RAWLINS, Wyo. — The landscape of Wyoming drew Rawlins-based artist Joshua Smith back to his old stomping grounds after being away for 13 years.
Smith moved to Michigan in 1997 for graduate school, and stayed to teach art at a community college and later at the University of Michigan School of Art and Design. He moved back in 2010.
"The concept of the western landscape was always powerful to me," he said. "There was a pull to come back here and respond to the land."
Smith creates non-representational sculptures that are site specific and respond to elements in the environment — including the terrain, climate and time.
"By putting the sculpture in nature, it gives you a pause to reflect on your reflection of the site," he said.
For example, he sent seven metal pieces to friends across the country from San Francisco to New York. The friends put them outdoors at the same time, and Smith collected them after a month.
"The sculpture becomes the place," he said. The metal sheets came back with different amounts of rust, wear and tear.
He called the project "Time and Place Collectors" and displayed the pieces in a gallery paired with a photograph of the environment it was in.
"It's like a weather painting," he said. "It's a record of time passing."
Smith will have his first exhibit in Wyoming on Mar. 9, at the Nicolaysen Art Museum in Casper.
After moving back to the land he grew up on about five miles north of Rawlins, Smith had been spending a good amount of his time building a house.
"I miss the element of teaching, but the academic food chain never sat well with me," he said. "I do miss the dialogues and the resources."
Smith has found time to create work to respond to the harsh, wind-swept environment of Wyoming - currently he is working on wind sculptures that catch snowdrifts.
"When the wind stops, the snowdrift produces amazing curves," he said. "This is very specific to here."
He is making two wind-catcher sculptures made of metal sheets and tubes, playing with curves and negative space to react with the wind and snow in different ways.
He will display these pieces at his exhibit with photographs of the snowdrifts produced.
Smith has future plans for larger-scale projects — including tackling conservation issues and creating large-scale public work that would reflect the history of a place.
For conservation, he is planning a piece that deals with fracking in the Red Desert and the large amount of water used in the process.
"I'm not going to be pro or con, I just want to provide different perspectives," he said. "The role of an artist is to be aware and to share the awareness. It snaps you out of a sleepwalk and shows you what's there in a newer or slightly shifted way."
On top of all of this, he and his wife Sarah have started an all grass-fed cattle business.
"When we were in Michigan, we got into food culture - paying attention to where food comes from," he said. "I grew up on a cattle ranch here. It's hard not to think of it."
Their idea is to treat food as food, not a commodity. They are raising Highland cattle, which generally aren't commodity animals and do well in harsh climates.
"We're starting from an ideal and not capital," he said.
They hope to add a hoop house so they can produce vegetables and also raise chickens.
With so many projects going on, Smith is entering a reflective state where he is trying to avoid becoming overstretched. He has also started to face the reality that Rawlins lacks an artistic and local food community.
"I came here excited, wanted the challenge, wanted to be revolutionary and to make things work," he said. "I was in the stage of putting ideas out there with full passion. Now I need to budget my energy."
Information from: Rawlins (Wyo.) Daily Times, http://www.rawlinstimes.com