Profile: Vincent DaCosta Smith (1929-2003)

Vincent DaCosta Smith was an American artist, painter, printmaker and teacher. He was known for his depictions of black life

Early life

Vincent DaCosta Smith was born on December 12, 1929, in the Bedford-Stuyvesant neighborhood of Brooklyn, to Beresford Leopole Smith and Louise Etheline Todd. Both were immigrants from Barbados. He was raised in Brownsville, Brooklyn and Smith drew what he saw around him. He attended an integrated school where he studied piano and the alto sax. 

worked a range of jobs before he became a full-time artist. At 16, he worked for the Lackawanna Railroad repairing tracks. At 17, Smith enlisted in the army and traveled with his brigade for a year. It wasn’t until after his time in the army that Smith began to paint and printmaking. At the age of 22, Smith was working in a post office where he grew to be friends with fellow artist Tom Boutis.

Art education

Tom Boutis took Smith to a Paul Cézanne show at the Museum of Modern Art in 1951. After seeing the Cézanne show, Smith resigned from his position at the post office and began reading extensively about art.

He studied at the Art Students League of New York with Reginald Marsh.

Later, he began to sit in on classes at the Brooklyn Museum Art School, where the instructors would let him join in on the lessons and the criticisms. After attending classes at the Brooklyn Museum Art School and the Art Students League of New York, he was accepted and received a scholarship to the Skowhegan School of Painting and Sculpture in Maine, where he studied from 1953 to 1956.

Beginning in 1954, he started taking official classes at the Brooklyn Museum Art School, and studied painting, etching, and woodblock printmaking.

Career

Smith was a figurative painter who used abstractions and materiality to make something new. Smith’s work depicts the rhythms and intricacies of black life through his prints and paintings. Many of his paintings and prints rely heavily on patterns. According to Ronald Smothers, Vincent D. Smith’s work “stood as an expressionistic bridge between the stark figures of Jacob Lawrence and the Cubist and Abstract strains represented by black artists like Romare Bearden and Norman Lewis.” Smith has described his own work as “a marriage between Africa and the West.” Over his life, he worked in both painting and printmaking.

In 1959, Smith won the John Hay Whitney Fellowship which allowed him to travel to the Caribbean for a year. During this year he was deeply inspired by the customs and lifestyle of the native people. Throughout his life, Smith attended various art schools but it was not until turning 50 he returned to college to earn an official degree.

From 1967 until 1976 he taught at the Whitney Museum’s Art Resource Center. Later in 1985, he taught printmaking at the Center for Art and Culture of Bedford Stuyvesant. 

Death and legacy

Smith died in Manhattan on the December 27, 2003 from lymphoma and related complications. Smith was aged 74.

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