By Hillary Knipstein
After a moment of existential despair over a pile of dirty clothes, Theopolis Smith III decided to claim his power and passion for art. Phresh Laundry emerged, and his art is—quite literally—changing the face of Fort Wayne.
Northeast Indiana natives likely associate Phresh Laundry with downtown Fort Wayne murals. Smith got his start working with murals when his grandmother commissioned a mural for her daycare. Since then, his work has helped establish Fort Wayne’s budding public art scene. His vibrant “I Scream Fort Wayne” mural on Pearl Street features the Allen County Courthouse rotunda as an ice cream cone. Smith is also responsible for the “Better Together” mural on the side of the Friendly Fox. During the summer of 2020, he joined other public artists in creating murals on boarded-up windows.
Smith likes to float between mediums. In addition to murals, he creates portraits, album covers, digital art and more. At the moment, his favorite medium is acrylic and oil paints. He’s also obsessed with his iPad, which gives him more freedom to sketch when he’s outside of his studio. He is currently working to create a solo gallery show, which he hopes will launch in 2021 or 2022. He’s also working on a mural at Spiece Fieldhouse.
Although he’s soft-spoken, Smith’s art allows him to convey powerful messages and connect with the community. He credits his art for helping him provide commentary and explore emotions underlying certain topics and events, including race and social justice issues. He says he’s surprised—in a good way—at the response to his art.
“It shows that people can understand and relate,” he said.
Smith has seen art bring community members together. One of his favorite recent projects is a mural on Oxford Street, which involved collaboration with many people on the city’s southeast side.
Smith is a self-taught artist, and his education began early. Although he has always loved to create, one of his early memories identifying himself as an artist was during his elementary school years in St. Louis, when an art museum displayed his work at an art show. When his family moved to Fort Wayne during his middle school years, he found mentors at Geyer Middle School and Southside High School who encouraged him to keep creating. For years after college, he worked full-time as a banker, committing his free time to his art. He credits his art for helping him achieve balance and slow down to be present for his daughter and son.
In 2020, Smith was able to leave banking and begin pursuing his art full-time, and it’s taken off like wildfire. He now manages his own schedule and spends his days meeting with clients, sketching, painting and planning future projects.
Smith advises those pursuing a career in the arts to enjoy the process as they develop their craft. Additionally, he urges them to learn the business side of art like marketing, public relations and bookkeeping.
You can view more of his work on his website: www.phreshlaundry.com