Anthony Smith Jr., Pilot (Or How Do You Stop a Flying Dreadnought) No. 8, 2018, mixed media painting, 24 x 71 in.
Anthony Smith Jr. painted Pilot (Or How Do You Stop A Flying Dreadnought) No. 8 chiefly in homage to John Charles Robinson a.k.a. “The Father of the Tuskegee Airmen.” Repeatedly denied application to the Curtiss–Wright Aeronautical University in Chicago, Robinson worked there as a janitor, unofficially attending classes until an instructor helped him become the first African American student. After getting his license and learning to build planes, he fostered other black pilots and founded a flight school. In 1935 he commanded the Ethiopian Air Force for Haile Selassie during The Second Italo-Ethiopian War.
Smith’s painting is a cross between a cornucopia and an altimeter. Carnival color and excess conflate heroism, fame, and success. Pop art flowers, dots, crosses, and zigzags combined with images of Phylicia Rashad, Diana Ross, Mexican Lotería cards, Bourbon Street, and the musician Thundercat—all proclaim Possible est mors in victoria (“victory over death is possible”). Drones and Smith’s own “ninetynine virgins” of Islam are crowned with “sublimity.” A summation of summations, the painting transforms “dreadnought”—flown by its resolute pilot—into an affirmation: Dread Not.