Alex Vardaxoglou is presenting an online Presentation highlighting a group of works by pioneering British artist Richard Smith (1931-2016). The Presentation reflects Smith’s testing of the limits of painting through a number of distinct bodies of work; from the shaped canvases of the late 60s and 70s, through to the kite works, and the reversion back to flat canvas in the 80s.

In the late 50s, Smith travelled to America on the Harkness Fellowship and was inspired by his American colleagues and his time there. Yet his work took on a more restrained output, with less obvious emotional content. His imagery tended to be much more concrete, and always straddled a number of motifs; ‘Neither pop nor minimal, neither colour-field abstraction, nor literal three-dimensional object’1. He has always been Richard Smith – in between these parameters.

He became known in the 60s and 70s for his odd-shaped, wall-hanging canvases, which drew heavily on high-end advertising of the time. They are Pop inasmuch they draw source from ephemera of the world, but Smith’s interest was more luxury and less demotic. And as such, the imagery which results is less pictorial than his Pop colleagues; more painterly.

Mandarin, 1970, the largest painting in our Presentation, marries a few key elements of Smith’s output in the preceding decade. Made in the same year Smith represented Britain at the Venice Biennale, the quick, loose brushstrokes (reminiscent of his at the Royal College of Art) become big areas of deep blue. His forays into reimagining ‘traditional’ painting, for example a stretched canvas hanging on a wall, are exemplified in this intricately shaped canvas, with two protruding elements shooting out to the ground, supported by intricate wooden struts. It is one of the largest billboard-like paintings Smith made and challenges the rectangular format and flatness of conventional painting. He was insistent on emphasising his work as painting and not sculpture; ‘since I have always retained a wall, there is no question of a multifaceted sculptural object’2.

This type of painting led Smith to his Kite works which are concerned with qualities of painting itself as much as the space around them. In this Presentation, we show the notable Cartouche 1-4 from 1979, one of fifteen original paper pulp works, in replicating the same idea as the kite paintings. Smith’s aim with these was to reverse the relationship between the canvas and its support; strings were used in order for the work to suspend from the wall or ceiling.

VR Sunil Gohil