By  on September 30, 2005

NEW YORK — Many subway stops away from the veneer and whistlestopping that is Manhattan's art scene, artist Zak Smith is somewhat reluctantly easing his way into the picture from his overcrowded Bushwick apartment.

Despite the room's distractions — and there are several, including a multicolored beanbag chair, a paint-splattered table, neatly folded T-shirts thumbtacked above the baseboard, a row of books lining the floor, and too many cassette tapes to count with a steady glance — visitors are immediately drawn to the highly detailed painting pinned to the wall.

The painting, "100 Girls and 100 Octopuses," is actually 100 individual ones — each of which took two or three days to complete. Images of half-dressed women in suggestive poses are set against colorful, intricate designs. The nearly yearlong project has just opened at the Fredericks Freiser Gallery and some of the paintings from his forthcoming series of portraits, "Girls in the Naked Girl Business," will be included in "Pictures of Girls," a book DAP is publishing and will release next month. The Walker Center of Art and the Museum of Modern Art have Smith's work in their respective collections.

Getting Smith to discuss his work can be a task. In fact, he offers the most insight by describing what he does not do. "The best thing an artist can do is not to give someone else a message. When someone sees my paintings, I want them to see a life, a real life, other than the one they are living. That is harder than it sounds. When you meet someone, you don't feel the weight of their whole life."

Given his intricate patterns and varying hues, it makes sense Smith is an admirer of Persian miniature paintings, where everything appears to look as though it is made of a different substance. Even Smith's personal style is a study in design. Half his scalp is shaved to show off an elaborate tattoo while the other half has a neon mohawk, colorful tattoos decorate his arms, seven earrings line his left ear and his attire is a Batman T-shirt and cargo shorts. "Simple" is not a word that jumps to mind. But then again, he is not after the ordinary.

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