“I almost became a horse painter.”
By Erin Goodwin-Guerrero, October 2007

Poking fun at herself, and portraying her education as a series of false starts and mismatches with her faculty, Robynn Smith tells how she, too, came to be an artist/educator.

At the prestigious Rhode Island School of Design, Smith was a BFA student enrolled in the sculpture program. But she wanted to learn photography and to paint, as well. A few years ago, such a Renaissance ambition was discouraged, especially in the very territorial private art colleges. “I was feisty.” She reports. “I alienated most of the faculty. I didn’t feel like I fit in. I was wary of ending up in New York. I was afraid I was going to be swallowed up. I was California Dreamin.”


Robynn Smith examines an acrylic plate in Mendocino print workshop

While at RISD, Smith made friends with faculty member Bob Strini, who eventually left the East Coast for the University of California Santa Cruz to teach sculpture. She followed him West and got work doing what she had done on the East Coast – training horses. In California , she entered the San Jose State MA program in painting, sustaining herself on horse training and food stamps. When she saw she was in danger of becoming a commercial horse painter, she decided to apply for the MFA program at SJSU, again, in painting. She was rejected from the painting program but admitted to the spatial arts program.

Her graduate work ultimately consisted of mainly ceramic sculpture, although she continued to paint. All of her work at that time focused on her close relationship to animals. The ceramic sculpture fed the painting, through the shifting, surprising surfaces of the clay. The strength of her gestural drawing skills, honed at RISD, fed the sculpture.

Even though she never touched printmaking as a student in school, Robynn Smith began to make monotypes while teaching at the University of California at Santa Cruz in the mid 1980’s. “My work was changing quickly, as I was just out of grad school. I was feeling the need to go through a lot of imagery very quickly, and monotype printmaking seemed like a good way to do it.”

Eventually Smith realized that she was printing a great deal more than she was making sculpture. She sold her kiln to buy an etching press.

Smith began her teaching career giving riding lessons and teaching drawing at the Santa Cruz YWCA. She is an inherently social person, and enjoys both the intimacy and the performance aspects of teaching. Not wanting to be pressured by the marketplace and being uncomfortable with the uphill struggle of self promotion, Smith decided to seriously pursue a teaching career immediately after graduate school. Four years as a freeway flier led to a full time position at Monterey Peninsula College.


Robynn Smith’s Time Passes Slowly: mixed media on wood

In her own work, Robynn Smith is back to flat images, but less on canvas, more on wood and paper. She combines the photographic resources that are so easily incorporated into print processes with paint, drawing, collage, and even woodcut in her mixed media works. They may be realized with luminous color combined with the aggressive-yet-seductive texture of a carved line in wood, or as monochromatic drawings and monoprints. Often there are three images that morph into one narrative: human and animal actors sandwiched between or situated on top of two views of the environment through which they navigate.

With titles like How to Forgive the Vanishing World and Endless/Timeless the viewer can understand her poetic interpretations of a ravaged earth – scorched by war, in environmental crisis and providing decreasing habitat for the animals that frequent her landscapes. Sometimes an anonymous female nude, almost completely silhouetted, can be seen in communion with a horse or a dog, glowing slightly in the red light of a distant holocaust. Smith returns often to the theme of tree trunks of an East Coast broadleaf forest. They stand nearly bereft of foliage, like sentinels or grave markers on terrain that gives birth only to stones.


Tangled up in Blue by Robynn Smith

The juxtaposition of a glowing lava flow with the map of Yugoslavia and Eastern Europe , or the countless names on a monument to those lost in Viet Nam as a backdrop to charging horses speak to Smith’s despair over our unending wars. She has traveled to war memorials and the sites of historic battles to view the aftermath and try to experience and understand what happened. From the Twin Towers in New York to battlefields of WWI, WWII, and the Civil War, she has gathered imagery and impressions that are resources that fuel her creativity.


Robynn Smith’s Aftermath 2

In her current position as a full time Instructor of Art at Monterey Peninsula College, Smith has found a way to bring the benefits of travel in an artist’s investigations, to her students. When Smith began at Monterey Peninsula College there was no print program. She began teaching print processes on a shoestring, and as interest grew, she founded the Print Club on campus as a device for generating needed money to buy equipment. She attracted students that she says are “mature and can run stuff, and they know how to write grants!” Now, the Print Club arranges exchange exhibitions in such appealing sites as the Donkey Mill Art Center in Hawaii. They show extensively on the Monterey Peninsula and in Santa Cruz .


Smith pulls a print on the etching press in Hawaii workshop

Smith is working on other interesting far-flung possibilities for showing her work and that of her students. She says “Printmaking is often a collaborative enterprise. Printmakers are problem solvers. Sharing information with other printmakers in new environments is richly stimulating. Traveling as a professional artist, to exhibit work, teach a workshop or gather source material is one of the great joys of my life. Sharing that experience with my students, who have become my very close friends and colleagues, is immensely gratifying.‚Äù

(ref: Part-4)

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Robynn Smith has been an inspiration to me. I haven’t met many people with the drive, energy and interest she has in her art and in her students. I am truly amazed that I just happened to take a course from her at MPC and found a teacher and friend I will always remember. I love her work and she has inspired me to keep trying to better my own.

This is a great article, and very informative.
I appreciated reading on the artist’s career.

Robynn Smith is a communicator. She brings people to art….

Horse painter!?! Well, I’m glad she stuck to her true calling! What a great teacher she has been to many. It’s been fun reviewing her path and again instilling me with confidence as I travel along my own:)