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UNF Art Student Painting ‘Circle Of Life’ Exhibition In MOCA Studio

Hannah Joy Wells.

updated 10/24/17  

A University of North Florida art student is spending the fall semester painting in her very own studio space at the Museum of Contemporary Art in downtown Jacksonville.

Art and Design student Rachel Huff Smith was chosen as MOCA’s fourth Artist-in-Residence, a competitive program where a UNF senior gets studio space and their own exhibit at the museum.

Smith was working in the studio on MOCA’s fifth floor, Friday. She’s a painter and she said she’s in the space most days except Wednesday when she has to be on campus for class. Eventually, at least 15 paintings will be part of her exhibition that will debut at the museum in December.

The working title she’s given the exhibit is “Circumvolve.”

“It’s basically the story of the circle of life from the feminine perspective,” she said.

Although Smith is passionate about women’s issues and said she’s inspired to tell their stories, “I discovered that I really have to start with my story first,’ Smith said.

She’s been using photos of herself and family members as reference material, some of them are in a photo album on one of her two tables scattered with tubes of oil and acrylic paints.

A few paintings-in-progress are straightforward portraits, others she calls more wistful, like one nearly-finished piece that was sitting next to her.

“It’s a self-portrait with me with my face being kind of large in the image and I kind of have more of a sad look on my face,” Smith said as she described the piece. “Then at the bottom is actually a picture of one of my happiest days with my mom and my grandma.”

Smith teared up when she described the painting. Her mother and grandmother died, right around the same time her first child was born 10 years ago. She said that period was intense, full of grief and excitement. She said she’s still trying to reconcile all of it — through her paintings, a process she calls emotionally challenging.

“One of the things that’s really a struggle in how you express the love that you have for someone when they’re gone,” Smith said.

She said this project has been a lot different for her. Normally when she paints, she executes a pre-planned vision, but she’s finding that these painting are evolving as she’s learning about herself along the way.

Smith’s journey to reconciliation will be finished in December. She’ll have a public reception January 11 at MOCA from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m.

Correction: A previous version stated Smith was chosen as MOCA’s third Artist-in-Residence. She is the fourth. 

Lindsey Kilbride can be reached at, 904-358-6359 or on Twitter at @lindskilbride.

Lindsey Kilbride was WJCT's special projects producer until Aug. 28, 2020. She reported, hosted and produced podcasts like Odd Ball, for which she was honored with a statewide award from the Associated Press, as well as What It's Like. She also produced VOIDCAST, hosted by Void magazine's Matt Shaw, and the ADAPT podcast, hosted by WJCT's Brendan Rivers.