Andrew James Smith, Artist

Andrew James Smith

Photo by Scott Lee for the University of Waterloo Art Gallery

Who Is Andrew?

Have you ever wondered what becomes of a kid who receives both the art and science award in junior high school? Meet Andrew James Smith of Watsonville, California. In high school he was photographer for the school paper and year book; winner of speech, debate, and model United Nations awards; actor in plays; and designer of the class flag, a parade float, and book covers. But it was his highly publicized 1963 graduation speech [he thought he could avoid the controversy by fleeing the continent] that turned out to be the most memorable—years later he was informed it was the inspiration for one of the organizers of the Berkeley student revolt.

In 1964, he postponed his second semester at the University of Hawaii to sail the South Pacific. He learned to make tapa cloth while living with natives in American Samoa. Upon returning home, he attended the California College of the Arts on a full scholarship.

Four years later, his portfolio of geometric drawings landed him artist-in-residence at the Coach House Press in Toronto, where numerous of his works of art were reproduced, including one for a friend, the poet Allen Ginsberg. He silk-screened some of these images, including one fractal design before the term “fractal” was even devised. His invention at the Coach House of photographic watermarking garnered him a key to Massey College at the University of Toronto. Throughout the 1970s, he held lectures at the university, ran its papermaking lab, and consulted on the papermaking display at the Ontario Science Centre—plus he also represented Canada at the 1st International Handmade Paper Conference in Appleton, Wisconsin.

By the start of the 1980s, he was known as the “Papersmith”, aſter relocating his paper studio from a farm in Beaverton to an old mill in Cambridge, Ontario. For two decades he made paper by hand from friends’ clothing and the flax he grew, for such notable personages as writer, Margaret Atwood and artist, Norval Morrisseau.

A process he coined (called pulp-painting) has become part of some art schools’ curriculum. Many artists all across North America now call themselves pulp-painters. In Toronto, he was represented by the Isaacs Gallery in the 1970s, the Geraldine Davis Gallery in the 1980s, and Gallery Moos until very recently.

The Art Gallery of Ontario displayed a neon sculpture made from one of Andrew’s designs for twenty-five years and sponsored many of his paper-art shows throughout Ontario. His art has been exhibited in major foreign exhibitions in Germany, Brazil, and as far away as Japan. His art has also made it into important public collections such as Cambridge Galleries, the Art Gallery of Ontario, and the National Gallery of Canada. In addition, he has been granted numerous art awards; articles about him have been featured in the Globe and Mail, Quill & Quire Magazine, and Maclean’s; and he has been showcased on TVO, and even Fashion TV, plus several other programs.

One particular oil painting by Andrew (the deathbed dream of his mother) Morning Walk, which took him more than a decade to ſinish, is considered by many viewers to be a masterpiece. For the next seven years, he installed other artists’ artwork at Design@Riverside in the University of Waterloo School of Architecture. He has since returned to his geometric roots, working both two-dimensionally and sculpturally, and is now considered the “thinking person’s artist”1. His Protomid sculpture (based on a spiral he invented) was recently displayed at the Exhibition of Mathematical Art in Seattle, Washington. Viewers of other related artwork by him, which was shown in Atlanta, Georgia, prompted him to write an academic paper about his unique spiral. His paper was published in the Bridges Waterloo 2017 Proceedings, in conjunction with the exhibition of his twenty-one-foot triptych, Protogon Shiſt, at the University of Waterloo Art Gallery. He continues to reside in Galt,  Cambridge, self-represented.

  • Andrew’s signature is a circular Arabesque design, legible when rotated counterclockwise (making it gravity free). He fashioned it in 1985 to allow his art to be displayed vertically or horizontally.

1.  R. Reid. “Cambridge artist turns the universe inside out”, The Record, Kitchener, Ontario, (August 28, 2014).

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Andrew James Smith, Artist

(519) 841-7522