The Making Of An Artist / A Jornada De Um Artista

The Making Of An Artist / A Jornada De Um Artista


by Marcos Smyth on 05/18/16

Detouring from the previous chronology of stories, I want to highlight a recent creative experience on the Potomac River.

Now and then the river tide exerts its pull, linked as it is to the Atlantic Ocean, through the Chesapeake Bay.  This lunar magnetism inspired a new collaboration, with Robin Croft, to create a group of sculptures in the water.

Some months ago, we had worked on a project of Robin's, near his home in Manassas, Virginia.  It was a wooden structure suggesting a rocket and silo.  Unfortunately, it was destroyed by vandals before completion.  Such is the nature of this work, transitory and subject to Nature's whims.

I was fortunate to connect with Robin in 2014, after reading an article about him in the Washington Post, by John Kelly.  Robin was building one of his shipwrecks, near Manassas, VA, out of wood found on site.  John Kelly also linked a video of the project with an interview of Robin.  Similarities in our outdoor work intrigued me and  led me to contact him.  Robin was very approachable and we had an interesting conversation that led to collaborating on outdoor projects.  We were both working in relative anonymity, running out of storage for unsold works, and creating large, temporary, outdoor sculptures with found materials.  Respecting the environment by assembling pieces that would be reabsorbed into the site, on disintegration, allowed us to work with no extraneous impact on the site.  This gave us the ability to do large scale work, in settings with plentiful materials, with no concern for storage or studio space.  Robin characterized his work as "drawing" with wood in wattle technique.  This reminded me of houses built in the interior of  Brazil, as I grew up.  I was assembling structures by following relationships suggested by the shapes of wood I found.  Most of my work was less representational, yet Robin respected what I was doing, as I was drawn to his work.  The physical aspect of collecting and hauling materials was made less cumbersome  by assisting each other.  Sharing ideas and camaraderie rendered the process more fruitful.  Working together was a tacit validation of what we were doing.

Both of us had a couple of days available and agreed to work on my Potomac River site April 24 and 25.  After mulling some ideas, Robin's concept of refugees gripped us, as we shared a deep concern for people around the world seeking asylum, fleeing war and devastation.  The divisive rhetoric coming from politicians and the conflicted responses to the refugee crisis loomed as one of the great human tragedies of our time.  We felt compelled to create a statement near Washington DC, where our nation's response to such issues coalesce.  Our collaboration became an homage, representing refugees walking up river, on a site visible by south bound cars on the George Washington Parkway.  We planed on working at low tide, allowing us to build where the gravel would be under water at high tide.  This suggested the image of refugees reaching land from the water and marching on Washington DC.  The beach site, as we call it, looks north to the Wilson Bridge and a bit south, across the Potomac, to Fort Washington, on the Maryland side of the river.  This was the same site where, in 2014, Robin helped me build In Situ Assembly No. 3.

IN SITU ASSEMBLY No.3, Marcos Smyth, 2014.

The spring rains had floated plenty of wood, from trees and branches, washed into the river.  Deposited along the beach edge was anything from hundred foot logs to gnarled root balls bleached and drying in the sun.  We spent some time dragging wood out to the edge of the water where we would build.  Robin staked out a sand bar across from my position.  I planned on assembling gesture figures, more suggestive than literal.  My goal was to work fast to complete several pieces for the group, in between tides.  Robin was more deliberate, creating a more elaborate figure in his "wattle" style.  Working at low tide, we used a spade to bury the ends of the logs we used as legs for our figures.  It was important to anchor them well as our refugees would stand in water at high tide.  The water would rise two or three feet and the group would be at the mercy of currents and floating debris.  Since we designed our projects to disintegrate organically, we used sisal twine where basic ties were necessary.  We also employed a six foot stepladder to increase our height range.  Each structure had to be well balanced on its two legs and weighted above the water line to help keep them from floating away.

REFUGEES,Marcos Smyth and Robin Croft, day one at low tide, 2016.

Seen from the Parkway, Robin's figure was in the forefront.  With weight placed on the forward leg, seeming to drag the other, the figure had outstretched arms, giving it a desperate and supplicating pose.   My first three figures had no arms, suggesting these hung down and blended with the bodies of the figures.  The torsos leaned forward, as if plodding forward.  Though our styles were distinctly different, the material and structural elements brought the group of figures together, making them work as a collective.  Robin's sculpture made a bold, emotional statement, while the other figures in the group expanded the multiple impact of the refugee concept.  We hoped this project would surprise viewers and inspire thought beyond their immediate cares.

REFUGEES, Robin Croft building his figure, 2016.

