Often mentioned but rarely discussed in detail, Rupert Jasen Smith (1953-1989) was Andy Warhol’s preferred “master” silkscreen printer and art director from roughly 1974 until his death in 1987. This grants Smith an essential role in the Warhol cannon, as Warhol produced roughly half of all his printed works in the decade leading up to this death. This was due to the proliferation of portrait commissions and his odd-for-the-time explorations into still life (see Space Fruit) and more abstract works like Camouflage. If his diary is any indication, their working relationship was a close one, with Warhol offering feedback and supervision to Smith on how his works should be printed on an almost daily basis.
Rupert Jasen Smith was born in New Jersey but grew up mostly in Palm Beach, Florida. The Floridian vistas would prove to be influential, as Smith eventually refined his painting under the tutelage of noted landscape painter, A. E. Backus. However, he chose New York as the place to complete his formal training. He received his BA in Arts, with a specialty in painting and printmaking, at the Pratt Institute, which also hosted Warhol assistant Nathan Gluck. Smith got his degree in 1973 and met Warhol the following year. While working for him, Smith’s responsibilities typically followed a pattern of first obtaining canvases and film positives from the Factory—sometimes even silk screens would be made in-house—before engaging in deep consultation with Warhol over how the final image would look, making corrections or even reshooting as needed. After Warhol’s final word, he would mix the colors and dry the prints before shipping them back.
Smith’s own art has been featured in galleries, but most is in the hands of private collectors. One famous series entitled “Hommage to Andy Warhol” sees the artist making familiar screen printed works, centering around Japanese brands and pop culture figures, along with a portrait of a be-wigged Warhol. Interestingly, it is writer Bob Colacello—Bob “Cola” as Warhol suggested his name should be—who encouraged Smith to give Warhol the idea for applying diamond dust to his early 80s shoe series.
Rupert Jasen Smith died in 1989 in North Ridge, Florida from AIDS.