Artist Lance Smith celebrated in Obsidian & Neon, an exhibit of LGBTQ+ Vegas pioneers

Artist Lance Smith is included in the exhibit Obsidian & Neon: Building Black Life in Las Vegas. The narrative profiles were created by writer Erica Vital-Lazare and photographer Jeff Scheid. The display was installed in the Nevada State Museum from April, 2019 to March of this year. The last event was to be "LGBTQ Life Matters: The Community within the Community." It was slated for March 22 but was canceled because of the COVID-19 crisis. The Spectrum will run these profiles each month. Jeff Scheid/Special to Las Vegas Spectrum

Known for speaking so soft and so powerfully for women, elders, POC, LGBTQ—for those who are with us and those no longer here—the beauty and longing of Lance Smith’s images detonate. A graduate of UNLV’s BFA program, Smith has conducted workshops on drawing and memory as a community teaching artist with the Marjorie Barrick Museum and Sprat Teaching Artists program for seniors and teens. Born in Dayton, Ohio, Smith was raised for a time in Culver City, California, and has exhibited across the valley, most recently in “Block 17” at Donna Beam Gallery. Smith’s paintings often explore themes of identity and loss.

I was brought to Las Vegas when I was 10, awhile after my mother passed away … she was 43; an aneurysm, just snatched her. My middle brother, Kevin, took custody of me and brought me here. I went to Silvestri Middle School, then Silverado. I had a fantastic art teacher, Karen Heater—imperative to all of it—she was the first person to give me oil paints. She really believed in the process, and in me as an artist.  I think drawing with colored pencils was my favorite as a kid. The color payoff was really nice and it was meditative. I think for the longest time, the creation of anything was a way for me to get into myself. I’ve been working with trying to connect to, not only my ancestors, but with my family. So, I finally set up a little altar and I called my oldest brother and I told him, “You should set up one, too.” So, we’d been having these conversations and I had never seen a photo of my father. I didn’t know what he looked like. I called my aunt, both of my brothers. I was investigating. And there was nothing. Randomly, I got a text from my brother and there were four pictures: one of me and my mom, one of me, another of my mom, and another at the end that my brother goes … “Oh, and this is your father.” This was our first time meeting—through that photograph and through that painting. I was just trying to reconcile a relationship with parents who are no longer in this realm. It feels nice to be able to talk openly about our lives with the people who are no longer with us and bring them in, that connection, doesn’t go away. There are times I’m in my studio, I’m painting—I feel free. And I’m thankful for it. It’s a clean freedom. You take the struggle and you flip that -ish. That is a gift. A kind gift. And it’s like fresh air. You don’t get it all the time but when you do, it’s a reminder to keep on moving.