While Christine Chew Smith’s art is driven by a love of nature, she has created many of her most beautiful landscapes and outdoor scenes from inside looking out.
The Bridgehampton artist’s pastels, watercolors and oil paintings depict East End fields, woodlands, sunsets and shores in some of the finest light because, unlike many landscape painters, Smith captures images from right outside her window. “I call it indoor plein air,” Smith said, adding, “I like to have a roof over my head.”
The artist bought land in Bridgehampton 33 years ago and slowly built her home and studio, bit by bit, while she lived in Manhattan and eastern Suffolk County. “That’s where the artists were,” she said, explaining her desire to move to the East End. “I always wanted to meet Fairfield Porter,” she added, though he died just before she moved.
By around 1980, Smith and her three sons, Jeffery, Bradford and Randy, became full time residents. “Thus began Heron Studios,” Smith said of the residence and workspace where she continues to live.
Smith, who is now older than 70, was a pianist in her youth, and she began painting in college. She became bored and frustrated with the large general education classes at University of Colorado Boulder, so she delved into art. “At that point I was really ready for the therapy that art can be,” she said, noting that she later studied at the Art Students League and the National Academy during her 19 years living in New York City.
Smith has also taught adult art classes locally at in Montauk.
Before she lived on the East End full time, Smith said she would often visit for weekends away from her family and the distractions of everyday life. The artist also took summer courses at Southampton College in the late 1970s. “I lived in a $40 room,” she said of her time before having a home locally. Smith said she stayed at the cheapest boarding house she could find and painted in the studios at the college when she could.
Even in the early days, Smith said she painted out windows, though she also kept art supplies in her car and would stop to work any time she passed a beautiful or compelling scene. “I’d buy flat hooded cars for that reason,” Smith said, explaining that she’d sit on the hood of the car or look out the window to draw and paint.
Over the years Smith painted numerous East End barns and the images serve as an important visual record because so many of the buildings no longer exist. “There are not so many barns now,” she said.
“I became known as the barn lady. I liked that,” Smith said, pointing out that she was also known for her sunsets.
Recently, Smith said she’s drawing mostly, though she’s also started creating collage and assemblage compositions with found wood. She is a member of a Wednesday Plein Air Painters group and Smith said it has been inspiring to work with others. “It’s been wonderful to go outdoors regularly,” Smith said.
The artist is a longtime member of the Artists Alliance of East Hampton and she shows at numerous local and community venues. Smith had a solo show at Sag Harbor’s just before renovations began and they stopped having shows.
“My art has always been a spiritual searching through nature,” Smith said, adding that painting is a satisfying departure from the mundane. “It’s given me an immense sense of pleasure,” she said.