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Residency Talk: The Scoop on Rachel Huff Smith

October 23, 2017 // by Caitlin Swindell

Rachel Huff Smith describes her time here at MOCA Jacksonville as “a moment of coming full circle.” She visited the museum years ago, and met UNF professor, Jason John during his artist-residency in conjunction with MOCA Jacksonville's Get Real exhibition. That experience inspired her to pursue a Bachelor of Fine Arts degree at the University of North Florida, and she was chosen to be the MOCA Jacksonville's 2017 Fall Student Artist-in-Residence. We asked her to share her journey with us.

Rachel Huff Smith Portrait
Photo by Hannah Joy Wells

Where are you from originally and how long have you lived in Jacksonville?
I was born in Texas and spent my early years in the suburbs of Dallas. But, I really grew up when I lived in New York City. We [my family and I] moved to Jacksonville in the summer of 2010, so we have been here seven years now.  Before moving to Jacksonville, I lived in SC, NY, OK, and TX.

How and when did you become interested in creating art?
My first exposure to art was in public school. I still remember an elementary school field trip to the Dallas Museum of Art, when I first saw a Giacometti sculpture. I was amazed by the shape, texture, and height of the figure. Thankfully, I had a dedicated and demanding high school art teacher who encouraged me to work hard and to challenge myself. I enjoyed exploring materials and discovering what I could do with them.

Where do you find inspiration for your work?
Inspiration comes from what I see around me: nature, colors, people, and from life experiences such as having children, and having a new baby when grieving the death of my mother and grandmother. The portrait and human figure are intriguing.

What kind of themes do you explore?
The circle of life is a particularly compelling theme with my simultaneous experience of grief and new motherhood. One of the expressions of this is looking at family dynamics and how we experience each other in this process. My desire is to recognize all of my experience: the light and the dark.

You have quite a bit of teaching experience, how have these experiences shaped your art practice?
My favorite part of teaching is that moment of achievement when a student discovers a new skill or outcome that she/he never knew was possible. This discovery is also a wonderful part of the creative process in my studio work. The creative process is a powerful way to reconcile our experience. It was a privilege to facilitate a memorial art project for families who experienced miscarriage. And, I created a cast iron sculpture as a memorial to honor my grandmother. 

Rachel Huff Smith Community Panting Art Walk
Image courtesy of Hannah Joy Wells.

How has your experience at UNF been as an artist?
My experience at UNF as an artist has been enlightening, foundational, and transformative. At the university, I have developed skills in everything from foundational art methods to running an art practice as an entrepreneur. I am so thankful for the rich experience of all the faculty who are so generous with their knowledge and encouragement. Before coming to UNF, I could not have imagined this opportunity.

You've begun a community painting in your studio. What are your hopes for this project?
The goal of the community painting is to bring together community members to collaborate in responding creatively to the theme of the painting series, which is the circle of life from the feminine perspective. Hopefully people who consider themselves non-artists will be inspired to explore art materials and artists will have a new opportunity to interact together.

What are you most looking forward to about your residency?
I am most looking forward to having a dedicated time and place to focus on this series and to create the paintings. It is wonderful to have a studio full of light at MOCA. I am thankful for the opportunity to collaborate with other artists in the community and to utilize the resources available through MOCA.

You can visit Rachel in her fifth floor studio at MOCA Jacksonville during Museum hours, and at her Residency Exhibition reception on January 11, 2018.  

UNF Artist in Residence 2017 Rachel Huff Smith with studio visitors
Rachel Huff Smith visits with studio guests. Image courtesy of Hannah Joy Wells.

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