Tag Archives: 2014 Whitney Biennial

Discovering Utopia, 2010

20 Questions: Calvin Johnson of K Records, Verbicide Magazine, October, 2016

Verbicide: What song really hits you in the feels and makes you cry?

Calvin: “Malachi” by Mecca Normal.

One painting in the series “Discovering Utopia” (cover art for the Mecca Normal 7″) is still available.

The 7″ cover was included in an exhibit about Malachi Ritscher in the 2014 Whitney Biennial.




“Malachi” 7″ on K Records


“Discovering Utopia #3″ by Jean Smith (12 x 16” acrylic on canvas) 2010. SOLD


“Discovering Utopia #4″ by Jean Smith (12 x 16” acrylic on canvas) 2010. SOLD


“Discovering Utopia #5″ by Jean Smith (12 x 16” acrylic on canvas) 2010. SOLD


“Discovering Utopia #6″ by Jean Smith (12 x 16” acrylic on canvas) 2010. $250 USD plus shipping.

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A Perfect Storm

Yesterday I made an elaborate plan to meet the buyer of a second painting in a small park near her house in East Vancouver. I set the location because it’s near a store that sells coffee grinders. I suggested we make the transaction with many furtive glances and, that as she handed me the money, she was do to it in that way that dealers (not art) pass money that looks totally obvious. Like, who hands someone money while looking in the another direction? Only dealers (not art).

I headed off a bit early, to take a look at the coffee grinders first, but as I was walking towards the main street, I saw a woman walking towards me with black boots, blonde hair and heavy-framed glasses. She looked like someone I might know, but I am often fooled these days by certain types of people who look like the same types from 25 years ago. I’ll catch a glimpse of someone in their 20s and think I recognize them, until I realize that the person I thought it was would be in their 40s or 50s now.

I crossed the street and realized that it was the person I was going to meet. She said she’d been to the bank.
“Are we headed this way?” I said gesturing towards both the park and her house. We could have just done the deal then and there, on that street corner. I had the painting, she had the money. But we started walking.

In our email exchange, she’d mentioned my coming to her house for the transaction and I had thought about suggesting a cafe, but really, some of these meetings have taken more than 4 hours because we get talking and so, I’ve decided to meet in parks. To speed up transactions. The less I leave this room, the better. People coming here? No.

We got to the little park and I said, “Shall we go over to that bench and do our performance art piece as planned?”
She laughed. She’s an artist. “Why don’t you just come to the house?”
“It does seem like I’m destined to come to the house, doesn’t it?”
We continued up the street. I hadn’t anticipated that when I stepped inside I’d see my painting, the one she bought a couple of weeks ago, framed and hanging in a primo position in a room filled with art. It was a total thrill!

I was given a tour of the place – mostly of the art. Her pieces – sculptural, found object, textile, drawings and paintings – and art by many other people. It was everywhere!

We were upstairs in her studio, near a window facing the back yard, when I saw two people talking in the alley.
“You’ve got some action out there,” I said.
She looked out and said, “He lives in the basement. He used to be in Guns and Roses.”
What does a person say to that? Maybe I said – really?

When we came back downstairs, it was time for me to bring the painting out of my bag. She admired it and laid it flat on top of the piano.
“I’ll be watching out for more before you put the prices up,” she said.
“I’m not planning on putting the prices up,” I said. “It’s too predictable. I may do some larger ones on wood and see what else I can make happen, but I like painting at this size and making them available on FaceBook. As long as there’s interest in the $100 paintings, I’ll keep doing it this way.”
She said something about the situation being a perfect storm.
“A perfect storm? How so?” I asked.
The size, the price and the personalities you’re creating *  – was basically what she said.

So… maybe it’s good to go out and talk to people, to hear what they have to say. To see some art. To talk about art. Yes.

*$100 Paintings Currently Available

nh 27

“No Hat #27” (acrylic on paper, 11 x 14”) May 22, 2016. SOLD

nh 34“No Hat #34” (acrylic on paper, 11 x 14”) June 6, 2016.  SOLD


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Portrait Paintings video

Paintings from my ongoing $100 series strung together in a video with me talking (somewhat abstractly) about being the daughter of very emotional (volatile) painters. Featuring my thoughts on an early introduction to the concept of quality, the importance of art, and my indoctrination into believing that paintings are about human interactions (if not themselves essentially part of those same interactions).

I am best known as the singer in the underground rock duo Mecca Normal. I also write novels. The long hours spent building characters with words informs how I paint faces.

Paintings are posted on FaceBook first. They can sell very quickly.
Follow me on FaceBook

$100 Paintings Still Available

This monologue touches on my early indoctrination into “the emotional realms of painting”. The paintings featured are from my recent, ongoing series of $100 paintings “The Hat”, “No Hat”, “Angry Woman in Rock”, “Kabuki”, “Y-Front” and “The Singer”.

