Morocco has long been portrayed as a place of mystery and magic. Its winding alleys and persuasive shopkeepers have inspired films such as “Aladdin” and “Casablanca,” while artists capture its distinct architecture. For street artist Paul “Don” Smith, inspiration for his recent art was found in one of Marrakech’s famous souks.
Smith, a Brit from just outside London, has worked as a street artist for 25 years. Influenced by New York and Philadelphia street art, he taught himself at a young age how to work with spray paint, latching on to books like “Subway Art” by Martha Cooper and Henry Chalfant.
“You create your own name and you express yourself,” Smith said.
For his name, Smith created the tag “Don.”
“It’s become part of me,” he said. “I’ve done endless bits of art with my name to prove to myself and to show people [what] I can do.”
Smith’s latest efforts involve showing Moroccans what he can do. He and his sister ventured to Marrakech, where he became inspired by the many ornate patterns. He points to a stained glass lamp in the shop with a metal eyelet design, noting how the light projected through the cut-outs creates different levels of depth on surfaces.
Currently fascinated by cut-outs, Smith hopes to integrate similar patterns into his designs with silhouettes.
“Silhouette is one of the most powerful things,” Smith said, “bringing an idea right down to the simplest core. You can do a portrait of someone and cut the silhouette out, and say, ‘Oh my god, I know who that is’ and it’s just a black void basically.”
Smith has chosen easily-recognizable subjects for his art in the past, spraying celebrities from Jimmi Hendrix to Queen Elizabeth on urban surfaces.
“He’s very clever in the way he puts things together,” Katie Smith, his sister who was traveling with him, said, “[with] the title of each piece and the meaning and how he puts an analogy in it in a visual way.”
Unlike more elusive street artists, like fellow Brit Banksy, Smith isn’t shy about associating himself with his tagger name, wearing a large “Don” belt buckle under his sweatshirt. He’s even comfortable being photographed in the process.
“For me I feel it’s about teaching, because I’ll move on and do something else, so I’m really happy to be photographed and [show] my technique,” he said.
Photographers, Smith said, have a special symbiotic relationship with street artists.
“With this technology now, it’s like a two way thing,” he said. “People take a picture of your work and they’ll put it up [online] because they’re proud of the picture that they’ve taken and the artist gets exposure that way.”
Aside from using this exposure to make a living from his work, Smith hopes his work will positively impact viewers.
“I think some people, when you’re a person or an individual who is down, it’s about lifting yourself up,” he said. “It’s about flight, you know, it’s about being on a higher ground.”
One such work is his piece “Rainbow,” which he originally painted on Portobello Road in London.
“It’s about effort, effort to make the world a better place,” he said. “I think that’s really important.”
To check out Smith’s body of work, visit www.pauldonsmith.com.