Mary Tillman Smith
United States of America, 1904 - 1995
Mary T. Smith was born in Copiah County in southern Mississippi and grew up in a sharecropping family. As a child she already had hearing difficulties which made social contact impossible. She had to work on the land from an early age. In this environment she developed a strong creative focus, together with a remarkable will to survive. At a very early age she began to draw figures and words on the ground in the fields. It was not until she was much older that she started to convey her own views of creation in her artwork. Her works appear encoded, like the text fragments she includes amongst them. The Parisian gallery owner Christian Berst describes her work as “a kind of graphic blues”, which oscillates between the mortal and godly spheres. The materials she used were pieces of wood and scrap metal which she collected, broke down into pieces and decorated colourfully using cheap paint. Despite the many religious themes of her work, today it is seen as subversive. In her old age she lived in a modest house in Hazlehurst. Mary T. Smith is regarded as one of the most important female representatives of African American Art Brut. Jean-Michel Basquiat was excited to discover her work in a New York exhibition. In 2013, the christian berst art brut gallery in Paris exhibited Smith’s works and published the first monograph on her. Examples of her works can be found in the collection abcd/Bruno Decharme, France, and in the Kurt Steinke collection, Austria.