Skip to main content

Matt Smith Award

October 14, 2014
  • Long Live BHIVER: Celebrating Matt Smith

A large component of Matt Smith’s vitality as a person came from his remarkable enthusiasm for art. He recognized the art in everything. You could visibly see his physical excitement when he liked what he saw, or heard, or felt. He loved art deeply. But he also loved artists. It might be possible that he loved artists even more than he loved art.

—Nick Casalini, dear friend and presenter of the first Matt Smith Art Awards at the University of Hawai‘i at Mānoa, April 2008

Remembering Matt

When they lost their talented 23-year-old son Matt Smith to an untimely death, Vince and Annette Smith wanted to establish an art scholarship in his name to help and encourage art students while providing a vehicle for his friends and family to share Matt’s legacy of creativity, generosity, and encouragement.

Annette said Matt was “humble, generous, a dedicated and loyal friend and a good surfer!” She remembers Matt and his friend Jonathan as teenagers sitting out on the street trying to sell their paintings during Seattle Art Walks.  One day someone bought one of Jonathan’s paintings. Rather than be envious or jealous of his friend’s success, Matt was thrilled. When he came home, he was jumping three feet in the air and exclaiming “Jonathon sold a painting!  Jonathan sold a painting!” Now Jonathan is artist-in-residence at Facebook and an established artist in San Francisco. Matt would be delighted for him.

The Birth of BHIVER

Annette and Vince encouraged Matt’s creativity as he was growing up in Seattle. Interested in graffiti, Matt and his friends would create art on designated “free walls” around the city. Many times Vince would be the driver and help pay for the spray paint. They built a wall in their garage so Matt could practice. He’d paint a mural, take a photo of it, and paint another one over the first.

Overtime, Matt adopted the moniker “BHIVER” and would incorporate the name into his street art. BHIVER was a good name for him since he was a vortex of creative energy. He brought that energy to Hawai‘i where he did a lot of street art with the Aloha Family. A remnant of his work remains in a tribute wall painted by the Aloha Family on the back of the former Quintero Restaurant in Honolulu.

Tribute wall painted by the Aloha Family
Tribute wall painted by the Aloha Family

Vince recalls when his son came to UH Mānoa and got into printmaking, “he found a whole new world that he’d never known.”

Art Professor Charlie Cohan heads the printmaking department at UH Mānoa and worked closely with Matt. He remembers Matt was “very warm and very fun with wonderful light hearted energy that always stayed on the positive. He had a really wonderful intersection of communities. It was great working with him. I had hoped to see him go on with his art.”

Turning Tragedy into Hope

Long Live the Hive: Celebrating the spirit of Matt Smith through the experiences of his awardees

Long Live the Hive: Celebrating the spirit of Matt Smith through the experiences of his awardees. More

Charlie recalls that it was a sad loss when Matt died, but Annette and Vince’s amazing generosity and caring for the students and community turned the tragedy into a positive experience for a growing number of young artists. 

Originally, Annette and Vince wanted to do one award in his name. “I thought back to Matt and what Matt would want and I felt he would want more than one of his friends supported,” Charlie said. So the Smiths created the Matt Smith Award that supports three students each year with $1,500 each for materials and associated expenses related to their art making. “Traditionally it’s a BFA student or BFA level student who is preparing to put up their senior exhibition in the gallery.  The award enables them to expand beyond what they would have normally done without the funding. It’s a really important opportunity.”

The Impact

Over the past eight years, the Matt Smith Award has helped 24 art students. The majority have stayed in the field after graduation. Charlie estimates that 50 percent of the awardees are significant printmakers here in Honolulu and another 25 percent are active elsewhere. For example, one is working at the Bob Blackburn Studio in New York City as an apprentice intern. Another is exhibiting in the Boston area on a regular basis, and another is applying for residency at the Tamarind Institute in Albuquerque – the finest lithography studio in the world.  Others are teaching or working at the Honolulu Museum of Art School.

Other members of Matt’s family have stepped forward to extend his legacy by providing funds for a mobile press that will be added to the studio this year with other improvements. The freedom to move printmaking outside the studio would have appealed to Matt.