Having a balmy day to work with, our beach site was rather busier than the last time we were there.  Several families came fishing, walking dogs, and picnicking.  Generally, we were ignored as we worked.  By day's end, Robin had finished his figure and I had assembled three.  Tired, sore, and bruised, we were pleased with the results and wondered if our project would survive the next high tide or passersby.

REFUGEES, Marcos Smyth with his first three figures, 2016.

The following morning, we found that one of my figures had fallen.  It was the furthest out, which would have been in deeper water at height tide.  We built two more figures, of my design, closer in from the others in the group.  These had arms, as if ready to catch themselves if they fell forward.  Both leaned forward more that the others, suggesting exhaustion.  With five figures in the group, we felt the Refugees were well represented and were stable enough to last several days.  Robin and I committed to work on more projects together.

REFUGEES, morning of day two at high tide, seen from parkway, 2016.

REFUGEES, end of second day, completed project, 2016

For the next two weeks, I monitored our project's inevitable disintegration.  Robin's figure was perhaps in the deepest water at the high tide and in the path of flowing water from a culvert under the parkway.  Wednesday, April 27, all five figures still stood, two days after completion.  On the 28th, I sent Robin a message:  "Another Refugee down.  Yours, today.  3 standing."  Several days later, another fell.  May 7, two refugees still held on, battered but mostly intact.  On the 11th, the beach was empty.


by Marcos Smyth on 05/12/16

Quero compartilhar uma experiência recente.  Considere este capitulo um pequeno desvio da cronologia da Jornada De Um Artista.

De vez em quando o rio puxa com uma maré afetada pela proximidade do Atlântico.  Este magnetismo lunar me inspira a uma nova colaboração com Robin Croft para criar um grupo de esculturas na agua.

Algumas semanas atrás, trabalhamos num projeto do Robin, perto da casa dele.  Teria sido uma estrutura sugerindo míssil e silo.  Infelizmente foi destruído antes de podermos completa-lo.  Esta é a natureza deste trabalho, transitório, sem permanência.

Tive of prazer de conhecer Robin em 2014, após ler um artigo no jornal Washington Post sobre ele e um projeto que estava fazendo ao ar livre.  As similaridades dos nossos interesses me levaram a contata-lo.  Batemos um papo muito agradável e decidimos colaborar em projetos novos.  Nossas criações eram semelhante em natureza.  Armazenagem de trabalhos não vendidos estava sendo problemático para nos dois.  Uma solução era de criar escultura grande em locais obscuros onde existiam materiais abundantes.  Respeitando o meio ambiente, estávamos fazendo estruturas com a intenção delas dissolverem organicamente, sem impacto externo no local.  Esta filosofia facilitava trabalho numa escala maior, em locais com bastante material, sem nos preocupar com armazenagem ou estúdios.  Robin caracteriza suas esculturas ao ar livre como "desenho" em madeira, enquanto eu faço trabalho seguindo meu instinto, criando estruturas em que descubro relacionamentos entre as pecas de madeira que servem de guia.  Em ajudar o outro com o colecionar e transporte do material, o aspecto físico deste trabalho ficou mais fácil.  Compartilhando ideias e camaradagem, o processo tornou mais construtivo.  Nossa colaboração passou a ser uma validação tácita do que estávamos criando.

Concordamos colaborar no Rio Potomac, perto da minha casa nos dias 24 e 25 de abril.  Após discutir varias ideias, decidimos usar uma de Robin.  O conceito era de refugiados em homenagem aos povos através do mundo procurando asilo, fugindo da guerra e destruição.  Queríamos fazer um grupo de figuras representando refugiados andando rio acima num local visível a carros caminhando na beira do rio.  Combinamos construção durante a maré baixa, na areia, resultando nas figuras humanas aparecendo acima da agua durante a maré cheia.  Assim a imagem seria de refugiados alcançando a terra do mar.  Chamamos este local "a praia," onde Robin me ajudou construir o projeto Montagem In Situ No. 3, em 2014.

MONTAGEM IN SITU No. 3, Marcos Smyth, 2014.

