Paul Smith: One Man At His Finest - with a Typewriter
Smith suffered from severe spastic cerebral palsy from an early age. The loss of fine motor control of his face and hands made it impossible for him to attend school — or eat, clothe, or bathe himself for that matter.
At 15 Smith found an abandoned typewriter in a neighbour’s trash and through it found a way to express himself: in art.
When typing, Smith used his left hand to steady his right. He almost always locked the shift and made his pictures using the symbols from the top bank on the keyboard: @ # $ % ^ & * ( ). Smith developed techniques, using his thumb on the ribbon, to create shadings, colours and textures that made his work resemble pencil or charcoal drawings.
In the 1940s, Smith's family moved to Hollywood, Florida. In 1967 Smith entered a retirement facility, the Rose Haven Nursing Centre in Roseburg, Oregon.
Friend Jim Mitch recalled, “If he wanted to place an asterisk on a piece of paper, that's what the typewriter would produce, regardless of how poorly coordinated his movements were. Paul didn't care that it might take him weeks or months to make a recognisable picture out of asterisks and other symbols. He was willing to put in the time and, using both hands for each keystroke then ever-so-slowly repositioning the paper before the next stroke, he gradually developed a distinct, beautiful way of creating art … Paul's technique required that the entire picture must be planned before he started.”
Smith died in Roseburg on June 25, 2007, aged 85.