Artist Spotlight Artwork Spotlight

Artist Spotlight: Erin Smith Glenn

In the Artist Spotlight series of blog posts, The Layered Onion highlights an artist in the community. We’ll get a chance to learn more about each artist and their work. In this post, we are featuring Erin Smith Glenn (she/her). Erin is open about her mental health and how it impacts her work. Black history also greatly influences Erin – she illustrates its power in vivid colors.

A photo of the artist, Erin Smith Glenn (Erin M Smith), with The HAIRitage of Nina Simone. Art and mental health. The importance of black mental health and black history. In Black history month and beyond. Simone was neurodivergent and likely bipolar. 

Erin was published in The Shallot.
Photo of the artist with The HAIRitage of Nina Simone.

Erin Smith Glenn is an associate professor of art, advisor of the Visual Arts Club, former vice president of the board for the Dayton Society of Artists, and proud alum of Central State University, Ohio’s only public HBCU (historically black college or university). She holds an M.F.A. from the University of Cincinnati with a concentration in 2D drawing and painting, working in a variety of media and mixed media. Erin has exhibited works in Ohio, Tennessee, Kentucky, Missouri, Louisiana, Vermont, Texas, Virginia and Illinois, respectfully, including numerous solo exhibitions.

Recently, she was awarded Best in Show for her 4’x8’ painting in the “New Woman” art exhibit hosted collaboratively by the Pendleton Arts Center and the Clifton Cultural Arts Center, Cincinnati OH. Upon completion of the new CCAC building, a gallery in honor of Elizabeth Nourse (1859-1938) will be housed within the new CCAC. As a feature included in the Best in Show prize package, Erin as the inaugural exhibiting artist in this venue and has been invited to spend 3 months creating new work in Cincinnati’s only home established by Frank Lloyd Wright. The Elizabeth Nourse gallery will be dedicated primarily to women artists and is due to open early 2024.

Among Erin’s lifelong pursuits is to continually practice her artwork and overall creative experiences, vowing never to stop “growing as an artist and individual,” while always striving to instill this concept in her students and her three children, as she does within herself. The award stated above has already begun to provide students with opportunities to engross themselves in the art scene. Erin proudly stands on the shoulders of many while she strives to be that same catalyst for others.

Follow the gravitational pull within you that leads to a life of consistent growth and development through the pursuant act of creative imagination. 

Erin Smith Glenn

What first drew you to art?

I have always been an artist. My first “masterpiece” was when I colored over the family portrait at the age of 3. 🙂 I soon realized that reproductions of this kind would not be suitable for a lifelong career, so I started drawing FROM the portraits instead of ON them. My first portrait sales were at the age of 11, and soon, I became addicted to this new lifestyle. But it began with many hours in the basement drawing from family photos, especially baby photos.

How would you describe your artistic style?

Realism with an emphasis on color theory, alternate use of the color palette, and a touch of fantasy.

What topics inspire you?

Black culture and every aspect of it, especially parenthood, joy, politics, and, more recently, mental health awareness in the Black community, which is only recently gaining traction in society.

The HAIRitage of Nina Simone by Erin Smith Glenn. Art and mental health. The importance of black mental health and black history. In Black history month and beyond. Simone was neurodivergent and likely bipolar. Neurodivergence needs to be recognized.
Erin Smith Glenn, The HAIRitage of Nina Simone. Acrylic paints by Royal Talens of North America. 2022.

What was the impetus behind The HAIRitage of Nina Simone?

I LOVE Nina Simone. My favorite quote by her is, “I’ll tell you what freedom is: no fear.” Because of her unwavering tenacity in speaking for and speaking up for Black people, I know I have a duty, a responsibility, as Simone says, to document the times. “For what is an artist if they do not document the times they are in?” I have now completed 2 of many pieces that will be part of the “FREE NINA SIMONE” series, for when her mental health suffered near the end of her life, lawyers manipulated her into signing over her fortune. Her family, to this day, does not receive royalties. I plan to protest this through my artwork until a change has been made.

HAIRitage is an intentional play on words that contains a world of meaning. What conversations does the piece spark?

