Richard Smith has been hospitalized as a mental patient at Creedmoor Psychiatric Center in Queens, New York for 47 of his 67 years. In 1989 he joined the Living Museum, an art asylum created out of an abandoned building on the grounds of Creedmoor, under the direction of clinical psychologist Janos Marton. Working day in, day out in his own personal studio, he has developed an extensive body of work in painting, examples of which have been exhibited in Chicago, Milwaukee, New York City, and Vienna, Austria. His quotes below are drawn from a 2012 monograph written by the Living Museum’s curator Alexandra Plettenberg. His work is featured in Id-Ego-Superego, an exhibitionof Living Museum artists currently on view at the Center for Modern Psychoanalytic Studies (16 West 10th Street, New York, through June 30, 10 am to 1 pm, Tuesday through Saturday).
“At one point, Eve found herself unable to re-enter the Garden of Eden. An angel barred the way. Still possessing her original beauty full of life, God hasn’t made her different because of her actions against him. He cast her into the actual world, a chaos where no one knew God. Before, her delightful beauty was her natural state, now she endures cold, heat, rain, aging, and suffering. It is an assumption of mine that she would see it and not understand it and she keeps asking herself for the reason for her becoming so aware of her nakedness.”
“If I imagine the area that I want to draw or paint, I can feel the ground beneath my feet and I know what that is like, then I feel out the rest of the area. Right over here would be a tree and over there the bushes. Then it becomes visual and I would get into the picture. I would really see the horizon and the sky. I would find myself appropriating my feelings to the extent that I actually would be lost in that environment. It would add so much wonder to my mind. There is a way to seeing, by asking, ‘How would that feel?’ that would enable me to act.”
“When I look out the window, there are some children and further on I see a row of broccoli. For miles it looks like a wonderland, the way it’s growing there. The forest feels like you could get lost in it. It gets dark and cold, wonderfully dark and cold, and then I realize the initial vision. To me it is art. I don’t see everything exactly as it might be, but I feel it in the back of my mind. When I struggle to really see the clouds in my mind, I blame the clouds… When people finally die and there is happiness in them, the colors would look different to them. Seeing becomes probably a joy. We would see so much better after God sheds the light of happiness on us. To me it feels like your whole body is like an eye—you learn to see, you can actually develop a sense of seeing your surroundings. I keep thinking about this a lot.”
Steven Poser teaches clinical writing at the Center for Modern Psychoanalytic Studies in New York. He has been an exhibiting painter for more than 20 years.