Sculpture, painting, photo? It’s not a problem for Shelley Smith

Shelley Smith works in metal, but is not exactly a sculptor. She paints, but she’s not really a painter. She makes jewelry, takes photos, and writes, but few would classify her solely as a jeweler, photographer, or writer.

Simply put, Shelley Smith is an artist.

“I’ve had to balance that in my life lately,” said Smith of her penchant for artistic diversity. “I actually thought it made me less creative. Not that I wasn’t creative and not that I didn’t have skills. But I felt like why can’t I just pick one and get my best at it? “

During our conversation for this week’s installment of Art on the Air, Smith described an astonishing number of wildly different projects that almost look like they were done by different artists rather than a single person.

For example, a few years ago she took a series of photographic self-portraits entitled “Dead Girl Diaries”. These morbid but somberly hilarious images each showed Smith staging whatever she envisioned as the cause of her possible future death, from falling down a flight of stairs on River Street to having a heart attack outside an art gallery.

And yet she has recently teamed up with her mother to paint Mediterranean scenes and animal portraits on oyster shells.

“It was something (Martha Chapman, Smith’s mother) that started on a whim,” explained the artist. “She loves oysters. I love almost everything except oysters. “

“It’s a weird thing out of all the art I’ve made,” she added. “And I enjoy it.”

The winding road of her artistic work can be traced back to her unconventional upbringing in the Mississippi Delta. While her mother enrolled her in more traditional art classes when she was only in first or second grade, her father gave her skills that, if she had grown up, would have been more often passed down to the boys in the family.

“I’m pretty sure he had to be disappointed that it was such a room: hunting; Fishing; They rode big tricycles … ”Smith recalled. “You went to the deer camp, that’s what they called it, and there were a couple of men and they brought their sons and the girls stayed at home with their mothers.”

“I was the only girl as early as I can remember it was down there,” she remarked.

It was also when the all-rounder first learned how to work with metal.

“He showed me how to weld with the toughest and most dangerous rig,” said Smith of her father. “I’m talking about electricity. He just said: “Don’t touch this and that.” And I would say, ‘Why dad? Well, you will kill yourself. “

While not the kind of childhood likely being written about in parenting strategies books, it has given her a can-do attitude as well as the diverse skills she is now using in her numerous creative endeavors.

“That’s really how his father taught him,” continued Smith. “And he didn’t really treat me any different. And I absolutely have to give my dad huge props to have that mentality. “

In the present, in addition to painting mollusks with her mother, Smith uses the metalwork that her father taught her in another provocative and dynamic photo series she calls “Gods and Monsters”.

“When I was a little girl I was in love with the story of the Greek gods and goddesses,” she recalled. “I used to think I was Artemis, the goddess of the hunt.”

Each piece in the series shows a carefully selected inspiring woman in the role of a powerful female figure from history or mythology such as Joan of Arc or Medusa. Smith outfits her models with jewelry and costumes that she makes herself using a hammer, anvil, and an arc welder made of metal reused from 55 gallon drums.

The latest composition shows the local actor JinHi Soucy Rand as the Celtic warrior Queen Boudica from the 1st century AD.

“I couldn’t imagine Boudica being that solid, beautiful statue that was just perfect,” said Smith. “To me, she was much more perfect by the fact who JinHi was, and to me it was far more powerful than any stereotype.”

Smith’s motif for the fantastic portrait lost a leg to cancer at the age of fourteen, and yet the artist always exuded a strong energy that was seemingly unwavering by the additional physical challenge of using crutches to walk. The photo does not hide the lost link, but rather combines it with the idea that Queen Boudica herself would undoubtedly have suffered injuries in the numerous battles in which she was involved. And just like Soucy Rand, those fights only made her stronger and more legendary because she was a part of them.

“I love the portrait. I’m amazed at what she saw and recorded, and it’s an honor to be involved, ”said Soucy Rand. “The beautiful costume, the setting, the sword, the collar and a choker with a cicada made it natural to be Boudica, the warrior queen.”

The piece, like the others in the series, is both strong and well executed, and the artist has plans for at least two more paintings, one of which will feature three women as sirens.

But don’t expect Smith to suddenly stop advancing and continue taking spectacular photo ops for the rest of her career. It is not their nature to dwell on one thing too long.

“I know one thing: if I leave a picture in my head and it can’t get rid of, be it a painting, an oyster shell, a photo, writing or a sculpture … you stay,” she said.

“It’s almost like sharing your headspace with a thousand little monsters and people and beautiful beautiful things. And I (they) have to vomit again in some way, but as soon as they vomit again I have a feeling that they have said their peace and it is, “What’s next?”

You can follow the progress of Shelley Smith’s numerous projects on Instagram @ 55gallonstudio or by searching Shelley S. Smith on Facebook.

Art off the Air is a companion piece to the radio program “Art on the Air” by Rob Hessler and Gretchen Hilmers. You can also find the column at

The show will air Wednesday from 3pm to 3pm on WRUU 107.5 FM Savannah and on

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