Artist Theoplis Smith III, aka Phresh Laundry, 37, took a prolonged drink from a tall glass of water; he had been gasping, holding his chest, like he’d been running, but all he was doing was talking about his art. When Smith gets going like that, he said, he should be painting, to “have a place to put it.”
He paints without a plan, however he feels that second. He can paint digitally, but, for the most part, he’s on that old-school canvas. And follow Phresh Laundry on social media; he posts those excursions once or twice a day.
Smith was also detailing how his hard-felt art got jacked about two weeks ago and sold on a t-shirt. When he emoted and posted his tribute to the late rapper and entrepreneur Nipsey Hussle, a scammer, with multiple addresses out of Texas and California, was selling a screen-print of it online.
Smith’s wife and his legal team both tracked the guy down; there were actually a total of three but one was more persistent. Cease and desist letters were sent, but he’s still shell-gaming the system, moving the pilfered art around to other electronic stores. Smith now has to monitor the internet for more thievery and will be watermarking all of his art (with his Phresh Laundry logo) going forward. Smith and his team contacted other artists who got hit too.
On one hand, yeah, it’s flattering, he said, but by every metric that mattered, it was something to end quick. “I’m given birth to something that’s my creation and you’re taking advantage of that,” Smith said. It was a tribute.
2019 has been a big year for Smith, who got known enough to see his work stolen and bought by the Oscar-winning filmmaker Spike Lee, who purchased a Trayvon Martin tribute; Lee’s assistant approached Smith after seeing an Instagram post. The filmmaker got on the phone, said his stuff was dope and told him to move outta Indiana.
The process of getting noticed was organic, he said…just from posting and accruing a fan base, now over 14,000 followers on Instagram alone. The still-in-play thieving was even a blessing in disguise; Smith gained 1,200 more gram followers from it.
The Spike Lee call, his social media following, his ability to comfortably explain his process (“because I haven’t always been a talker”) are, in a way, his answer to his dad’s question about how his son could make money as an artist. The Smiths are from St. Louis, Missouri, but their traveling business matriarch of the family moved them to Philadelphia and Chicago; they made it to Fort Wayne by way of Detroit.
Smith attended Woodside and Geyer Middle Schools then South Side High School. His siblings were all finding their place and their identities but young Theo couldn’t relate until he came across art, in the form of the Sunday comics. He would immerse himself in the environment of each strip…to redraw them. There were X-Men cartoons Saturday mornings with cereal. There was the ’92 animated film “Cool World”; Smith would watch the art (not the story because that was a little bit advanced for the kid)…and redraw it.
There was an airbrush shop above his father’s Payless Shoe Store at Glenbrook Mall and artist Paul Harrington and photographer Jeff Crane opened up their shop to Theo, who, by then, already had an impressive portfolio that got him a job. An instrumental teacher at South Side, Jenny Sanders, had encouraged his artistry.
You ever see Phresh Laundry paint in person? His quickness, he said, can be attributed to his high school (and into college) airbrush job.
When Smith told his parents he wanted to make a career in art, his mom was cool but his dad told him, “to pump my breaks,” he said. “He wanted me to establish a foundation of financial responsibility [first].” What does being an artist for a young black man without a credit history look like? “Sometimes, if you feel like you don’t have your dad’s approval for things, you feel like you can’t do anything,” he said.
It’s telling that Smith eventually went into banking; at Flagstar Bank, he handles consumer and business accounts, and home equity loans. Not only did he find the financial stability his dad wanted for him, he finds it for others.
The moments of doubt and direction, signified by some depression, that came after graduating from the now closed Taylor University Fort Wayne, were always tied to Smith finding an identity. To break those spells, he gathered the troops, other Fort Wayne artists, and grew strong from them.
His first solo show was at Friendly Fox, where he sold three pieces; he guessed at an amount to charge but the buyer gave him a couple hundred dollars more. She told him he was worth more. And he learned, right there, not to settle. To sit.
Phresh Laundry found here: PhreshLaundry.com