“From Earth, Aerial Views Glow” by Kathleen Wereszynski Murray: Poughkeepsie Journal, November 17, 2005.
Michael L. Smith’s glow-in-the-dark aerial maps recreate the feeling of looking down at a city from the window of an airplane.
The Saugerties native, who recently moved back to the area after years of living on the West Coast, will exhibit for the first time his meticulous paintings at The Catskills Gallery in Saugerties.
“They are not fine art, but probably one of the coolest things you will see this year,” Smith said. “They sort of defy categorization.”
The self-taught artist combines his passion for geography-he learned to draw a map of the United States in third grade-and a perspective inspired by an evening flight from Honolulu to Maui, during which he was transfixed by the light from the valleys.
“I wanted to see if I could capture that in a painting,” Smith said.
He begins with a piece of matte-finish Mylar, which he places on top of a map of a U.S. city. He then dips a nail in glow-in-the-dark paint and makes dots over the freeway and street patterns.
The process is tedious and time consuming. A map of Manhattan took 30 hours to complete; a map of Nassau County took a whopping 90 hours to make.
“When you look at it in daylight you can really see the execution and how he did it,” said gallery owner Patty Hanson. “But you immediately wonder what it will look like with the lights off.”
The work will be exhibited under a black light at the gallery, which hosts an opening reception Saturday.
Hanson first learned about Smith’s work from Saugerties-based artist Leslie Bryce, who makes contemporary sculpture for the garden and landscape.
“We walked into the basement apartment and he had them all over the walls,” Bryce said. “Then he turned off the lights and turned on the black lights and it was truly amazing. The freshness of something like this is incredibly exciting, and the passion is exciting.”
Smith’s fascination with cities began in childhood.
“I remember when I was little kid taking the Palisades Parkway and looking at New York City and seeing the lights,” he said.
Each map features its own distinct patterns of light and absence of light, where the city meets a geographic barrier like a body of water or a mountain range.
Smith, who one might describe as an outsider artist, was compelled to make the maps for himself with no assumption that they would be seen by the public.
“He did this out of a need, which made it that much more special,” Hanson said.