The Painter of Walford Way
Charlestown man uses art as medicine as he copes with cancer.
While Dennis Smith goes to his doctor’s appointments and takes his medicine, he said it’s his paintings that really help him deal with his cancer.
“I’m trying to fight it,” Smith said. “The art is keeping me alive. Keeping my spirits up.”
And, if painting is his primary medicine, he takes it at a high dosage.
During a recent conversation with Charlestown Patch, he said he can count at least 300 paintings in his Walford Way apartment right now—and that doesn’t include the pieces he stores at his sister’s place in New York, or the pieces that he has donated to nursing homes.
“I always try to keep two or three extra canvases around,” Smith said. “I can knock out two paintings a day.”
Smith said he doesn’t restrict himself to a style or medium—he moves freely from oils to acrylics and from folk art to fine art—he just paints what comes into his mind.
Sometimes, he paints at home, he said. Other times—when he fells well enough—he paints in Harvard Square. He said his license to paint in public has landed his pieces in the hands of a few notable people.
“Ted Kennedy, he picked up one of my pieces,” Smith said, “and Deval Patrick.”
While painting is an every-moment part of his life now, Smith said it hasn’t been a life-long hobby for him.
When an unrelated injury led doctors to discover his liver cancer 13 years ago, he started picking up his brushes from time to time. In 2005, though, his illness had advanced too far. He retired and took up painting more seriously.
”It’s like a lifeline in my veins now,” he said.
But his new occupation isn’t without its drawbacks. He’s running out of space to store his art, and has had trouble getting it to sell.
“I can’t do anything with these paintings. I have to dump it, man,” he said. “I just want to share my art, you know.”