Kambel Smith, a 32-year-old Philadelphia native with autism, has begun making waves with his extraordinary, large-scale building sculptures. These intricate works, created without drafts or blueprints, include landmarks like Lincoln Financial Field, the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts, and many others.
As noted by a report this month by Philadelphia Inquirer.com, Smith first began attracting attention this past January, when his sculptures debuted at NYC’s Outsider Art Fair. Since then, his work has been showcased at a wide range of venues, including London’s Marlborough Gallery and the Atlanta Contemporary Art Center in Georgia. Smith’s pieces have also been purchased by the American Folk-Art Museum and the West Collection, with private collectors paying up to $25,000 for his sculptures.
Smith’s work will be exhibited this week at the Fleisher/Ollman Gallery in Center City.
Alex Baker, the gallery’s director, said he was “blown away” by Smith’s sculptures. Smith owes his success in part to Barbara Gettes, a neighbor who shared photos of his pieces on Facebook and connected him with Dallas and New York-based curator Chris Byrne. Byrne went on to present Smith’s work at the Outsider Art Fair and has helped him navigate the art world as well.
Equally deserving of credit is Smith’s father, Lonnie Smith, who recognized his son’s artistic talent early on, displaying his work in small shows at senior centers, libraries, and YMCA’s throughout the Philadelphia region. More importantly, Smith taught both Kambel and his brother Kantai (who also has autism) that their condition is a “superpower,” rather than a disability. He coined the term “Autisarians” to describe those with autism and told his sons that it could be sometimes hard for non-Autisarians to appreciate the gifts of people with autism. To help others with autism, the Smiths have created the Autisarian, a non-profit dedicated to helping other people with autism find their gifts.
Lonnie Smith described Kambel as “a soldier in a war to change the autism narrative, and it’s working.”
“What he’s done is shown people that being different is not a problem,” Smith said. “That being different is almost the new normal.”