James Michael Smith's paintings are wholly present. Painted in rich, textured earth tones, his canvases become a skin, a coat, a broad, intricate curtain. The wrinkles and folds of muslin, obsessive gestures made with charcoal and graphite, safety pins gouging the crustily painted surfaces: The materials are what they are, without a longing for transcendence. Smith says of his own work, which was on marvelous display at the Sheldon Galleries this year, "They have weight and dimensionality of their own. They're temporal. They sag. They become human. They're like us." Smith has taken an independent route in his art career. He divested himself of the gallery system some time ago and sells his work to individuals and corporations through an agent. The show at the Sheldon was a revelation in St. Louis, a grounded sensibility in a flighty art environment. He's had his art training but finds his color combinations from old ribbons he unearths, or in what he calls the "old color" of cartoons and graphics from the '30s. For anyone starved for the sheer sensual pleasure of paint, Smith's canvases are a feast.