As chuvas da primavera produziram muita madeira na beira do rio, levada por aguas elevadas e correntes mais fortes.  Troncos de quarenta metros e ate sistemas de raízes foram depositados no local do nosso projeto.  No primeiro dia passamos tempo arrastando madeira ate a beira da agua onde íamos construir nossas figuras.  Robin começou num banco de areia e eu noutro.  Eu pretendia construir varias pecas sugerindo gestos com simplicidade. para aproveitar o máximo do tempo disponível entre as mares.  Meu colega, mais deliberado, seguiu seu estilo mais complicado "tecendo" os paus, criando uma figura mais expressiva.  Usamos uma pá para cavar na areia para enterrar os troncos que usamos para as pernas dos refugiados.  Era importante que as esculturas fossem bem ancoradas para que sobrevivessem a maré cheia, meio metro acima da maré baixa.   Sendo que nossos projetos são feitos para desintegrar organicamente, usamos cordão de sisal onde precisávamos amarrar o material.  Usamos também uma escada de dois metros para incrementar o tamanho das figuras.  Cada estrutura precisava ser bem equilibrada nas duas pernas com peso acima do nível da agua para que não flutuasse.

REFUGIADOS, Marcos Smyth e Robin Croft, 2016.  Primeiro dia, maré baixa.

Visto da estrada, a figura do Robin estava na frente do grupo.  Com o peso numa perna, o refugiado parecia estar arrastando a outra com os braços abertos parecia desesperado implorando ajuda.  Fiz minhas três primeiras figuras sem braços, sugerindo que penduravam aos lados, despercebidos.  Os troncos do meus refugiados inclinava para frente caminhando determinadamente.  Mesmo com estilos diferentes, o material e elementos estruturais uniam o grupo, criando uma imagem coletiva.  O refugiado feito por Robin dava um grito emocional enquanto os meus expandiam o impacto múltiplo do conceito de refugiados.

REFUGIADOS, 2016, Robin Croft construindo sua figura.

Sendo um dia muito bonito, nossa praia estava mais popular que na ultima vez que colaboramos lá.  Varias famílias apareceram, pescando, passeando com seus cachorros e fazendo piquenique.  Geralmente, fomos ignorados enquanto trabalhamos.  No fim do dia, Robin tinha completado seu refugiado e eu tinha construido três figuras mais simples.  Cansados, doloridos e magoados, estávamos satisfeitos com o resultado e queríamos saber se o projeto sobreviveria a maré cheia ou visitantes.

REFUGIADOS, Marcos Smyth com suas três primeiras figuras.

REFUGIADOS, Marcos Smyth e Robin Croft, segundo dia, maré cheia, visto da estrada.

No dia seguinte, descobrimos que uma das minhas figuras tinha caído.   Foi o refugiado na agua mais profunda durante a maré cheia.  Com a ajuda do Robin, construi mais duas perto da praia.  A estes dei braços como estivessem tentando prevenir um queda.  Estes refugiados inclinavam mais que os outros, sugerindo grande cansaço.  Agora, com cinco no grupo, sentimos que os refugiados estavam bem representados e podiam ficar em pé por alguns dias.  Prometemos colaborar mais com outros projetos.

REFUGIADOS,Marcos Smyth e Robin Croft, grupo completo, maré enchente.

Durante as próximas duas semanas, na minha volta pra casa do trabalho, passei de carro para acompanhar a desintegração inevitável do nosso projeto.  A escultura do Robin estava na agua mais profunda durante o alto da maré e numa correnteza que drenava nesta área.  Mesmo assim, no dia 27 de abril, os cinco refugiados ainda mantinham suas posições, três dias após completa-los.  No dia 28 mandei uma mensagem pare Robin: "Outro Refugiado caído.  O seu, hoje.  3 em pé."  Alguns dias mais tarde outro caiu.  Dia 7 de maio, dois refugiados ainda mantinham pose, espancados mas sobretudo intacto.  Hoje, dia 11, a praia estava vazia.

Brazilian in America

by Marcos Smyth on 04/13/16

Moving from Brazil to the USA was a a life changing experience.  Life in rural Jaguaquara was a far cry from Texas.  At the age of fifteen. I had good coping skills, but had no inkling of the culture change I would face.

Loud music, from the front of our house, woke me on a cold morning in 1971, before the sun rose.   I found my best friends on the front porch with a portable record player to wake me and give me a send off.  I was leaving with my parents and younger brother, Phil, for Rio de Janeiro to take my flight to the US and continue my education.  The farewells were emotional, irreplaceable friends I grew up with made it painful to leave.

We stopped the car at the top of the valley for one last look at my hometown.  The lowlands were covered with fog and the sun rose transforming the fog into a river of gold, characterizing this generous land that afforded me such a privileged life.

