Emerging Artists | Allison Leigh Smith

Creature comforts

Allison Leigh Smith, Desert Watch, oil, 17 x 19.

Allison Leigh Smith, Desert Watch, oil, 17 x 19.

This story was featured in the June 2018 issue of Southwest Art magazine. Get the Southwest Art June 2018 print issue or digital download now–then subscribe to Southwest Art and never miss another story.

In the paintings of Allison Leigh Smith, one can’t help but notice the endearing expressions of the animals that star in them. The artist has a knack for capturing the personalities of her furry and feathered subjects with technical dexterity, emotion, and humor, and she knows them all by name. Smith has been photographing her subjects for years at the wildlife sanctuaries where she volunteers in Phoenix and Scottsdale, AZ. Not surprisingly, their behavior during photos shoots can be capricious, at best. “I never leave with what I set out to get, because the animals decide,” laughs Smith. “But I’ve been doing it long enough that I’m prepared. I know what camera settings to use, and I always try to schedule my photo shoots when the sun is low. I want a strong form with strong shadows and reflective light so that, in my paintings, you feel like the animals are there in front of you and not just flat images.”

The artist lives in Durango, CO, but in the wintertime, she heads to the Copper State to help care for various creatures at Wild at Heart Raptor Rescue, Southwest Wildlife Conservation Center, and other wildlife rehabilitation centers. There she befriends her potential subjects: owls, wolves, gorillas, armadillos—you name it. “It’s always new,” she says. “I can paint the scales of a snake, the feathers of a parrot, or the fur of a fox, so there’s never a point where I’m not growing.”

Smith, whose works are in the permanent collections of the Leigh Yawkey Woodson Art Museum and the Arizona Humane Society, spent many years working as a textile designer. Today, her interest in patterns is increasingly playing out in the backgrounds of her paintings. “They’re getting looser, less literal, and more unpredictable,” she says, “whereas my staging of the animals is very deliberate.” In her portrait of a dignified blue heron, for example, the artist eschewed fish and water symbols, instead combining images of her dog, rabbits, seahorses, and other disparate motifs into a cohesive backdrop. “For me, they tell a subtle, personal story,” she says, “but to anyone else, it’s just a beautiful pattern.” Smith’s appreciation for calligraphy also finds its way into her background designs, as does her interest in urban decay and graffiti. “It feels patterned and organized,” she says, “but also surprisingly human.” —Kim Agricola

representation
Trove Gallery, Park City, UT; Horton Fine Art, Beaver Creek, CO; Astoria Fine Art, Jackson, WY.

This story was featured in the June 2018 issue of Southwest Art magazine. Get the Southwest Art June 2018 print issue or digital download now–then subscribe to Southwest Art and never miss another story.

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