Wow, so many conversations are rooted in the power of HAIRitage. In the past (15+ years ago), this was my way of reconnecting with my own hair and cultural roots, as it was rough for me growing up in conservative Ohio. This was my early protest against the injustices that loom within many communities concerning the perspectives, microaggressions, and misinterpretations often associated with Black hair. More recently, I have focused on celebrating short hairstyles and no hair, child-to-adult hair ritual ceremonies, adornment culture, and even the mental health associated with not knowing or even understanding one’s own attributes due to the deaf ears and blind eyes of the often critical mindset within American society.

What influenced your choice of colors? They really bring the pieces to life, and they stand out.

I typically work from black and white images, which often means removing saturation altogether from images before working from them. I love the idea of using colors to evoke more than just mood but also energy. Nina was a very dynamic figure, and so I wanted to create a piece (unlike the other piece I created of her in B&W) that felt like her energy from songs, lyrics, and influence was flowing from the artwork to the viewer. In a way, I also wanted to make her relevant to the current generations by showcasing her in a lively way, ultimately begging the question: “Who is/was Nina Simone?”

Golden Time of Day by Erin Smith Glenn. Mixed media - acrylic paint, acrylic yarn. Yarn art.
Erin Smith Glenn, Golden Time of Day. Acrylic paint and yarn, mixed media. 2022.

Applied with careful strategy and super glue. 😉

Vivid color is also true of the second piece we discuss today – Golden Time of Day. Did color speak to you for this piece?

Color was purely at the heart of this piece. I used this time as an image in color because I wanted to capture the various colors in the model’s lovely espresso-toned skin. Surrounding it with a sun-like halo against the “sunset violet” adds a nice contrast and makes her stand out against both the “sunrise” and the “sunset.” The Sunrise, in this case, represents the mindset that arises from the Sunset, the low, deep depression. 

The piece is mixed media. What inspired you to incorporate colored yarn? 

The yarn represents the tangling, the very unraveling of the mind as we go through life’s challenges. The facing upward in the painting portion of the work represents the “golden time” where the lyrics of the song by Frankie Beverly & Maze: “When you feel in your heart all the love you’re looking for…don’t it feel okay? There’s a time of the day when the sun’s going down…that’s the golden time of day.” I feel that whether we are rising for the day or falling to sleep, any time should be the golden time of day, especially mentally and spiritually.

You mentioned that Golden Time of Day is a mental health awareness piece – did that influence your inspiration?

As I faced the end of another academic year of teaching and some of life’s challenges surrounding being a divorced single mother of three with a demanding career, I suffered a nervous breakdown. Upon my healing journey, and with much support, good advice, healthcare and by taking back my power, I used that energy to curate “The Inaugural Women’s Mental Health & Trauma Art Exhibit.” This was the first time I displayed this piece in public, and it is one of my favorite pieces I’ve ever created. I plan to do more this summer, once I have the time and space to plan out another one that hits on this level.

How does mental health play into your artistic style?

I want to normalize mental health worldwide. Mental health and the awareness of it in both my hair-themed work and in my artistic lifestyle is a must; everyone deals with mental health much like we all eat, breathe, and live. So, yes, mental health is embedded in my work whether I realize it or not, whether I like it or not, and whether I try or not. After suffering much trauma throughout my life, I know that mental health awareness is part of my life’s mission and purpose, and that is very liberating for my family and me.

Do you have any takeaways you want the reader to have?

Trust your gut when it comes to creativity and life in general, but know when to fall back and take sound advice and counsel. You’ll thank yourself in the long run. And speaking of yourself in the long run, your latter self is looking at you now. Don’t disappoint them, so do what you gotta do, love; work on you for the sake of no one else but YOU. 

Anything I missed asking that you would like to share?

Just an announcement. 🙂 I have a solo exhibit coming up called “HAIRitage: A Cultural Journey & Experience.” The exhibit opens at the Dayton Society of Artists on March 3rd, with an artist talk on March 11th and the grand closing reception on March 31st, my birthday! You can find more details on Facebook or at the Eventbrite link.

Erin Smith Glenn, The HAIRitage of Lauryn Hill. Colored pencil. 2018.

As we close in on the end of February, Erin gives us a perfect chance to celebrate Black history, mental health, and the incomparable Nina Simone. These pieces have power.

Erin brings the HAIRitage to life in living color. You can see more of Erin’s work on her Instagram @thescarvinartist in the first edition of The Shallot and available for purchase on her Etsy shop.

Thanks for sharing, Erin!