Wallace Herndon Smith learned the craft of painting and fixed his aesthetic in America's zesty pre-World War II era. Younger than the powerful wave of regionalists who had washed across the country's consciousness and the expatriates who measured their vision against the works of European artists, Wally nonetheless selected certain aspects of each group. He adopted an American attitude about the foursquare treatment of subject and, at the same time, he painted with the fluid brush of his French colleagues. No wonder. He studied with Thomas Hart Benton, the preeminent regionalist teacher, at the Art Students' League in New York and he spent as much time as he could manage in France, looking at and loving French painting. Wally, without much effort or an evidence of self-consciousness, simply reconciled the disparate forces of American energies and impudence with French technique and grace.
Throughout his long life of painting, Wally dealt with predictable subjects; he painted directly, rarely becoming ensnared in the plots of carefully drawn composition. As his brush ranged over the surface of his canvases, he celebrated the explosive color of still -life compositions, captured cityscapes and transformed them into imaginary stage sets, defined the contours and shadows of posed models and friends and recreated the sport of sailing to fit his own fantasy - often, as his brother Bob points out - without regard for the actual forces of the wind! Well, no matter. Wally would be the first to tell us that all painting is fantasy; all art is made up. Whatever he took from the world of actual daily vision, he filtered through his own sensibilities and, perhaps as importantly, through his own canon for painting.
One thing is certain: Wally's paintings, like the artist himself, are loyal companions. Full of details that appear and reappear with continued viewing, direct and fresh and often lively, the paintings invite familiarity, friendship. And, as with good old friends, they enliven our days.
These paintings have nothing at all to do with fad and very little to do with our usual discussions about style. They'll not harangue or bludgeon; they'll not outrage or rant. They will, however, welcome the viewer's attention and, in the quietude of friendly collaboration, they'll reveal gently some amazing views. Without apology or fanfare, these paintings invite enjoyment.
-Lee Hall (New York City, 1988)