Audrey Smith goes to ArtPrize


By Jeff Smith
Sun contributor

Audrey Smith has learned to persevere. When she was just four days old, she was diagnosed with a rare heart defect and had to have open heart surgery when her heart was the size of a walnut. She had two more open heart surgeries by the time she was 21. The same condition that created her heart defect also left her with learning disabilities, so school was never easy. She was something of an outsider in the mix of Glen Lake School.

But at some point in her teens, she began to feel that art offered a way to deal with her struggles. “There was something about art … I felt art was made for me,” she says. “It helps me with my anxiety and helps me not think about the outside world.” She came to see that the challenges she faced when she was young helped her as an artist. Isolation helped her form a unique vision. Overcoming major surgery also gave her the strength and determination she would need to pursue her art. And that drive was rewarded this year when Audrey was accepted into ArtPrize, where she will hang three of her paintings—collectively titled “Golden Africa”—in one of the world’s most popular art events. ArtPrize takes place Sept.20-Oct. 8 in Grand Rapids.

A key moment in Audrey’s art evolution came during high school, making jewelry with the late Ben Bricker, a renowned Glen Arbor jeweler, in art class. “We were making abstract designs, swirls and that kind of thing, but I didn’t really connect with that,” Audrey says. “So I made a small silver bird pendant for my mom.” Ben showed her how to cut it out with a jeweler saw and put it on a chain. The bird was simple but elegant and whenever her mom wore it, people would comment on it, ask her where she got it. People said somehow it conveyed the spirit of the bird.

A couple years after high school, Audrey felt drawn to painting. Totally self-taught, she watched YouTube videos, bought brushes and paints and an easel. She watched for canvas sales at Michael’s craft store and would stock up at 50 percent off sales.

More animals came from her mind … a cow, five cranes, a chimpanzee, a family of elephants, two zebras. “I love nature, but where a lot of artists connect to nature through landscape, I connected to nature through animals,” she says.

Why all African animals for ArtPrize? “There’s just something amazing about African animals that struck me,” she says. “They are unique and cool. Like zebras with their stripes. We don’t have animals with stripes here.” Someday she would like to start a foundation for elephants and proceeds from her art sales would help fund it.

On her art journey, she also reached out to a couple of other nearby artists for support and encouragement. She met with Glenn Wolff, and he was so impressed with the power and simplicity of her work and the uniqueness of her vision that he helped her get into her first art show, part of Robin Stanley’s Art Mixer TC series. “I love the cow painting,” he said. “There’s definitely a force there!”

Wildlife artist Dani Knoph sees real talent in this up-and-coming artist. “Audrey’s style is compelling and undeniably beautiful. Her color choices and use of shape and form evoke pure emotion. Her latest work is particularly striking. Viewers are in for a real treat at this year’s ArtPrize.”

See Audrey Smith’s art at ArtPrize in the Gita Pita restaurant, 2 Jefferson Ave. SE, Grand Rapids. Vote Code: 64920.

Audrey works as a grocery bagger at Tom’s Food Market on West Grand Traverse Bay. Stop by and congratulate her on being accepted at ArtPrize. Her dad, Jeff Smith, is editor of Traverse Magazine.