An Artist Blooms: Meet Nyugen Smith

By Kyle Murray, Class of 2012

Spring’s first blooming flower is one of nature’s beauties often overlooked. The changes that occur each season is something most people have become desensitized to, but Nyugen Smith had learned at an early that the Earth was beautiful, and educates people on the importance of protecting it, for it may not be here for much longer.

Born of a Haitian father and a Trinidadian mother, Nyugen spent some of his early years in the tropical lands of Trinidad with his grandmother. It was here that lessons of responsibility were instilled in him.

“Even at an early age my family made sure we all had responsibilities. From maintaining the house to gathering food for the family, we all had a job,” he said.

Some of his fondest memories come from the beauty of the natural environment he saw around him. He appreciated being able to eat fruits directly from trees his family had grown, or using plants for home remedies. “I remember a certain flower that if you squeezed the inside, a sweet juice would come out that we would drink, I loved it,” said Nyguen.

This gave him a certain connection to the Earth that would leave a lasting impression. Nyugen moved back to the states at the age of eight, where he lived with his mother in Jersey City for the remainder of his adolescent years.

“Your mother wants you to be a lawyer”, he remembered hearing throughout his life. “You to be a lawyer and your brother to be a doctor.” Nyugen had every intention of fulfilling his mother’s wishes, but his interests began to develop in other areas.

“When I was in high school, instead of buying posters, I would draw pictures to put up on my wall,” said Nyugen. “It was something I did just for fun, never really took it that serious.”

It wasn’t until he met a teacher by the name of Anthony Triano, where his love for art was born. “He gave me a gift. It made me feel like I had a voice.”

This new form of expression not only gave Nyugen a voice, but he began to realize the impact art could have on his life. However, still wanting to make his mother proud Nyugen attended Seton Hall University as a political science major with the intent on getting a law degree. But after two years, Nyugen’s interest in the arts would force him to reconsider his life goals. To his surprise, drawings he made during his leisure time would begin to sell rapidly and without much effort. He also realized that it wasn’t about the money, but the simple idea that people actually wanted something he created.

“That’s when I realized I had something going.”

Nyugen worked part time with his uncle doing iron work, meanwhile still creating work out of his apartment. In 2005, while participating in an art contest, he met a fellow artist who saw Nyugen’s apartment crowded with different artwork and offered him space at a studio he owned. “That changed the game for me.”

Being able to have a dedicated workspace for his craft gave Nyugen a sense of freedom. It would also provide him with the resources for upcoming projects.

“The surrounding area had all these abandoned factories and trailers where people would open up boxes but leave them there. We found fabrics, we found records, we found plastic, we found all sorts of working materials.”

These would prove handy in the artist’s creative mind. Nyugen’s experience with his uncle doing iron work taught him basics of carpentry that sparked an idea for one of his biggest projects ever.

Photo courtesy of Nyugen Smith

Bundle House is a series of work that Nyugen has been working on continuously for a few years. It deals with how people cope and survive after a tragedy. It was inspired partially by a photographer Chenoa Maxwell, who photographed survivors of the genocide at refugee camps in Uganda. She showed him images of homes made out of found materials.

“I really grasped on to that idea of building those homes because of what it meant.”

The idea would also be inspired from his love of nature and the responsibility he felt to take care of the Earth. He acknowledges that we do things to harm our planet, and if we continue this way, we may end up losing everything and be forced to rebuild our lives similar to the Ugandan refugees. Bundle House sketches would evolve into three dimensional artwork and garnered attention to an extent Nyugen had never witnessed before in the art world. This also allowed Nyugen to give back by creating Bundle House relief effort kits that are sent to third world countries.

The responsibility instilled on him at an early age along with his love for nature gave him the roots to execute the work he does today. Currently, Nyugen gets some of his greatest joys from teaching Art classes at Saint Peter’s Prep in Jersey City. He continues to develop different projects for the Bundle House series along with other artwork that connects with people and the Earth.

Jersey City artist, Nyugen Smith talks about his work, which appears in Jersey City Museum’s SPRAWL exhibition.



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