Scottsdale Public Art

Temporary Art

Cultural Savant: The Art and Collections of Joe Willie Smith

Joe Willie Smith is an artist, musician, and designer. He is also what current American culture calls a “picker.” He has an innate sense for finding value in cast-off objects that are given away to thrift stores, found on the street, in the desert, and un-noticed by others. He is a cultural treasure hunter. And a lucky one.


Perhaps calling him lucky implies he has a magic touch. But really, what he has is a talented eye for seeing good design and passionate craftsmanship. These skills have been honed over years working in graphic design, and from a very young age, acting on the compulsion to create—much like the artists of the treasures he collects.


Smith collects objects that are imbued with the human spirit. He is attracted to the wisdom of African ceremonial objects. He sees sculptural messages in salvaged pieces of bent steel, wood or broken glass. He covets and obtains quirky collections of stamps, and psychologically intense collages by a homeless artist. He revels in the graphics of old movie posters from Cuba or Mexico. He treasures the cultural detritus of humanity and identifies with the universal need to create.


Since the age of ten, Joe Willie Smith has constantly created art from anything available. He creates with sound, collected treasures, and found objects to be exhibited and shared in homes, galleries, special places.


He also creates during walking meditations in the empty dirt lots of Phoenix. Using whatever is found on the site, he creates a kind of personal order and beauty that he leaves for the other wanderers, anonymous strangers, or the ground squirrels and other wildlife that pass by.


His compulsion to arrange, collect and create beauty in the world around him is an unstoppable force. His own artwork—furniture; sculpture, paintings, drawings and unconventional musical instruments are unavoidably inspired by the messages imbued in his collections.


This exhibition is supported in part by the Arizona Commission on the Arts which receives support from the State of Arizona and the National Endowment for the Arts

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