On the way to Rio, a two day drive, we enjoyed the scenery, the local foods, and each others company.   A conga drum, custom made of Rose wood, was one of the most important items in my luggage.  Maria Alves, a family friend with connections in a manual arts program at the state penitentiary, helped commission its fabrication with a python design carved in the wood.  The sound of conga drums, "atabaques," had lulled me to sleep on many nights, coming from below our hill.  This came from a part of town I was not allowed to go to as it was where the ""houses of ill repute" were.  The African beat of these drums, brought by slaves to Brazil, also filled the air on our island summer vacations, where "Candomble," an African cult, was practiced.   There, I would sneek out at night to participate in the "Samba" dances.   These rhythms were in my blood and the conga drum was my link to that black beat from the land I loved.  I also took gifts for family friends and relatives.  Rosita Dubois, the director of the Kate White Domestic School in Salvador, and her assistant Jane were artists we admired who had hand painted ceramics with lovely flower designs for us.  Their work was affordable and meaningful for us, as we had a long standing relationship with them.

In Rio we spent some time sightseeing and visiting friends.  The city was a marvel of monuments, parks, and beautiful beaches.  All too soon it was time for my departure.  We made one last drive to the airport where I embraced my parents and brother one last time before boarding my early flight.  Circling the city, gaining altitude, Rio was shrouded in fog with Sugar Loaf Mountain and Corcovado standing watch.  At that point the sun rose bathing the city in pink, the final farewell kiss from my beloved Brazil.

When I left Jaguaquara, on my way to Rio, Amerentina, my neighbor, one of the girls in the group that woke me, gave me a letter do open on the plane.  It was a poetic letter remembering our childhood, playing house, making small mud bricks, formed in match boxes, to build a wood burning stove, and stories we imagined to entertain ourselves.  She also remembered our playful adolescence, trouble making in school, hidden loves, passing notes, and a friendship that transcended time.  So many memories of friendships and influences which shaped me, Amerentina's lovely prose opened the floodgate of private tears on a airplane above the clouds that hid the land I was leaving behind.

After thirteen hours of anticipation and tumultuous emotions, I arrived in Miami.  There I visited with retired missionaries Red White and his wife Kate.  For my brothers and me, they were our surrogate grandparents in Brazil.  I never tired of listening to their stories and wise advice.  Kate made magic in the kitchen while Red kept me laughing.  From there I took another flight to Texas, landing in Houston at night.  Having a few layover hours, I called Paul Oliver, a missionary kid I knew from Brazil.  He picked me up and we drove around Houston talking about home and new experiences in America.  Early in the morning I took another flight to Dallas where my brothers, Jot and Paul, awaited.  Jot and I had never been close, but he surprised me with his affection and attention.  Paul was always the older brother I looked up to and, along with this wife, welcomed me with great warmth.

My Brazil, Jaguaquara, my parents and little brother, my friends, were far away, as in a dream, while the reality and strangeness of being in this new land still made no sense.  Aware of my state of mind, my brothers did their best to distract me and be supportive.  I realized they had confronted the same confusing experience and treated me with great compassion,  After all, I was a Brazilian in America.

Brasileiro Ruma Á America

by Marcos Smyth on 04/11/16

Em 1970, numa manha fria, antes da luz do dia, acordei com musica estridente vindo da varanda da nossa casa.  Ao investigar, descobri meus melhores amigos reunidos com um tocador de disco reunidos para se despedirem de mim.  Nesta manha minha família me levaria pra o Rio de Janeiro para pegar avião para os Estados Unidos.  Foi uma despedida muito emocionante, amigos de infância, amigos do peito que são insubstituíveis, fazendo mais uma representação de carinho alimentando saudades doces e amargas.

Fizemos a viajem de carro, saindo de Jaguaquara e parando no alto do vale de manhãzinha para ver minha cidade uma ultima vez.  O vale estava coberto por uma neblina parecendo cobertor de lã e ao sol raiar o vale se transformou num rio dourado, caracterizando o lugar onde tive vida privilegiada nesta terra tão generosa.

Da Bahia pro Rio, viajem de dois dias, saboreei a paisagem, o queijo Mineiro, e o convívio com meus pais e irmãozinho, Felipe.  Ia levando um atabaque de Jacarandá que Maria Alves me ajudou conseguir.  Ela conhecia alguém na penitenciaria de Salvador no programa de artes manuais para os prisioneiros e fez encomenda para a fabricação do atabaque com desenho de Jiboia na madeira.  Eu cresci ouvindo batucada vindo da baixa de Jaguaquara, a noite, da zona de prostituição.  Durante ferias na ilha de Itaparica eu me encantava com as batucadas dos candomblés perto da cosa onde veraneamos.  Este atabaque levava comigo uma cultura residente no meu sangue, símbolo do ritmo negro da minha Bahia amada.  Também levava presentes para amigos nossos e parentes no Texas, onde eu ia para continuar minha educação.  Rosita Dubois, diretora da Escola Domestica Kate White, em Salvador, e Jane que trabalhava com ela, artistas admiradas por  nossa família, tinham pintado cerâmicas a mão com flores lindas.  Além de serem inspirações importantes para mim, as criações delas estavam ao nosso alcance financeiro e com prazer levávamos de presente paro os EUA.

