RICHARD SMITH, CBE (1931–2016)
Richard Smith has been described as “one of the most original painters of his generation”, who enjoyed huge critical and commercial success in both Britain and the United States in the 1960s and 70s. Smith stood apart from the burgeoning Pop Art movement of the 1960s by melding the slick and vibrant imagery found in the commercial landscape with an expansive abstract painterly style very much his own. He gained critical acclaim for extending the boundaries of painting into three dimensions, creating sculptural shaped canvases with monumental presence, which literally protruded into the space of the gallery. Titles such as Panatella and Revlon, and colours drawn from the cosmetics industry alluded to the synthetic landscapes of urban America which had come to dominate the consumer imagination. In 2014, the art historian Marco Livingstone wrote how “Smith’s joyful embrace of glamour and prismatic colour after the grey decade and a half of post-war austerity, brought him within the orbit of Pop Art at its very inception and assured him an important place in its early history.”
Born in Hertfordshire in 1931, Richard Smith studied at the Royal College of Art, London, from 1954-57. In 1959 he was awarded the prestigious Harkness Fellowship which facilitated his move to New York, where he had his first one man show at Green Gallery. Smith had a retrospective exhibition at the Whitechapel Gallery in 1966, while still in his thirties, and participated in some of the most important exhibitions of his time, such as Place at the ICA in 1959; Situation at RBA Galleries in 1960; and Painting and Sculpture of a Decade at Tate in 1964. After being awarded the Grand Prize at the 9th São Paulo Biennial in 1967 and participating in Documenta IV, Kassel in 1968, Smith represented Britain at the XXXV Venice Biennale in 1970 and was awarded the CBE in 1971. A major retrospective titled Seven Exhibitions 1961-75 was held at Tate in 1975. His work has also been exhibited at Nicosia Municipal Arts Centre, Cyprus; Hendendaagse Kunst Museum, Utrecht; the Walker Art Centre, Minneapolis, Kettle’s Yard, Cambridge and the Jewish Museum, New York. His work is held in the public collections of the Arts Council England; The British Museum, London; Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York; the Museum of Modern Art, New York; Tate, London; Victoria and Albert Museum, London; Walker Art Center, Minneapolis; the Whitney Museum of American Art, New York; MIT, Boston; Philadelphia Museum.