Mike Smith's The Lost State of Frankland at Tracey Morgan Gallery

Carter Country, TN, 2014 © Mike Smith 

Mike Smith | The Lost State of Frankland
Tracey Morgan Gallery, Asheville, NC
September 28th-November 3rd
Reception for the artist: Friday, September 28th, 6-8 PM

Mike Smith's work has been exhibited at the Whitney Museum of American Art, the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, the San Francisco Museum of Art and the Cleveland Museum of Art. Smith has been awarded the John Simon Guggenheim Foundation Fellowship, 2001, Tennessee Governor's Distinguished Artist Award, 2001, and United States Artist Lowe Fellowship, 2011. His work is held in the collections of 
major museums throughout the United States including the Museum of Modern Art, the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Houston Museum of Fine Art, and the Art Institute of Chicago. Smith's first monograph, You’re Not From Around Here, 
was released in 2004 by Johns Hopkins University Press and the Center for American Places with an essay by Robert 
Sobiesek, curator, Los Angeles County Museum of Art. Originally from Massachusetts, Smith received his BFA from 
the Massachusetts College of Art and his MFA from Yale University.  He was hired at ETSU in 1981 at the rank of Instructor to direct the photography program and retired as Professor Emeritus in 2017. 

Mike Smith was recently interviewed by graduate student Meg Roussos for our Contemporary Photographer Series (CPS). 

After photographing East Tennessee for close to 40 years, your image archive must be vast. Can you describe your editing process when it comes to putting together a cohesive show that includes older and current works?

The space available has a lot to do with it. In the case of the upcoming show, I knew I wanted a handful of current works included. The gallery director Tracey Morgan and I picked the show based on what she felt might sell and what I felt were important to include. I think the "cohesive" part may be related to my constant and continued interest in the world around me. That happens to be largely defined as East Tennessee's rural character. 

Carter County, TN, 2014 © Mike Smith

Tell me about one image you are exhibiting at Tracey Morgan Gallery for the first time that really excites you.

One of the pictures is of an old tin press-plate found on the side of a barn. It was from an art text book. The defunct Kingsport Press used to employ many around here and often the plates, once discarded, were used as barn siding. This one was located about four feet from a dead-end road used by fishermen to access a trout creek. There were many plates and on them were lots of images. One was of Michelangelo’s David. It was about the size of a playing card; well weathered, pitted and it, alone, had been shot multiple times with .22 caliber rounds. Three of the holes were clustered between his legs effectively castrating the revered figure. Appalachian art appreciation, homophobia or, more likely, both. Humor and darkness; it runs through my work. I photographed it with an 8x10 camera, filled the frame with the figure, nailed it, and it is now 60 x 80 inches. The ground appears almost cosmic; dark, etched with star-like dots randomly scattered like a deep-space image. That thing is impressive!

Erwin, TN, 2010 © Mike Smith

You’ve lived and photographed in this region for so long now, is it hard to find yourself ‘getting lost’ anymore?

Yes and no. It depends on how far I feel like driving. I have said many times: blind-fold me, take me out and drive a while, remove the blindfold, and I will tell you what's around the bend. I do have resident knowledge. But, usually, if I get out of the car, I can get lost in the details in front of me. To help overcome the familiarity I bought a macro lens.

Carter County, TN, 2014 © Mike Smith

The impact you’ve had within ETSU and students over the decades is immeasurable. How are you filling that void?

My studios, my cameras, a big monitor and my continued desire to make pictures.

As a well-established and knowledgeable photographer, what is a piece of advice you could share with a young and eager artist searching for their own path to follow?

Don't stop working. Obsess. Like the nose on your face, the "path" will eventually become obvious. 

Watauga, TN, 2014 © Mike Smith


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