Em Rio passamos algum tempo passeando.  A cidade era uma maravilha de monumentos, jardins, e praias lindas.  O dia da minha partida chegou rapidamente.  Com muita emoção me despedi dos meus pais e Felipe.  O avião circulou a cidade, ganhando altitude, e vi a Guanabara coberta de neblina com o Pão de Açúcar e o Corcovado de vigia.  Neste momento o sol apresentou um banho rosado na neblina, o beijo final de despedida do meu Brasil.

Na manha que sai de Jaguaquara, Amerentina, uma das amigas no grupo que me acordou e  minha vizinha desde infância, me deu uma carta para abrir apenas no avião rumo a América.  A prosa que li foi uma poesia de recordações da nossa infância, brincando de casa, fazendo fogão de tijolinhos de barro que formamos em caixa de fósforos, e historias que imaginamos nas nossas brincadeiras.  Ela também escreveu sobre nossas traquinagens na escola, namoros escondidos, passando bilhetes, e da natureza da nossa amizade mais que irmandade.  Lendo sobre as influencias que me formaram, a prosa linda de Amerentina quebrou a represa emocional no meu choro intimo num avião sobre as nuvens que escondiam a terra que eu estava deixando atrás. 

Após treze horas de antecipação e emoções tumultuosas, desembarquei em Miami.  Visitei com o missionário Red White e sua esposa Kate, aposentados em Miami.  Para mim e meus irmãos, eles eram nossos avos adotivos no Brasil.  Sempre adorei passar tempo com eles ouvindo casos e historias dos velhos tempos.  Dona Kate, artista culinária, fez festa na cozinha e Pastor White me deu conselhos valiosos e coragem para enfrentar o futuro.

De lá parti de avião para o Texas, chegando em Houston de noite com quatro horas de folga ate o próximo voou.  Telefonei para Paulo Oliver, filho de missionário no Brasil que morava em Houston.  Ele me buscou de carro e passamos o tempo passeando pela cidade, conversando sobre o Brasil e as novas experiências na América.  De manhãzinha pequei o voou para Dallas onde meus irmãos Jot e Paulo me encontraram.  Eu e Jot não éramos muito aconchegados nos anos antes dele vir para os EUA, mas agora me surpreendeu com o afeto que compartilhamos ao nos reunir.  Paulo sempre foi o irmão mais velho que eu admirava e acompanhado pela esposa fez um bem vindo muito agradável.

Meu Brasil, Jaguaquara, meus pais e irmãozinho, meus amigos, estavam longe como num sonho.  A realidade estranha de me achar na América ainda não fazia sentido.  Meus irmãos, cientes das emoções tumultuosas que me confrontavam, fizeram o possível para me distrair e me fazer bem vindo.  Eles, em fim, tinham enfrentado a mesma experiência confusa e me trataram com muita compaixão.

Last Years In Brazil

by Marcos Smyth on 04/07/16

From this point till college, I was not particularly developing artistic skills.  Drawing still passed the time for me as I doodled, sometimes in cartoonish "Dali-esk" surrealism.  Now and then I tried my hand at caricatures of friends and family, with some success.  One of my interests took me to the woods and surrounding farmland where my friends and I built hideouts where we could camp and get away from the censoring eyes of our Baptist community.  As a result of roaming the landscape and building structures with  natural resources,  I developed a love of topography and the use of  natural materials that would later come into play in my art.  The most ambitious of these projects was a tree house I built with Bulu, Eude, and Mário.   It could sleep six of us, four on the floor and two in hammocks.


We put a great deal of labor and engineering into building this tree house and strengthened a bond of friendship that has lasted to this day.  Many camp outs and picnics with friends were enjoyed in our little cabin in the sky.

The Baptist school I attended owned farms that my dad, Jerry, managed.  I worked with him on many weekends and summers and learned a great deal about working the land, running machinery and its upkeep.  Working with him also taught me a great deal about  focus, problem solving, creative thinking, and discipline.  He was a man of character and did his best to pass his values on to me.

At the age of fifteen, I had finished Brazilian middle school and continued high school in English correspondence courses at home.  Like my two older brothers before me, it was time for me to go to school in the U.S. to finish high school and go to college.  I didn't want to leave my home and friends, but I also relished the idea of leaving home and having new experiences in a place I didn't know well.