Paul ‘Don’ Smith was born in London, but lived in Borneo for about four years, from the age of eight to twelve. In total contrast to life in London, Borneo provided the young ‘Don’ with new horizons, open spaces, the beach, and a whole new world. The return to London provided a reverse shock of a bustling, noisy, city metropolis.
At school, ‘Don’ was interested in graphics and art. This lead him into the world of counter-culture of the New York hip-hop movement, with its music, dance, poetry and art – a sense of creativity for people who needed to do something new, exciting and energetic. From this, the graffiti movement began, with the lure of going ‘into places where you shouldn’t be’.
Graffiti has been a hobby for ‘Don’ for over 30 years. His first tag was in Barnes, in 1985. It was inspired by Beat Street, a sort of hip-hop piece in bubble letters. Citing French stencil pioneer C215 as a major influence, ‘Don’ has developed a process using multiple layers of hand-cut paper stencils that resemble contour lines on a map. Half a dozen separate versions are sprayed through, on an overlapping final image, that has depth and deep shading, with flourishes of sprayed spots.
His work is immediately accessible, often painting portraits of people in the public eye. ‘Don’ takes iconic stencil portrait figures such as Amy Winehouse, or Jack Kerouac (author of the iconic ‘On the Road‘ and pioneer of the ‘Beat Generation’ in the 1950s), wild animals and members of his family including some portraits of his son, or his bowler-hatted tap man; which appears on the exteriors of certain financial corporations in the City of London, providing a comment on the endless flow of public money that has kept them solvent.
Now living in Surrey, Paul Smith (rather than ‘Don’), has been involved in the film industry for 12 years or more, with TV, features, commercials and short films. “That’s why a lot of my work is music and there’s some film poster influence. I’m really wrapped up in that”, he said in an interview for London Art Spot, in 2013.
“Is It Art?”