When we asked local artist Michael Braceland Smith about his artistic background, he answered quite matter-of-factly.
“There is no background,” he said during an interview in his woodworking shop — a century-old garage wedged into the corner of an East Patchogue property that now doubles as a lumberyard.
So he’s not classically trained. What Smith brings to his cramped work station is almost 40 years of professional carpentry, during which he came to specialize in trim — crown molding and the like — and gained a reputation across the island for his speed and attention to detail.
“Then about 3 and 1/2 years ago I just got the urge, if you will, to do art,” he said.
Never one to dilly-dally, Smith began doing exactly that — doing art.
“I just started making whacko sh—,” he said. “I started putting like wiggly wood together with simple frames and it got more and more complicated as I got more into the form.
“I’m discovering myself through my art.”
Also through his art, people are discovering him.
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The artisan-turned-artist has a loyal following on social media, and in the not-so-distant future plans to travel across the U.S. in a mobile workshop. During that trip he’ll be meeting up with people he’s come to know through social media. Once together — be it in Wyoming or wherever — they’ll make art.
In the meantime, Smith, who moved from Maple Street in Patchogue to a heavily wooded neighborhood in East Patchogue just 10 months ago, is doing what most artists do when they’re trying to make a name for themselves: He’s getting out there.
Last month, he had a show during a brunch at Fridays Farmingville, and this past Saturday about 120 of his pieces — pretty much his entire collection — went up on display at The Phoenix Art Studio & Gallery on Middle Road in Bayport.
Smith’s work will be on exhibit in Bayport through March 17.
It’s actually been just three months since Smith, also a musician and yoga enthusiast, started making a full-time push into the world of art — even though he began creating wall pieces, sculptures and mobiles around 2012. In between, he started a company that creates yoga materials that are now being distributed internationally.
While he has enjoyed commercial success, his business endeavors pulled him away from his artistic passions.
Now he’s back at churning out his trademark kinetic sculptures. (Think Alexander Calder if he used nothing but wood and wire.) Unlike your wind-resistant dollar store chime, these pieces are designed to stay in motion, albeit the Law of Inertia-abiding sort. Only the slightest wisp of breeze from a cracked window of central AC will set these works spinning.
Those mesmerizing pieces also recently caught the attention of Long Island artist Lauren Belcastro, who has now collaborated with Smith on several pieces on display at The Phoenix in Bayport, where his woodworking blends with her drawings of human figures.
Together, the two artists, using starkly different mediums, seek to “create a dialogue between wood working and drawing,” according to an informational board at the exhibit.
“My stuff can be cold,” Smith admitted. “It’s just so technical; there’s no warmth in it.”
Belcastro warms it up.
“I love the earthiness of both of them; the way they connect back to nature,” said Phoenix owner and curator Krissi McVicker. She pointed to one piece on the wall in Bayport, explaining how the branches from Smith serves as the hands in one of Belcastro’s female figures, “while her feet become roots.”
“I just love the twigs and the bark in all his work,” McVicker said of the large collection. “It just really speaks to the beauty of nature. He puts a lot of suns and moons into his work as well, which I’m really attracted to.”
For his artwork, Smith typically uses trunks, stumps, limbs, bark and branches from whatever happens to be scattered around his neighborhood. He’ll go foraging at all times of the day, peddling from his driveway on his fat-tire bike with a bucket in tow.
A favored wood of his is worm-eaten spalted maple.
“I go down the road and just look for trees that have fallen, and I steal them,” he said. But that’s no bother to anyone. “I’m using stuff that nobody wants.”
Then, he transforms it into something that someone out there will cherish.
Along the way, he learns a bit more about himself.
Top photo: Michael Braceland Smith in his East Patchogue workshop.
Middle photo: A Braceland piece (they’re all unnamed) now on display in Bayport.
Below: Some of the collaborative works by Michael Braceland Smith and Lauren Belcastro in Bayport.