Henessy Smith expresses her creativity through imaginative and provocative art
The year is 2025 and we are at an art show in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. The featured artist is an ambitious woman in the middle of a tour of the eastern United States. Art conscious visitors gaze in awe at portraits, entranced by her use of shadow and light, the contouring of facial features and use of color. Skin tones of the subjects appear so real it feels as if you can actually touch the person and experience the baby soft texture or the rugged contours of the farmer’s face. In a section of the gallery, exquisite hair designs are being modeled as part of this event. Animated airbrushed characters and scenes adorn footwear and tops. Vibrant paintings depicting faces of celebrities, past and present, stand on easels around the room, giving onlookers a sense that the persons are looking back at them. Mingling with the crowd is a confident, vivacious, casually stylish female. Her energetic aura draws you into her descriptions of her work and inspirations. Who is she? She is Henessy Smith, talented, prolific artist who’s fulfilling her dream of taking her talents beyond the Virgin Islands.
Rewind to 2017. I’m in the BVI, scrolling through Facebook posts, and I come across some amazing pictures of artwork produced by Henessy “Kid Prodigy” Smith, one of my online friends. It is impossible to resist going to her profile, where I see imaginative, provocative, stimulating pieces of art. Her images hit me in the gut. I can tell she’s destined for a larger audience than our little cluster of islands.
Henessy was born and raised in Tortola, where she lived until partway through secondary school before moving to Canada. There she completed her secondary education at West Hill Collegiate. Now 33, and back on Tortola, Henessy will tell you that from a very young age she realized that she has a “God-inspired” talent for art. Recognizing this, she set out from childhood to express her creativity in various art forms and continues to develop her skills.
“I was not encouraged by my family to become an artist. You don’t just decide to become an artist – well at least I didn’t. It’s something that comes to you,” Henessy says of her early artistic instincts. She talks of her desire to duplicate or create or improve on things that she likes. Her earliest memory of creating art is a drawing of Tarzan. Her repertoire includes paintings, hair designs and airbrushing. While she doesn’t claim any specific artistic style, she favors cartoons, graphics, graffiti, and realism.
Henessy lives by the motto “Art is Life,” and she tells me that she draws inspiration from beautiful things she sees, but especially faces.
“I find people and characters to be more intriguing,” she says. Indeed, her most powerful images are of faces and characters, well detailed and vibrant. The greater the challenge that Henessy sees in a face, especially in recreating the proportions and details of the facial aspect, the more she is drawn to it. Portraits by Henessy seem to speak to you. You can sense the confidence and intelligence in the eyes of an elegant woman. Babies whisper to you, “Come hold me and play with me.” No work leaves the viewer unmoved or unresponsive, even ones that are as enigmatic as the artist herself!
Artistic passion does not prevent Henessy from being practical; she turns her talents into an income generating business. She realizes that her customers are attracted by the style and originality of her work. Some may want her to replicate designs seen in magazines, online or in other media, but many prefer her to create singular pieces for them. While she has not yet produced work specifically for tourists, she says she would definitely welcome and appreciate the opportunity.
Temperamental is a description usually associated with talented persons, especially artists. Henessy, however, tackles her pieces with diligence and focus, spending just enough time each day on a piece that she doesn’t get tired of it.
“I attack and complete artwork within any given deadline. Projects may be as short as five minutes to one hour. Others may be as prolonged as one to three months,” she says. Her pace on her projects often depends on the demands of her clients, but also on her sense of contentment and pride in her artistry.
Like a mother at her child’s graduation, Henessy celebrates the fact that she is never unsatisfied with her work. When she works on longer tasks she may put them aside for a while, get reinvigorated and return to complete it, bit by bit. Her satisfaction comes when the artwork looks just like the model it represents: “When it looks exactly like what it’s supposed to be then I know that it’s done!”
While many of her portraits are drawn with a special app on her iPad, she also treasures basic tools like Sharpies, pens, and paint markers, but no pencils. Henessy is efficient at using pens and has mastered the skill of not having to erase from as early as primary school years. This painter, cartoonist and sketcher anticipates the time when she can grow her collection of tools and supplies to enable her to do more ambitious professional work. Clearly, she is not sitting comfortably on past successes.
And, one step at a time, Henessy is working towards her dreams. Her own studio, a line of airbrushed items and custom clothing, greater expertise, and reaching an international audience are aspirations that she expects to realize. Moving abroad where she can sharpen her skills and get exposure in a wider market is another goal. While the financial support is still to be developed and more local patronage will help, she is not idle. She is doing her best to get it done herself.
Fast Forward to 2025. Virgin Islanders have a top-rated artist who we are proud to claim as one of our own. The scenario first expressed is just one of many fantastic accomplishments for Henessy “Kid Prodigy” Smith.
Henessy is keeping her eyes on the prizes and letting her mind and hands show her prodigious talent. To see more of her work, visit her Facebook page HKP Studio.