(Continued from above)
Works such as Messengers and Mediums captured through the medium of charcoal, oil on paper collage, soft pastels and acrylic paint, speak of Smith's work as a social commentator and enter into a dialogue with broader social and political issues.
The artist explains how he goes about creating these large-scale, multi-layered and multi-textured pieces. "The work I have been engaged with over the last ten years consists mainly of large portraits that I have 'interfered' with. The portraits are of people I have met and whose faces interest me, as well as people imagined. I have always asked my subjects to pose deadpan. They stare directly out at the viewer so that one becomes aware of their 'presence'.
My next step, after the completion of a portrait, is to 'rob' it of its power by placing objects, symbols, cartoon images or icons in front of it, thereby creating an added dimension to the work - a definite barrier between the viewer and portrait.
This sets up a tension between the subject and the objects placed in front of it, which don't necessarily have any bearing on the subject, but emerge from my memories or imagination. Sometimes, these interference devices may take the form of dots or crosses or simply parallel lines.
The icons or characters that I choose may start off as an abstract concept and then morph into something figurative or change back again. I enjoy the journey between these two states. At the end of this process, the portrait becomes secondary or has no importance at all."
With the multi-panelled composite works, however, Smith introduces a cross-over between representational figures and caricature. Here there are figures of fun, fantasy and myth juxtaposed with more circumspect characters.
Born in Edinburgh, Scotland in 1947, Richard Smith has had a varied career as a cartoonist, social commentator, illustrator and fine artist. In the late 1960s, he studied Graphic Design at the Johannesburg School of Art, and in 1968 began his career as a cartoonist for the Sunday Times, subsequently contributing to publications such as Punch, the Financial Mail, the Harvard Business Review, Leadership Magazine, the London Underground Press and the Rand Daily Mail. In 1980 and again in 1984, he won the Standard Bank Cartoonist of the Year award. He was also involved with the production of politically-oriented animation for BBC television, and, in 1977 served as court artist for the American Broadcasting Corporation at the inquest into the death of Steve Biko in Pretoria.
Smith's fine art career began in 1971 with a solo show of drawings at the Arts Theatre Club, London. He began painting in the mid 1980s and exhibited in a major Johannesburg gallery, primarily as a painter of abstract expressionist landscapes. In 1990, while a Resident at the Cite Internationale des Arts in Paris, Smith began making oil on paper works, some of which were torn up and re-worked as collage elements. It was at this time, too, that his fascination with charcoal's malleability began.
Smith has exhibited widely both in South Africa and abroad. In 1985 and 1988 he was represented on the prestigious Cape Town Triennial, and on numerous exhibitions in Johannesburg. He has also participated in many group shows in Europe, such as Galerie Viktoria, Gottenberg, Sweden (1999); Expo 2000, Hanover, Germany; the Omma Center for Contemporary Art in Chania, Crete (2002) and the Jill Yakas Gallery, Athens, Greece (2003). Smith has also received private commissions, including a portrait of King Mswati of Swaziland, and portraits of seven Southern African heads of state.
After living for a year in Greece in 2002, Smith returned to South Africa to take up the curatorship of the inaugural Brett Kebble Awards. Smith has been living and working in the Western Cape, and held a solo, sold-out exhibition at Constitution Hill in Johannesburg. Solo exhibitions were to follow in Johannesburg in 2007, 2008, 2010 and 2012, and in Cape Town in 2009 and 2012.
On Saturday 3 November and Saturday 17 November at 11am there will be walkabouts with Richard Smith discussing his work. Entrance for these events is R20 which goes towards the Irma Stern Outreach Fund.
Gallery hours are 10am to 5pm Tuesday to Saturday. Closed on Sunday and Monday. Entrance to the Irma Stern Museum is R10 and R5 for pensioners and students.
For more information about the exhibition contact Rose Korber on 021 438 9152 or click here to email us.