Most Easter egg hunts involve dyed eggs, chocolate bunnies and assorted pastel candies.
Artist Zack Smithey is doing his differently.
Smithey, 32, spent the first three months of the year creating 1,000 pieces of art, mostly paintings in acrylic and enamel. Through Friday he’ll hide them, at a rate of about 100 per day. It’s finders keepers; from 4 to 7 p.m. on April 4, the lucky winners are invited to a reception at Cicero’s, 6691 Delmar Boulevard, to get their pieces autographed.
“This is probably the fastest and hardest I’ve ever worked in the studio,” Smithey says, “just continually moving forward, moving forward, making art.”
He rattles off some impressive statistics: “It took 156 hours just to prep and prime the paintings. There are 864,000 square inches of paintings. If I lined up all the paintings in a row, they would be a little over twice the height of the Empire State Building, about a half-mile. The cost of the materials was about $10,000.”
That begs the question of just why anyone would create 864,000 square inches of paintings in three months to give them away. What is Smithey getting out of it?
“I like to make art,” he says. “I like challenges; I like to give. For the last five or six years I’ve done a lot of charity work and raised over $80,000.” Gaining publicity is not his primary goal, although he admits that getting noticed “is natural when you’re giving away a thousand pieces of art. It gets the public excited about real art if they’re involved.”
Smithey first sold a piece of art while in middle school and became “seriously professional” in 2000. Today, his work ranges from portraiture (Mark Twain and legendary baseball players are regular themes) to exercises in elaborately dripped paint. He taught art at Francis Howell North High School from 2006 to 2013. He gave that up two years ago to focus on his own creations.
He’s made impressive videos with classical musicians. That includes one for the Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center, “A Short Film for the End of Time,” making paintings while, behind a curtain, instrumentalists play Olivier Messiaen’s “Quatuor pour la fin du temps,” “Quartet for the End of Time.”
He lives with his wife, Brie, and two dogs in St. Charles, where they own the restaurant and art gallery Miss Aimee B’s.
“My art has a huge variety,” he says. “Every time I do something new, it’s always part of a series. I feel like if I’m doing it once, I’m not devoting enough time to that subject. Like, last year I did like 200 Mark Twain portraits.”
His Easter art offerings come from many of those themes: some studies of skulls, some Mark Twains. Based on his past sales, Smithey says the paintings are valued at about $500 each. “They’re dominated by the materialization of sound,” he says, noting that he often works with an improvisatory cellist. “They look like ripples of colors, vibrations of colors. In general, they’re just inspired by music and sound. Eventually, I’ll do sound-specific pieces.” This summer, he plans to go to New York and “do a 50-yard painting. As music plays, you walk and watch the painting.”
Asked what inspires him, he replies, “When I was younger I used to look for inspiration all the time, in order to make something.” These days, he has a long list of things he wants to try. “It’s more application than inspiration that motivates me, solving problems and inventing things. I like to experiment with new art, new processes.”
One of the things he likes about his Easter art hunt is that it’s “very interactive. So many people have contacted me on Facebook, asking me where the art is going to be.” Every day he’ll hide 100 pieces, which range in size from 12 by 12 inches to 32 by 48 inches, in different spots around the St. Louis area.
“I’ve got a secret route planned for each day. As I hide them, I’m going to take a picture of each piece and post it on Facebook. If you can figure out where that picture was taken, you can try to find it. Where there’s one piece, there will be more, spread out in the general area.”
In the case of bad weather, he will put his paintings under covered areas. In the case of really bad weather, he’ll put them in locally owned businesses.
At the end, “I’ll put 300 pieces of art up and down the Delmar Loop, inside and outside businesses.” Each one will have a card attached to it, telling the finder “Take me, I’m yours,” and explaining the Easter art hunt concept.
He’s hoping that finders will email their stories and pictures to him at EasterArtHunt@gmail.com.
“I want to know if they decided to keep the art, sell it, trade it, donate it or give it away. I conceived the idea, produced all of the art and financed all of the materials, and gave it all away. If that inspires anyone else to do something great or give to someone else, I want them to share their story with me.”
Smithey says that one thing he’s taking away from his first-quarter project is more than 1,000 pieces of art. “It’s a three-month performance piece. Our lives are a series of moments of time. The art is a record of my life for the last three months; each piece is a slice from that timeline.
“I hope that I made the best of that time and that people perceive the value of that time, and not just the art.”