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'Hope Suite' combines politics and art

Jeanne Claire van Ryzin

Hope still surprises Mark L. Smith.

During the 2008 presidential election, the artist and co-founder of Flatbed Press took personal inspiration from President Barack Obama's campaign message.

Likewise, the Obama campaign message spawned an incredible amount of spontaneously created street art, the best-known being Shepard Fairey's red, white and blue "Hope" image of the then-presidential candidate that became an unofficial — though popular — emblem and sprouted posters and bumperstickers.

"It was interesting to me to how the message of hope could inspire so many," says Smith.

And now, after the initial burst of hope-related art has cooled, Smith is himself channeling his inspiration artistically.

Smith is halfway through completing "The Hope Suite," a series of 44 mixed media works on paper, each of which bears the word "hope" written in a different world language. The 22 prints completed thus far are currently on exhibit at Flatbed Press, the East Austin fine art printmaking workshop.

Smith started with the English language; the second print he created bore the word "hope" in Arabic. Pashto, Croatian, Hebrew, Vietnamese, Chinese, Navajo, Swahili, Tibetan — Smith chose languages from areas of the world where there has been unrest in modern times or where struggle and conflict is ongoing. He also used non-spoken languages and codes: Braille, binary code and the flag semaphore used in maritime communication.

Smith's conception of "The Hope Series" is entirely partisan. He plans 44 prints, a nod to Obama as the 44th president. He plans to create one in Luo, the language of Obama's African ancestry, and he hopes to some day give it to the president.

Yet part of Smith's inspiration for "The Hope Suite" occurred independently of politics.

An inveterate collector of paper-related material, Smith imbues each print with a melange of found stuff: dry cleaner ticket stubs, chunks of layered posters ripped from the London streets, his wife's childhood drawings, faded vintage receipts, wine bottle seals, scraps of test prints that any number of noted artists have made at Flatbed. All of it is fodder for the intricately stratal art works.

"I let the materials tell me how to use them," says Smith.

He starts with a monoprint, a background layer of a simple, gestural wash of color, usually green or blue. He then adds the calligraphic text of the word "hope" in ink (learning to write different alphabets proved an interesting artistic challenge for Smith in and of itself). Then come the additions of collage items.

"The Hope Suite" debuted in January at the University of Houston-Clear Lake. When Smith finishes the next 22 prints of the series, he'd like to exhibit them in Washington, D.C., or perhaps in the gallery at the United Nations.

"I'd love to see (these prints) out where a global audience can see them," he says.

jvanryzin@statesman.com; 445-3699

'The Hope Suite'

When: 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Mondays-Fridays through June 30

Where: Flatbed Press & Gallery, 2832 E. Martin Luther King Jr. Blvd.

Cost: Free

Info:www.flatbedpress.com