Richard Smith was born in Edinburgh, Scotland but immigrated with his family to South Africa at a young age. Studying graphic design at the Johannesburg School of Art in the 1960’s, followed by his work in 1968 for the Sunday Times, Smith produced politically important works for the underground movement. In 1977 he was the American Broadcasting Corporation’s Court Artist at the inquest into the death of Steve Biko. He won Standard Bank’s cartoonist of the year in 1980 and 1984. Smith’s fine art career began in 1972 with a solo show of drawings at the Arts Club, London.
He began painting in the mid 1980s and exhibited at Everard Read Gallery, Johannesburg primarily as a painter of abstract expressionist landscapes. In 1990, while a Resident at the Cite Internationale des Arts in Paris, Smith began making figurative oil on paper works, some of which were torn up and re-worked as collage elements.
Smith is an artist’s artist. He has a unique voice where the act of painting is foremost whilst 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 as possible on the canvas’. A fearsome self-critic, Smith’s paintings can sometimes take months, even years, to appear but there still is no guarantee that they will make the final cut. This however, does not deter him in his slavish attention to detail and his desire to paint.