Smith was a central figure in British painting from the early 1950s, when he was renowned for his powerful realist works. Along with John Bratby, Edward Middleditch and Derrick Greaves, Smith is thought of as a key member of the so-called 'Kitchen Sink' school, a label casually applied by the critic David Sylvester to suggest a unified group of campaigning Social Realists. However, Smith was never comfortable with the tag. His core concerns were always aesthetic - to do with light, form and pattern - rather than political, and by the late 50's his work was moving towards the pure abstraction for which his career has subsequently been celebrated. Different painted languages are deployed to suggest space and gravity, only for this to be snatched away by an adjacent mark or shape. Smith's paintings therefore invite, but defy translation. They embody the paradox of a language which has no meaning, but also of a visual music which makes no sound.