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Volume 24, Number 3 — March 2017

Eric Smith: political scientist and artist

Visit www.biguglyhullabaloo.com to see examples of Smith's art.
Visit www.biguglyhullabaloo.com to see examples of Smith's art.
Additional photos below »

By Leslie Grace | A! Magazine for the Arts | October 26, 2016

Eric Drummond Smith describes himself as a lowbrow artist. He says he is fascinated by the "ugly." "My art is expressionist — drawing deeply upon my own emotional state, amplified often by music and unwise quantities of caffeine. It is also pop, drawing heavily from advertisement campaigns, comic books, cartoons and newspaper strips. Throw in a healthy dose of surrealism and symbolism, impregnate it with heavy doses of political science and philosophy, and lifelong loves of theology, mythology, paleontology, history and cryptozoology, and you have my art."

When it came time for Smith to receive his inspiration piece for the "Cherry Bounce" exhibit, he ended up getting the last one available William Taft.

"Every time I suggested we give Taft to another artist, Callie (Hietala, his co-curator) kept wanting to save it. It ended up being the last inspiration left, and I got it," he says.

Taft is probably not whom he would have chosen. His favorite president is Washington, followed closely by Lincoln. He says he's utterly fascinated with Teddy Roosevelt and also appreciates Truman, Eisenhower and George H.W. Bush. There's also Bill Clinton, whom he describes as "a real hooligan" and Jimmy Madison, "the most brilliant." Jefferson was "brilliant, but a bit of a jerk." Andrew Jackson, he both loves and hates.

He says he's okay with getting Taft for an inspiration. "I like Taft. He's the only president who was also a Supreme Court justice. He ended the Maori War by being basically a nice guy. He considered Teddy Roosevelt his best friend, and Roosevelt broke his heart. I didn't mind getting him."

The political image he received was an old cigarette card with a close-up of Taft's face and the word Bill.

"I sat down with paper to sketch, and I just kept sketching. I love the iconic nature of the Taft image. It's very simple. So I'd draw a rectangle, and I'd put a circle in it and think about what I wanted to put in the circle. I ultimately ended up with the devil and the title "Least of All Evils.' For some reason, while I was drawing I kept thinking about the Winston Churchill quote, "Democracy is the worst of all systems, except for all the rest.'"

"So I drew the devil, and I started playing with it. I kept trying different color backgrounds and finally ended up with ballot boxes behind it. It went really wildly off from where I started. After I had the sketches, I went to Wolf Hills (a brewery in Abingdon) because I knew they had some good music playing. I set up an easel, and I just sat by myself, listened to music and painted. I painted one more day on it after that."

Smith is an assistant professor of political science at UVa-Wise. He graduated from Emory & Henry College with degrees in political science, art and geography. His master's degree, focusing on East Asian Studies, is from the University of Virginia. His doctorate is from the University of Tennessee specializing in political science, testing in the fields of international relations and comparative politics and specializing in the origins of conflict.

Visit www.biguglyhullabaloo.com to see examples of Smith's art.

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Topics: Art, Exhibits



Eric Drummond Smith


"Least of All Evils" by Eric Drummond Smith was inspired by the iconic "Bill" cigarette card pictured above.