Finding the Sublime


Alex Smith shares the beauty of life through oil paintings

In early October, Knoxville native Alex Smith wandered through a First Friday crowd at the Emporium. His first local show since moving back to Knoxville in early 2019, Smith’s body of work includes snapshot paintings of life in a big city alongside stunningly detailed landscapes. “The pandemic kind of slowed it down to where I realized this might be my one opportunity to have a solo show, to show past and present works and this evolution of where I was and where I’ve ended up, and possibly where I’ll be going.”

Smith’s life as an artist began as a child. His grandmother, Noni, recognized his talent and encouraged him to develop it. “She had somewhat of an art ability and just a love for it,” he recalls. “And she let it be known that you shouldn’t just let this slip away.”

Smith nurtured his talents with colored pencils in high school, but transitioned to oil painting at Carson-Newman University where he went originally as a football kicker. Mentored by artist-in-residence Bill Houston, Smith began to understand the mastery of painting in detail.

After graduating, he moved to New York to pursue his masters at the New York Academy of Art, doing his thesis on “finding the sublime,” something he tries to foster in each of his paintings. “Whether it’s a homeless guy on a curb or a pretty sunset, they both have their own beauty,” he says. “And it’s for the viewer to find that.”

New York, he says, was his chance to find out where he stood as an artist. And over the course of his eight years there, he found inspiration in every corner, from the subway to the crowded streets. “I liked the battle. You would wake up every day and know you’re nothing unique; you have to prove it to people. You have to go out there and make something for yourself.” 

And that’s exactly what he’s doing. To learn more about Smith’s journey as an artist and to view his work, visit

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