Saturday, June 25, 2022

Tony Smith: How One Marco Islander Discovered the Artist Within

Creativity exists within everyone. How we choose to act on our creative impulses, however, is another matter. Some spend their whole lives suppressing their desire to paint, sing, dance, or sew. Others are simply unaware of the talent they possess.

Photos by Frank Steiger
Besides blank canvases, Tony Smith paints whatever he can get his hands on, including the backs of guitars, driftwood, and music stands.

For Tony Smith, the only difference between an artist and a non-artist is that the artist chooses to create. Smith, a native of East London, has been living on Marco Island for over 30 years. You may recognize him from the hut at Tigertail Beach where he runs a kayak and paddleboard rental company. He is unequivocally Floridian and somehow simultaneously British. While Smith is a familiar fixture to those who frequent the beach, his skill as a painter is largely unknown. It wasn’t until about three years ago that he discovered his artist within.

After working a particularly hard week during the busy tourist season, Smith was exhausted. According to him, he fell asleep and stayed asleep for over 18 hours. When he awoke he felt an inexplicable desire to paint.

“As soon as I opened my eyes I said to my wife, ‘I need to go buy some oil paints and a canvas.’”

Smith went out and purchased some cheap painting supplies and got to work that day. He began with landscapes and then moved on to towers and people. His need to create was ferocious and instinctive.

“I think I’m wired a little different, that’s for sure,” Smith said with a laugh.

The odd thing about this whole scenario of a beach business owner turned painter is that Smith never realized his true artistic potential until he was in his middle age. Growing up he says that always he gravitated towards art and music, but never pursued it seriously. When he was old enough, he enlisted in the British Armed Forces, eventually becoming a Queen’s Guard. Despite the regimentation of a military career, he always felt that art should be a part of his life. 

“I always knew in the back of my mind, that I would end up painting,” he said.

In 1988, Smith moved to Marco Island. He married his wife Martina and as his family grew, he expressed his art by painting murals on his children’s bedroom walls. He even sat down with them to teach them what he knew about art, which admittedly wasn’t much.

“Although I’ve never had a lesson, am self taught and have no knowledge in art, I always knew I could do this,” he said.

When he picked up a paintbrush a few years ago, he had a vague idea of what he wanted to create. Over the next few months, his paintings evolved. He went from beautiful landscape scenes to expressionist portraits of Jimi Hendrix and Aretha Franklin. He began experimenting with glow in the dark colors and different mediums on which to paint. He went from canvases to illustrating the backs of guitars, music stands, and pieces of driftwood. He painted whatever he fancied. And when he drinks rum, his alcohol of choice, he calls his work “rum art.”

Smith says his biggest artistic influence came from 1980s painter Bob Ross. Ross hosted the beloved television show, “The Joy of Painting” in which he instructed viewers at home to follow along as he painted. Ross was also in the military and Smith felt a connection to him.

“I remember watching Bob Ross as a young man and he has to be the biggest influence for me personally,” he said.

Smith also admires the works of Leonardo De Vinci, Michael Angelo, John Singer Sargent, and local artist JJ Stinchcomb, who has been a friend a mentor to him.

“JJ Stinchcomb has always been kind enough to give me some great advice,” he said. “I’ve always said he’s ‘the real deal’. His work is astounding.”

Creativity isn’t this tangible thing that only a few people possess. It’s subjective and relies on audacity. Smith decided he wanted to be a painter and became one overnight. He learned that he could paint because he tried. And though he doesn’t have a formal background in the medium, he does an amazing job.

“I learn more and more from each painting, to be honest,” he said.   

You can check out Tony Smith’s artwork by visiting Tigertail Beach, 430 Hernando Dr. 239-642-8414.

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