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Finding happy — Artist shares his passion for emotionally-charged art

Derek Covington Smith is a name known to several people in the Lincoln County area, and a name many more will become familiar with in the coming months.

The colorful artist was born in New Orleans. He was adopted by T. Tommy and Cynthia Smith of Brookhaven when he was about 18 months old, however, so Ole Brook is where he grew up and attended school.

A graduate of Brookhaven Academy and Copiah-Lincoln Community College, Smith has degrees in pastry and baking, fine arts and veterinary medicine. He’s worked as a food server, a sports photographer, a veterinary nurse, professional artist and art teacher.

His painting style is emotive. It’s traditional materials used in non-traditional ways.

“I’m a big fan of Fauvism — ‘the wild beasts’ — painting like Matisse,” says Smith. “It’s straight out of the tube, stretched as far as you can get it, vivid, bold. I grew up in the 90s, so this feels very emotionally nostalgic to me.

“Almost everything I paint has an emotional connection or a story behind it.”

But he stopped painting for a long time because he was burnt out trying to make other people happy with his art. He focused on making cakes instead. Smith was on the forefront of bakers who began to paint on their cakes, and developed a loyal clientele. The bonus return on his new passion was that it freed him up to paint on canvas for no one but himself. He felt freed from the burden of pleasing others and began to paint the way he wanted.

“I began to discover what made me tick and want to paint,” he says.

He has worked as a professional artist in Orlando, California, North Carolina and Brooklyn. He is associated with THNK1994 museum in Brooklyn, and his paintings continue to be on display there.

Now he’s back in Brookhaven. He came back for family, but for other reasons, too.

“I want to offer opportunities I never had here,” he says. “This is a time for the arts to flourish here and I want to help with that.”

Schools don’t normally teach the things one needs in order to be successful in the business of being an artist, Smith says. He needed to learn how to be a self-employed artist, utilize social media, build solo and group shows, how to approach his art and how to bring it all together. Smith wants to help budding artists figure these things out before they get out on their own.

“I love teaching adults, especially,” says Smith, “because they’re thirsty for it. And the older we get, when you realize you’ll die one day, you don’t care (about being perfect) anymore and will choose to do what you really want to do.”

One of Smith’s choices is to paint portraits. Twice a year, in January and September, Smith focuses on portraits, painting 30 canvases in 30 days. Each day the painting is of a different person. It’s always someone who has had an impact on Smith personally.

“Each is famous for their talent, but is also a pretty awesome human being,” says Smith.

And when he paints them, he immerses himself in their work. The entire day is spent listening to their music, viewing their films, listening to biographies or documentaries about them to inform his portrayal of them, to capture on canvas who they really are or were.

Before the September immersion, however, Smith’s work will be featured at the Lincoln County Public Library. The Brookhaven Regional Art Guild is presenting “There and Back Again” — a retrospective of art by Smith Aug. 2-30. A reception will be held with the artist present on Aug. 16 at 5:30 p.m.

October holds a new opportunity for Smith, as well as artists throughout the area. BRAG has announced a call for submissions for its fourth annual art competition. Entry fees are $10 per entry, with a maximum of three entries per artist. Artists must be at least 18 years old and can work in any medium. Drop-off and registration is in the Vernon Room of the public library on Oct. 1, 10 a.m. – noon and 4-6 p.m.

Smith got his start as an artist with encouragement from teachers and peers. As chairman of the competition, Smith hopes the event will reach established and budding artists in the area.

He’s already taught a few classes this summer in Brookhaven and is now teaching more in the newly-opened craft store “The Ole Brook Makery” on West Cherokee Street. Prospective students can find necessary information on the Facebook page “Artist Derek Covington Smith.”

“I want them to walk away happy. If I can help them find their ‘happy’ …” Smith nods and smiles, the rest understood.

It means a lot to him. After all, it took awhile for him to find his own.