Erin Ashlee Smith’s vivid, surreal representations of the Tetons decorate murals, hats, t-shirts, and electrical boxes all around Jackson Hole, and they also adorn the walls of local coffee shops and restaurants.
Armed with a background in graffiti, Smith moved to Jackson Hole from Arkansas in 2004 and began using her talents to create intriguing replicas of the natural environment.
“My bright color palette brings a lot of vibrancy to the paintings, which makes my art unique and dynamic,” Smith says.
She paints on recycled lumber, which she rescues from job sites around the valley.
“Wood is everywhere,” she says. “Why not turn trash into art?”
The natural wood grain reflects the elements. Its organic knots serve as epicenters for the sun and waves in her work.
Recently, Smith found old wine crates, reclaimed them, flipped the crates over, and used them like gallery wrap canvas. The process of transforming salvaged wood into lasting canvas involves sawing, sanding, implanting wood filler, painting, and surface coating with bar top resin. The topcoat is quite protective with two-part epoxy that Smith mixes and pours prior to blowtorching and cleaning to remove air bubbles. This prevents the wood from drying and breaking.
Smith paints five days a week for six to eight hours a day in her studio in Kelly, Wyoming, and in plein air environments around the Tetons. From start to finish, one piece can take 15 to 20 hours of work.
“My art is pretty realistic,” she says. “There are ledges in the surreal landscapes. They are lively and dreamy.”
She began focusing on her art after suffering a serious snowboarding accident in 2012.
“Breaking my back was a big turning point in my art,” she says. “It forced me to slow down.”
Since then, she has expanded her artistic reach and commissioned murals all over town including at the Alpine House and the new Roadhouse Brewing tasting room. She paints pet portraits, creates custom art for Igneous Skis, partners with Exum Mountain Guides to feature her art on their hats and T-shirts, and even creates individualized tattoo designs.
“My art caters to mountain climbers and skiers,” Smith says. “I’m trying to make it more affordable for everyone. Wearable, usable art is where I am headed.”
Currently, Smith is illustrating a children’s book dedicated to late Exum guide Gary Falk. In the book, animal characters are climbing the Grand Teton alongside Falk. She also recently partnered with Telluride’s Mountain Trip guide service. Smith is now expanding her art to include desert landscapes like towers and arches, as well as other mountain towns.
“My art encapsulates the energy of the mountains and nature,” Smith says. “It allows people to feel as if they are out there.”