From the Daily Mississippian by Ashley Locke
From small-time cartoonist to big-time artist, Ford Smith is one more alumnus of whom the University of Mississippi can be proud.
Smith attended Ole Miss as a mathematics major in 1968 and almost immediately began working for the Daily Mississippian.
“I worked for the DM all of the years that I was in college,” Smith said. “I needed the money. I was a poor college kid.”
Smith started by writing for the paper and soon began drawing cartoons in 1971, continuing the job in 1972. He previously drew cartoons for his high school paper, so the switch from writing to drawing was a natural transition.
After a while, Smith decided that math was not the route he wanted to take, and he graduated from the University with a bachelor’s of fine arts degree in art.
Soon after graduation, Ford moved to Atlanta and discovered a hidden talent for photography. He opened a studio and started gaining recognition.
“During the 1980s, Smith established his reputation as Atlanta’s premier fashion and commercial photographer,” Pat Brown, business manager of T. Clifton Art in Memphis, said.
However, Smith’s time with cartoons had not yet ended.
“I tried drawing political cartoons in Florida during the 90’s,” Smith said. “It’s what I did for the DM, and it’s what I thought I wanted to do for a long time.”
But political cartooning turned out to be a lot of work. In 2000, at age 50, Ford took a leap of faith and began full-time painting.
“I always did cartooning and painting at the same time,” Smith said. “I think if most people could choose between the two, they would choose painting. Painting seemed to be a better fit for me.”
Smith closed his photography studio and opened a painting studio. Still located in Atlanta, Smith quickly became just as well known for his paintings as he had been for his photography. His unique style stood out and attracted customers.
He began painting figures and abstracts but found his niche painting landscapes.
“I paint landscapes,” Smith said. “But I never paint from a photograph. My landscapes are formed from memory, dreams and imagination. Painting from real life is boring.”
Customers seem to agree, buying Smith’s paintings left and right.
“Now, his paintings hang in galleries and private collections from Japan to Dubai and points in between,” Brown said.
His popularity allows him to attend around seven art shows a year, located anywhere from California to New York. He is even discussing plans for a show in Singapore.
Although he has not kept in contact with the University, he has never forgotten it.
When an art show in Memphis came up, he jumped at the chance.
“I got in touch with the art department and let them know what I was doing,” Smith said. “Everyone likes to hear a success story.”
The show, called “Escape,” features his contemporary landscapes. The exhibit is on Friday, March 11 from 6 p.m. to 9 p.m. at the T. Clifton Art Gallery.
Smith encourages students, especially art majors, to drop by.
“It is always great to have that university connection,” Smith said. “To see that someone from your university has accomplished something — it feels great. I think students like to see that.”
Smith considers himself lucky to have a job doing what he loves. He said, anyone who can make a living doing what they love is fortunate.
“I’ve been very blessed,” said Smith. “Not many people are able to reinvent themselves at age 50, but I did.”