It all started with “The Hat” series in January, 2016. I posted the first one on my FaceBook page and it sold that same day. Hours later, someone was offering me money in advance for the next one! Since then, paintings in this series have been purchased by painting instructors from the University of British Columbia and the Art Institute of Chicago, a painter whose work was exhibited in the Whitney Biennial, 2014 in New York City, and by a critic for Artfourm Magazine.

Paintings from this series are posted by month
$100 paintings from February, 2016
$100 paintings from March, 2016

$100 paintings in April, 2016
$100 paintings in May, 2016
$100 paintings in June, 2016

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Collector comments

“Jean Smith is a f***ing genius. She is one half of the long running avant garde band Mecca Normal and she is a published novelist. She is unsentimental, but her work always leaves me with my own bruised longing exposed.” – Molly Zuckerman-Hartung, an Adjunct Assistant Professor at the Art Institute of Chicago whose paintings were included in the 2014 Whitney Museum of American Art Biennial. Molly bought “The Hat #24” in late February. She also told me to raise my prices!

The Hat #24 800

“The Hat #24” (acrylic on paper, 11 x 14”) by Jean Smith

$100 Paintings Still Available

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2014 Whitney Biennial

7″ record cover by Jean Smith in 2014 Whitney Biennial


The painting on the 7″ record cover is called Discovering Utopia by Jean Smith.


Back cover by Jean Smith.

Four artifacts – the 7″ record covers, David Lester’s Malachi poster, and a live Mecca Normal set recorded by Malachi Ritscher – are part of Public Collectors: Malachi Ritscher, an exhibit curated by Chicago’s Marc Fischer about American activist and music documentarian Malachi Ritscher (1954 – 2006) who self-immolated on a freeway median outside of Chicago to protest the war in Iraq. Ritscher made a video of this action that was not widely seen.

Jean Smith’s written introduction to the exhibit will be published in the official 2014 Whitney Biennial catalog.

“It was Malachi’s intention for the video of his protest, his death, to reach people through mainstream media, to jar them from complacency, to have them raise their voices to end the war. But that wasn’t what happened. The video was not released in that way. When we added our song – and the poster – to our performances and classroom events, we regarded them as extensions of Malachi’s intention. We had created documents about the documentarian whose final statement on war was not heard. We created art and music because Malachi’s voice was not heard.” – Jean Smith, from the 2014 Whitney Biennial catalog

Public Collectors: Malachi Ritscher will include artifacts from Ritscher’s work as a documentarian focused on recording the Chicago music scene, including a Mecca Normal performance at the Empty Bottle. The live set was recorded by Malachi Ritscher on November 11, 2002 while Mecca Normal was on tour with their album “The Family Swan” (Kill Rock Stars, 2002). On this occasion, a touring version of How Art and Music Can Change the World was being exhibited upstairs at the Bottle Cap. Malachi visited the art exhibition, which included many of David Lester’s “Inspired Agitators” posters and Jean Smith’s paintings depicting politically-charged events.

During July and August of 2014, Public Collectors: Malachi Ritscher will be exhibited at the Experimental Sound Studio in Chicago.

Malachi – the Mecca Normal song about Malachi Ritsher’s intentions and his death – was released as a 7″ record in 2010 by Olympia, Washington’s K Records. An acoustic version of the song and a video by Jean Smith were released on November 3, 2013, the seventh anniversary of Malachi Ritscher’s death.

Jean Smith vocals, David Lester acoustic guitar, KRAMER on bass and keys. Produced and mixed by KRAMER.

Mecca Normal Newsletter

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Jean Smith at the opening of The Black Dot Museum of Political Art exhibition at Northern Gallery in Olympia, Washington, 2010.

2010, Jean Smith at the opening of The Black Dot Museum of Political Art exhibition at Northern Gallery in Olympia, Washington.

Jean Smith is a painter, a novelist and the singer in the underground rock band Mecca Normal. Born in Vancouver, Canada in 1959.

7" vinyl on K Records, cover art by Jean Smith, 2011

7″ vinyl on K Records, cover art by Jean Smith, 2011.

ARTFORUM Magazine, Best of 2011 by Tobi Vail
1. Mecca Normal, Malachi Seven Inch (K Records)
Vancouver’s punk-protest duo have been changing the world with art and music since 1984. “Malachi” the A side of their latest single tells the story of Malachi Ritscher, a Chicago man who in 2006 immolated himself on the freeway during morning rush hour to protest the war in Iraq. By recording this song and performing it to audiences across the globe, Mecca Normal participates in the longstanding folk tradition of spreading political dissent through music. Photo of Mecca Normal by Jack DeGuiseppi

Jean grew up in North Vancouver in a house designed by architect Fred Hollingsworth, whose work is included in a recent book by photographer Selwyn Pullan (Douglas & McIntyre, 2012).

Fred Hollingsworth house in North Vancouver. Photo by Selwyn Pullan.

1963, Fred Hollingsworth house in North Vancouver. Photo by Selwyn Pullan.

MacKillop family at home (1963). Photo by Selwyn Pullan.

1963, the  family at home. Photo by Selwyn Pullan.

