Arvie Smith: Scarecrow

January 22 – March 26, 2022

Melvin Henderson-Rubio Gallery and the Maribeth Collins Lobby


Please note: This exhibition contains mature themes.


Arvie Smith

Arvie Smith (American, born 1938) is a nationally recognized African American painter from Portland, Oregon, who deals with the complex history of social and racial injustices. Organized by director John Olbrantz, this major retrospective exhibition features 26 paintings that span a twenty-five year period on loan from public and private collections in Maryland, Mississippi, California, Washington, and Oregon, including the Portland Art Museum and the Hallie Ford Museum of Art.

Smith paints in a figurative, expressionist style. His palette is dominated by bright reds, orange-yellows, browns, and blacks—colors reminiscent of his grandmother’s quilts. While his subject matter appears light and innocent and at times, downright cheerful, his work aims to convey the horrors, humiliations, and injustices that Black people have suffered in the United States over the past 450 years. Subjects range from Black stereotypes like Aunt Jemima and the Cream of Wheat chef to representations of Black performers on the Chitlin’ Circuit and historically taboo subjects like interracial relationships. Other topics include Smith’s African ancestry, slavery, the KKK, and the Jim Crow South.

“I speak unfettered of my perception of the Black experience. By critiquing atrocities and oppressions, by creating images that foment dialogue, I hope my work makes the repeat of those atrocities and injustices less likely. These are the reasons I paint.” - Arvie Smith

Born in Houston, Texas, and raised in Roganville, Texas, and Los Angeles, Smith lived in California, British Columbia, and Idaho in the 1960s and early 1970s before he eventually settled in Portland, Oregon, in 1976. Smith spent the next six years as a psychiatric technician and counselor in a hospital and at a drug and alcohol rehabilitation facility. In 1982, Smith fulfilled a lifelong dream by enrolling in the Pacific Northwest School of Art (PNCA) in Portland, where he received his BFA degree in 1986. He went on to earn an MFA degree in painting from the Maryland Institute College of Art (MICA) in Baltimore in 1992, where he worked as a teaching assistant for Grace Hartigan, an abstract expressionist painter and director of the LeRoy E. Hoffberger School of Painting at MICA. Smith spent several years on the East Coast, and after teaching painting at MICA for a year, returned to Portland in 1995 to teach at PNCA, where he served as a professor of painting until his retirement in 2014.

Over the years, Smith has been featured in a number of important solo and group exhibitions throughout the United States, and his works can be found in many public and private collections, including the Portland Art Museum, the Hallie Ford Museum of Art, Oregon State University, the University of Maryland Global Campus, the Petrucci Family Foundation Collection of African American Art, the Delaware Museum of Art, the Lewis Museum of Maryland African American History and Culture, the Lauren Rogers Museum of Art, the Nelson Mandela Estate, and others. In 2017, Smith was a recipient of a Governor’s Art Award from the State of Oregon; in 2018, he received an honorary doctorate from PNCA; and in the spring of 2022, he will be included in a group exhibition of African American artists at the Venice Biennale in Italy.

Exhibition Related Event

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Members First Saturday with artist Arvie Smith

February 5 | 10 am - Noon

Current museum members are invited to join artist Arvie Smith who will be available to answer questions about his life and career.

Check in
Museum members are invited to show their current membership cards at the front desk.

New and renewing members are welcome 


360° Virtual Exhibition Experience

 Image of Virtual Tour for Arvie Smith

Arvie Smith: 2Up and 2Back

Publication: Arvie Smith: 2 Up and 2 Back

A comprehensive publication from 2020 presenting the life and works of Portland artist Arvie Smith, with essays by Portland art historian and curator Linda Tesner, African American painter and curator Berrisford Boothe, and Portland artist and writer Daniel Duford.

This book was created through the cooperation of Disjecta Contemporary Art Center and Jordan Schnitzer Museum of Art at PSU, Portland, and with the support of The Family Ford Foundation.

Will be available in the museum store during the exhibition 

Financial Support

Arvie Smith: Scarecrow has been supported in part by gifts from several anonymous donors; by funds from the HFMA Exhibition Fund and the Maribeth Collins Art Exhibition Fund; by advertising support from The Oregonian/Oregon Live; and by general operating support grants from the City of Salem's Transient Occupancy Tax funds and the Oregon Arts Commission

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