial Library in Cleveland for the month of October.
Johnnie Smith poses with a recent pastel painting he completed of the renovated Grover Hotel in downtown Cleveland on Friday. Smith's collection of paintings of local buildings and culture will be on display at the Robinson-Carpenter Memorial Library in Cleveland for the month of October.
slideshow
Cleveland's own Johnnie Smith, 62, has been creating paintings of local landmarks and culture for as long as he can remember.

The diverse collection of his work will be on exhibit in the Founder's Room of the Robinson-Carpenter Memorial Library in Cleveland for the month of October.

While art has always been in his blood, it wasn't until his teenage years that he realized pastel painting was a positive outlet for getting off the streets.

"For a while, when I was younger, I blew some opportunities," Smith said. "I guess I realized I could do something better than running the streets — eventually painting is what kept me out of trouble."

Smith, who's spent his whole life in Cleveland, didn't originally think Bolivar County had enough interesting subjects to paint, but his opinion changed around the age of 16 when he started taking value in historic properties and the local music scene.

"I started looking for old buildings and places," he said. "Once I knew I could make good paintings of them, I haven't stopped since. I've always loved music too. That's why I started painting famous musicians performing, blowing horns and singing."

His commitment to capturing the local landscape and culture has led Smith to produce dozens of pieces through the years.

He has featured the Grover Hotel, Dockery Farms, Po' Monkeys, the old Coca Cola warehouse and musical stars like James Brown, Stevie Ray Vaughan and Jimi Hendrix.

"Painting is just something that really makes me feel good, like nothing else."

Smith, self-taught, said he's stuck with something that's been a talent of his since a young age.

"When I was 11 or 12, I had the whole neighborhood drawing and painting — stuff like Superman and Captain America."

He would take on small jobs for the elders to make a little money for supplies.

"I would go pick up their groceries and do some chores; whatever I could to make a little change," said Smith. "I would buy art supplies at Sherwin Williams when they used to sell them back then.

"I'd be lucky if I could even get a dollar and take it to buy stuff. If it was just a quarter, I would save up for paints, canvases and supplies."

The passion has stuck with him ever since.

Locals have recognized his ability and customers have recruited him to paint businesses, buildings, family portraits and musical artists.

Many of his works are for sale either as large-scale prints or smaller 4 x 6 prints.

While selling has never been the main purpose of his hobby, he is interested in receiving help to sell his paintings online.

"It's never been about selling, but I would like to show everything I've done over the years," said Smith. "I would like to put them on the Internet, but I just don't know how.

"Really, I paint because it makes me feel good. I'd still be doing it if I didn't make a dime."

To see Smith's paintings, visit the library from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. Monday through Thursday, 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. on Fridays and 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. on Saturdays.