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Vincent Smith, 74; Expressionist Artist Portrayed Black Life

January 09, 2004|From Times Staff and Wire Reports

Vincent Smith, 74, an artist whose expressionist paintings, murals and book illustrations portrayed black life, died of lymphoma complicated by pneumonia Dec. 27 in New York City.

A figurative painter prominent in the Black Arts movement of the 1960s and 1970s, Smith had more than two dozen one-man shows, and was represented in more than 30 group shows over the last three decades. He created two murals for the Manhattan subway system, and illustrated books on jazz and blues and one titled "Folklore Stories From Africa," as well as a line of greeting cards.

A native of Brooklyn, Smith dropped out of high school and traveled the country as a train-hopping hobo, then served in the Army before settling down to paint. He later studied at the Brooklyn Museum Art School and Skowhegan School of Painting in Maine, and earned a college degree when he was 50.

But his art, known for its bright colors, textures and patterns, was fueled more by his experiences as a black man, traveling the U.S. and Africa.

Smith worked in menial jobs for the railroad and the post office until 1953, when he decided to paint full time. He taught painting at the Whitney Museum Art Resources Center.

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