Singing artist OJ Smith strives for excellence

Painting cricket heroes – a work in progress

A few months ago when The Scene sat down with acapella group Messengers Music Ministries, it emerged that its leader Oliver Joslyn Smith also known as OJ, was not just a man with a mesmerizing voice but gifted hands as well.

 OJ Smith
OJ Smith

The artist has always had a knack for drawing as far back as he could remember, since his nursery school days in fact, but has seriously been pursuing it for 17 years now. A former art teacher at the Burrowes School of Art, OJ taught for approximately seven years until recently when he decided to take a break.

He works mostly with realism, portraits, figure drawing, figure painting, surreal, landscaping and murals. His subjects are mostly women.

“I could remember drawing in nursery school and making a mess. I always wanted to finish before everybody. I remember my teacher saying stay “inside the line. It was fun.

“I also remember [that] whilst at [Friendship] Secondary School I used to draw on the desk a lot with my pens. And whether I drew on the desk or not my name was called once the teachers saw some drawing or design. My art teacher then, Mrs Dawne Isaacs encouraged me to continue drawing. She introduced me to colour, the value scale [the darkest a pencil can go to the lightest] and also techniques in landscaping. This was when I actually took art seriously.”

OJ recalls going “drawing crazy” sometime around the age of 14. “I had started taking a liking for portraits; a liking for the face. I was fascinated with pencil drawing. We had a library and there was this book; something to do with the Great Wall of China. At the back of the book had the faces of these Chinese men with long beards. I drew all of them. There was also this big family bible with all these famous paintings like the one with Jesus at the last supper. It was a really big and heavy bible with lots of pictures in it. I drew like fifty of them. When it wasn’t challenging anymore, I moved on to something else.”

Coloured pencils were what he had used when he drew and coloured ‘The Last Supper’. An aunt of his was so charmed by it she bought it from him. ‘The Last Supper’ paved the way for much more of his work that would come to be sold.

Although OJ thought his art needed improvement, his family and friends were fascinated by the pieces and always supported him, especially his mother. “My mom was always pushy. She gave me a lot of support,” he said. His grandfather drew as well or “doodled” as he would put it.

OJ was born in Grove and still lives there today. He attended the Grove Primary, Friendship Secondary, Burrowes School of Art and Guyana Industrial Technical Centre (GITC).

In 2009, while teaching at the Burrowes School of Art he entered the National Drawing Competition with his surreal drawing ‘Eyes Wide Shut’ and placed second. “It was a good feeling to have received the silver medal since I hadn’t prepared enough for it. I had only prepared like a week before. So having placed second was very surprising,” he said.

Although coming second was a moment for OJ, he said seeing his students graduate was always a more “satisfying moment.”

OJ said he always admonished persons and past students as well, to know what they want before they got into it. “Art shouldn’t be done as a career. Art is also a way of release and escape and it’s through this that the best of art is born. Art is bringing something out of nothing. I always told my students to know a trade also. Don’t be satisfied with just sitting down in an office. Strive for excellence,” he said.

When it comes to artists marketing their work in Guyana, OJ said: “As artists we have to build a customer base. I don’t think Guyana has a good appreciation for art. Many of the students that come out of Burrowes become art teachers.”

At present, OJ is working at the National Stadium painting renowned cricket heroes. Apart from his art work he is currently the leader of two music groups Messengers Music Ministries and Adoration. He’s also a certified plumber.

One of his inspirations is Leonardo Da Vinci because he was such a phenomenal artist. Da Vinci, he said, wasn’t just an artist but was also an engineer and inventor. His determination and passion are what he admires.

When he’s not taken up with his duties, the artist enjoys playing football, basketball, singing, listening to music and socializing. He considers himself a curry fanatic and loves to eat just about anything that is curried with dhal purri. His favourite number is seven for a number of reasons; one being the fact that it is a complete number. And he loves the colour blue.

OJ is currently working on a recording studio where the groups can record originals and at the same time record singles for other aspiring singers.

This singing artist is also striving to become a successful businessman and hopes to travel a lot in the future; an escape he plans to use to bring out the best in him as he continues to work at his art.

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