MacKillop family on the cover of Canadian Homes Magazine, a weekend supplement to The Vancouver Province newspaper, 1963. Photo by Selwyn Pullan.

1963, the family on the cover of Canadian Homes Magazine, a weekend supplement to The Vancouver Province newspaper. Photo by Selwyn Pullan.

Growing up with artists for parents contributed to Jean’s interest in how and why various personality types interact. Her mother’s right-side-of-the-tracks background, tempered by the great depression, prevailed in terms of table manners and etiquette, but her father’s more colourful upbringing provided many stories about poverty, injustice and the meteoric rise of a true East End underdog who had lived all over hell’s half acre before his family of three settled in a rented apartment above a drug store where Commercial Drive meets Commercial Street in Vancouver. His father – known to all as Mac – sold knick-knacks and punch-cards out of the back of his pick-up truck on family excursions around the Pacific Northwest and beyond.

Having spent his elementary school years everywhere from Butte, Montana to Crater Lake, Oregon pledging allegiance to the flag in classrooms where he was perpetually unable to find his way academically, Jean’s father didn’t even know he wasn’t an American citizen until Mac’s photo appeared on the front page of a newspaper being arrested by the FBI as an illegal alien selling pinball machines to corner stores in Agate Beach, Oregon (or so the story goes).

Not knowing what else to do with a student who was at sea with the curriculum, teachers opted to send John to the art room where he poured over American Artist Magazine, until one day he read about a profession called commercial artist and he knew this was for him.

1965, Super Valu ad in the Vancouver Sun. Art director John MacKillop of Lovick's; daughter Jean on the side of the shopping cart.

1965, Vancouver Sun. Jean on the side of the shopping cart.

In her early teens, Jean began an ongoing series of self-portraits that have since been exhibited at three Ladyfest art shows (Olympia, WA in 2000, Los Angeles in 2003 and Seattle in 2004) and included in “How Art and Music Can Change the World” a classroom and art gallery event that Jean has been presenting (mainly on tour in the USA) since 2002.

1974, self-portrait (11 x 17″ watercolour on paper)

1974, self-portrait age 14 (11 x 17″ watercolour on paper)

1979, clear cut behind Don Jarvis' house in West Vancouver (11 x 17" watercolour on paper).

1979, Clear Cut — behind Don Jarvis’ house in West Vancouver (11 x 17″ watercolour on paper) by Jean Smith.

Intending to follow in her father’s footsteps and become a commercial artist, Jean attended the Vancouver School of Art (now Emily Carr University of Art & Design), but left before completing her studies to work as a graphic artist in the production departments of the North Shore News, the Vancouver Courier and the WestEnder – where she met guitar player David Lester in 1981. Lester, who had been the art director at Vancouver’s Georgia Straight, introduced Jean to feminism and punk rock, encouraging her to funnel self-expression into song lyrics – which she did. The resulting guitar and voice duo of Mecca Normal has received critical acclaim since its first album release in 1986 on Smarten UP! Records, the label Jean named as an extension of her early 80s fanzine – a photocopied compendium of poems, book and record reviews, and political commentary that the Globe and Mail called “as schoolmarmish as its name” (much to Jean’s delight, having been a member of the Future Teacher’s Club in elementary school).

Nearly thirty years later, Smith and Lester maintain the creative partnership they forged in the early 1980s. The 14th Mecca Normal album was recorded in November, 2012. Its release (on a US label) will be supported by tours, art exhibits, lectures and a comprehensive promotional campaign featuring the music, the art and the novels.


Jean Smith at the San Francisco Public Library, 2012.

2012, Jean Smith reading an excerpt from her novel “The Black Dot Museum of Political Art” at San Francisco’s LitQuake — the west coast’s largest literary festival. The event included PowerPoint images of from the story (below).

Video of Jean Smith’s LitQuake presentation.

Images from the PowerPoint:

Odele's paintings being removed from the farmhouse. Illustration for an excerpt from The Black Dot Museum of Political Art, a novel by Jean Smith. Part of  a PowerPoint presentation at LitQuake, 2012.

Odele’s paintings being removed from the farmhouse. Illustration for an excerpt from The Black Dot Museum of Political Art, a novel by Jean Smith.

Martin Lewis' opening at The Black Dot Museum of Political Art. Illustration for an excerpt in Oystercatcher Magazine. Part of  a PowerPoint presentation at LitQuake, 2012.

Martin Lewis’ art opening in the novel The Black Dot Museum of Political Art. Illustration for an excerpt in Oystercatcher Magazine.

From the Raven Coal Mine series in The Black Dot Museum of Political Art, a novel by Jean Smith. In the story, narcissist Martin Lewis alters his traditional landscapes to attract the attention of a young political activist. Part of  a PowerPoint presentation at LitQuake, 2012.

“Raven Coal Mine” – Dissolving traditional landscape by interjecting an abstraction that refers to the environmental devastation of a coal mine in one of her novels, Smith makes the work about color, composition and a cultural activism that intends to protect an environmentally sensitive region on British Columbia’s west coast.

Contact Jean Smith

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