Smith spent his childhood in rural Texas and South Central and Watts Los Angles, California. He received his BFA from Pacific Northwest College of Art in 1984 and his MFA from Maryland Institute College of Art, Hoffberger School of Painting under Grace Hartigan in 1992. During a sojourn to Italy, Smith studied at Il Bisonte and SACI in Florence in 1983. From 1998 to the present he has traveled extensively through Ghana, Senegal, Mali and Burkina Faso, West Africa.
In 2011, Smith completed a public arts project through RACC where he worked with incarcerated youth of the Juvenile Detention Justice Center of Multnomah County. Five, 7’x15′ murals resulted from his work with primarily Measure 11 inmates based on the prospect of hope. As of 9.2012 four of these works are installed in Multnomah County Courthouse and the fifth is on display at Donald E Long detention facility.
Arvie Smith transforms the history of oppressed and stereotyped segments of the American experience into lyrical two-dimensional master works. His paintings are commonly of psychological images revealing deep sympathy for the dispossessed and marginalized members of society in an unrelenting search for beauty, meaning, and equality. Smith’s work reflects powerful injustices and the will to resist and survive. His memories of growing up in the South add to his awareness of the legacy that the slavery of African American’s has left with all Americans today. His intention is to solidify the memory of atrocities and oppression so they will never be forgotten nor duplicated. Smith creates this work because he must.