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Local Art on BART

A New Yorker cover artist tackles sprucing up the drab walls at local BART stations with odes to Bay Area authors.


Advertisements, along with the occasional graffiti, are no longer the only eye-candy adorning BART’s drab tiled walls. Three imaginative posters have replaced many of the typical advertisement spaces at local stations, sparking curiosity and a bit of confusion among riders.

The work belongs to Owen Smith, a world-class illustrator, painter, sculptor, and fine artist, best known for his work on the New Yorker covers. The Alameda resident was selected to create the artistic pieces for BART’s third transit poster series, in an effort to decorate the stations and to subtly encourage ridership.

Smith’s mystical illustrations, originally oil paintings, depict train passengers engrossed in classic novels written by Bay Area authors, including The Maltese Falcon by Dashiell Hammett, The Call of the Wild by Jack London, and The Joy Luck Club by Amy Tan.

“I like the idea that it doesn’t give away exactly what it’s for,” Smith said. “It’s a little bit of a surprise along the station.” He hoped his mysterious illustrations, from the series titled “Literary Journeys,” would catch riders’ attention and encourage them to read on the train, rather than press the buttons on their gadgets (unless it’s to turn the pages of their e-books).

“I know when I’ve taken public transportation, I grab a book,” Smith said.  And he’s read all three books represented in his novel BART works.

Smith wasn’t sure how long the posters would be up, but speculated until the end of summer at least. Next time you’re at a local station, take a break from your phone and look around. The smooth lines, supple dimension, realistic expressions, and bold colors of the posters are sure to catch your attention.

Besides his BART art, Smith’s illustrations have appeared in many magazines and newspapers such as Sports Illustrated, Time, Rolling Stone, New York Times, and Los Angeles Times. He’s designed eighteen New Yorker covers, and also teaches illustration at the California College of the Arts. owensmithart.com.