Once upon a time, Alex Smith didn’t speak.
Not in spontaneous language, anyway. Diagnosed with autism at the age of three, Alex communicated mostly through quotes from her favorite Disney films.
It wasn’t until she picked up a pencil and sketch pad that the now 21-year-old artist truly found her voice—and her calling—in art. After early intervention therapies, her language skills developed while her artistic skills took off. With an artist mother and musician father, she grew up in an environment that nurtured those creative gifts and helped her bloom from a doodler into an up-and-comer, frequently one of the youngest artists at the juried shows and galleries where she now exhibits.
But accepting congratulations for the success she’s found on her non-traditional path seems “weird,” Alex admits.
“It’s just who I am and what I do,” she says.
The 2013 Millennium High School graduate has jumped right into a career as a mixed-media artist, working primarily in acrylic on canvas/colored pencil and ink on wood. Her popular Illuminations series involves intricately detailed wooden panels over painted backdrops that mesmerize the viewer.
Alex, who has shown and sold her work at Scottsdale’s El Pedregal and Avondale’s Catitude Gallery and Studio among other locations, still draws her inspiration from the fairytale themes that permeate her much-loved Disney favorites. These simple moral tales and a love of all things fantastic inform her work and create a dichotomy that speaks to her fans. Her art combines an adult’s understanding with a child’s perspective.
“It’s a lot like we see things when we are children,” Alex says. “We are amazed by so many things. I want people to feel that way again.”
Distinctively, Alex’s art is a celebration of the arts in a much broader context: “My pieces also celebrate the talents that Heavenly Father has given others: authors and story tellers,” she explains.
On her canvases, old, well-loved stories emerge in a riot of colors. A princess sleeps amidst a tangle of briars. Wicked stepsisters preen; fairies flutter. From favorite works of literature, Oz glistens green in the foreground and Mr. Toad grips the wheel of his motor car.
“I feel like I’m part of it. I could walk right into the setting and become one of the characters in her story,” says Ann Ashton, who has bought a few of Alex’s pieces. “Each painting is detailed, unique, beautiful, and unmistakably Alex Smith!”
It’s a beauty born out of struggle. Alex experienced academic and social difficulties due to her autism and has had to work very hard to operate on a day-to-day basis in the world. When words prove difficult, she turns to her canvas.
“Where most people think in words,” she says, “I think in pictures. Art is how I can share my thoughts with other people.”
Alex looks forward to a happily-ever-after that hopefully includes bigger gallery representation and an increased collector following. Ultimately, her goal is to be able to support herself through her art.
“I feel like I can look forward to a future where I can have satisfaction in my work and make others happy. I’m learning how to improve my art all the time, and also learning how to talk to other people about what I do.”
Check Alex Smith out on Facebook at Illuminations: Alex Smith.