Annette and Vince Smith wrote, “We are so grateful to Professor Charlie Cohan, the printmaking department, and Lori Admiral of the UH Foundation for their dedication to the students and their friendship with us. They are open to our ideas and really guided us to make ‘Matt’s Legacy of Encouragement’ into a reality for many student artists.” 

I know if Matt were alive today, he would be proud of each of you, I think his advice would be to stay true to yourself and always love what you are creating.

—Ryan Greenly, UH classmate presenting the Matt Smith Awards in 2010

More photos and memories: BHIVER tribute wall

Q & A with Matt Ortiz

Matt Ortiz was in the first group of UH Mānoa art students to receive the Matt Smith Award in 2007-2008.  He graciously shared his thoughts about what the award has meant to him. 

Matt Ortiz

Can you tell us about Matt Smith as an artist and a friend? 

I wish that I had the chance to know him. I did meet him once very briefly when I was just starting off as an art major at UH. I was working late on a project one night and was the only person left in the painting studio. Matt walked into the studio to retrieve something and stopped to introduce himself. Although it was a short conversation, I was struck by how genuine and friendly Matt was. I was new on campus and it meant a lot that he took the time to acknowledge and welcome me.

What did receiving one of the first Matt Smith awards mean to you? How did you use the award money?

As with many students, the costs of tuition and especially art supplies can be a big struggle. The award money helped to alleviate some of the stress I had about paying for college. But more importantly, I feel so incredibly blessed that I can count myself as one of the many who have been touched by Matt's spirit and the generosity of his family!

What impact did it have on your artistic endeavors then?

Receiving the award bolstered my passion for art in a way that let me know that there were people out there who supported who I was and what I was doing.

What are you doing now?

My wife and I have an art studio in an art cooperative and creative space in Kaka‘ako. It's a place that is full of other artists and studios – I know Matt would have loved it! Under the collaborative name of Wooden Wave, my wife Roxanne (also a graduate of the UH Art Department) and I do illustration, lettering, design, murals and fine art. We are also participating artists in the annual Pow!Wow! Hawai‘i Mural Festival. In addition, I work as a story boarder and concept artist for a local animation company.

Do you have any other comments about this award that you’d like to share?

To the Smith family and the UH Foundation, thank you so much for helping to keep art a valued and visible part of this world! Aloha and Long Live the Hive!

Matt Ortiz

David Randall is one of the most recent recipients of the Matt Smith Award.  A graduate of Maui’s Lahainaluna High School, he is just wrapping up his Bachelor of Fine Arts degree at UH Mānoa this fall after focusing heavily on his BFA show during the spring semester. He was happy to answer our questions about his award.

How did you use the Matt Smith Award of $1,500 that you received last school year?

The whole award went to art materials. It basically gave me the opportunity to do whatever I wanted. It let me really have no restrictions from material costs. I had the means to get whatever I needed and at the same time I had no excuses not to do whatever I could think to do. So my prints got bigger.

With printmaking the bigger you go the greater the problems but I was able to work through them. I went way big and I was able to do all the different processes and print all the different variations that I wanted to do. I ended up with 40 prints that I could select from to put into the show. I think the award really helped.

What impact has it had on you and your artwork?

It really changed the course of what I’m doing. From everything I learned through the process by being able to do it all, and then just being able to explore the avenues and the different techniques, I don’t know how else to put it but to say it was the most awesome thing ever!

It took what I was doing to a different level. I don’t think I would have had the confidence to take the risks I did without it. It really changes the whole environment for making things.

What are your plans after graduation?

I’m looking at grad schools now and want to do more printmaking. If I get accepted and can work out the funding, I plan to start in fall 2015.  I’m more confident in submitting my applications because the award really made my work what it is and helped me build my portfolio. It’s a great line on my resume too!

Do you have anything that you’d like to add?

I asked Charlie [Cohan, a UH Mānoa art professor] about Matt. From what Charlie told me I think my experience with the award is how Matt would have wanted it to go. He sounds like he was a really free person and his award gave us the freedom to do what we want to do. I’m really grateful.

Additional Resources:

If you would like to learn how you can support UH students and programs like this, please contact us at 808 376-7800 or send us a message.