Richard Smith has never been particularly easy to categorise. An artist of great originality and technical skill, he has never followed the pack yet he has enjoyed consistent success in South Africa and on the International Stage. Starting as a respected political cartoonist in the 1960’s for the Sunday Times in Johannesburg, he held his first solo exhibtion in London in 1971 at the Arts Theatre Club. He was Standard Bank’s cartoonist of the year in 1980 and 1984 and over the past 30 years has produced works on canvas and on paper and has exhibited consistently; locally and abroad.
Maybe it is his extraordinary artistic background that has allowed him to create superbly layered works and in many ways his new exhibition simply titled ‘New Paintings’ at EBONY in Cape Town is a culmination of this lengthy process. He may have been producing complex artworks for nearly 50 years, but here is an artist at the peak of his powers producing some of the most exciting and largely figurtative works in oil seen for some time.
Richard Smith is an artist’s artist. Often his paintings are accidental and over many months a story and individuality will appear. He is an authentic voice where the act of painting is foremost and the form and content are secondary. Although his finished works are richly layered, he wants, in his own words, ‘the brush to spend as little time on the canvas as possible’. A fearsome self critic, paintings can sometimes take months or even years to appear, and even then they might not make the final cut. Robyn Sassen wrote of his oils ‘They’re weird and monstrous and they’re oddly compelling. Sometimes they’re constructed in a multi-faceted layout. At other times, they present themselves to you in surreal poses….there’s humour there…. it’s humour pummeled by bleakness revealing echoes of what it was that gave Smith the potency he enjoyed as a political cartoonist’