Cedric Smith’s “HORSEPOWER” exhibit paints Black cowboys to boost positive representation of Black people in America

Savannah Ichikawa, Staff Reporter

“HORSEPOWER,” a solo show by self-taught painter and photographer, Cedric Smith, is currently on display at the Paul R. Jones Museum in downtown Tuscaloosa until Dec. 10. 

The Paul R. Jones Museum, which is a member of UA galleries, hosts various exhibits throughout the year and strives to elevate African American art and underrepresented artists. The collection shares the work of various American artists and educates on the importance of art in life.  

“HORSEPOWER,” the gallery’s current exhibit, is Cedric Smith’s first solo show on a college campus. The exhibit features oil-painted canvases that convey the history of Black cowboys and horse jockeys in America.  

“All of this show in particular, I wanted to talk about Black [people] and their relation with horses in the United States,” Smith said. 

He said his work is inspired by what Black people have contributed to the United States because it is not talked about enough. He conducts research on the topics that interest him and uses those stories to create his paintings. 

According to Smith, a large percentage of the original cowboys were Black, but that this isn’t something talked about often. 

“I’m learning something new and I’m hoping that through my paintings people will learn new things too,” Smith said. 

Smith has been in the art industry for over 20 years, but he pursued his career in a non-traditional way. With no formal education in the arts, Smith is completely self-taught. He started his career off by creating and selling a few paintings and from there, it was a snowball effect. 

“The reason why I started doing my work was because I always felt like we didn’t have all these positive representations to feed off of and when you don’t have that, you don’t have that self-worth,” Smith said. 

Smith said he felt like there were not enough positive role models for him and his friends to look up to while growing up and hopes his artwork featuring Black people in different roles, like cowboys and jockeys, can show the younger generations they can do, or be, whatever they want. 

Smith said he enjoys creating these paintings and has many ideas for more research-based exhibits that will create more awareness of the history and contributions of Black people in America.  

The “HORSEPOWER” exhibit at the Paul R. Jones Museum consists of new art that was purposefully made for the museum to display. Daniel White, the museum director, said this show has been in the works for over a year. 

White said that the museum had a few of Smith’s pieces already in their collection, but he originally reached out to Smith to do a solo show with The University of Alabama because his art is a wonderful fit for the museum.  

“He shows how powerful figurative art can be and he has a great way of demonstrating the narrative in paintings,” White said. “What’s exciting about his work to me is that it is very accessible to the viewer and once he brings the viewer in, he can hit them with the content.” 

The paintings for the exhibit are of assorted sizes and fill the gallery with dynamic and powerful energy. Smith uses vibrant colors, scenic visuals and captivating portraits to draw the audience in while also educating them on the history behind Black cowboys and horse jockeys. 

CW / David Gray

“It’s beautiful visually, but underneath that beauty, there is stuff going on,” White said. “He does a great job of being able to be accessible to a broad audience.” 

White said the paintings are breathtaking and effortless, while showing off Smith’s expert technique.  

Chloe Morgan, a freshman majoring in graphic design and gallery assistant for the Paul R. Jones Museum, said she loves working for the museum because it allows her to network and interact with the artists. 

“Cedric just explodes in every aspect of his art,” Morgan said. “I feel like he puts his entire being into every brush stroke, and I am blown away by these pieces. They are breathtaking for me.” 

Working for the gallery has given Morgan the opportunity to learn more about art gallery life and immerse herself in art and its artists. She said she feels that artists use their work to convey their journeys in life. 

“You can look into Cedric’s paintings and see what he’s had to go through and what motivated him to create these paintings,” Morgan said. “You can glimpse into a window of someone’s life through their art.” 

Both White and Morgan said Smith’s art was eye-opening and that they found the deeper meaning behind each of the paintings interesting.  

“He is a very informed citizen,” White said. “There are a lot of layers to Cedric’s work.” 

White said he believes Smith’s work can be enjoyed by a wide variety of people and hopes that those who see the exhibit not only enjoy the art but walk away with a new understanding of this country’s history. 

The Paul R. Jones Museum will have Smith’s solo show, “HORSEPOWER,” displayed until Dec. 10. Upcoming shows include their K-12 outreach program art exhibit, and a show featuring Michael C. Thorpe.