Richard Smith’s social commentary comes alive in new Portrait Series

Richard Smith’s social commentary comes alive in new Portrait Series

Richard Smith, regarded as one of South Africa’s most versatile artists, will be exhibiting his latest charcoal and mixed media works at the UCT Irma Stern Museum in Rosebank until November 24. The artist will conduct a walkabout on the Saturdays of November 3 and 11 at 11am during which he will discuss his work.

Curated by Rose Korber, the content of the exhibition is large-scale portraits of existing people and of people imagined, as well as multi-panel drawings in charcoal and mixed media on paper. Also on the exhibition are a number of oils on panel.

The Portrait Series is a body of work which, as noted art writer Sean O’Toole has it, “showcases Smith’s virtuoso hand as a draftsman”. These monumental portraits are not of celebrities, but of “young people who are my friends and whose faces appeal to me”, Smith comments. They are sensitive, but quirky explorations of the human subject. Smith often uses the language of the subconscious and the subliminal when referring to his work, suggesting a deeply personal and intuitive process of art-making.

Works such as ‘Messengers and Mediums’ captured through the medium of charcoal, oil on paper collage, soft pastels and acrylic paint, speaks of Smith’s work as a social commentator and enter into a dialogue with broader social and political issues.

Born in Edinburgh, Scotland in 1947, Smith has had a varied career as a cartoonist, social commentator, illustrator and fine artist.  In the late 1960s, he studied Graphic Design at the Johannesburg School of Art, and in 1968 began his career as a cartoonist for the Sunday Times, subsequently contributing to publications such as Punch, the Financial Mail, the Harvard Business Review, Leadership Magazine, the London Underground Press and the Rand Daily Mail. In 1980 and again in 1984, he won the Standard Bank Cartoonist of the Year award.

He was also involved with the production of politically-oriented animation for BBC television, and, in 1977 served as court artist for the American Broadcasting Corporation at the inquest into the death of Steve Biko in Pretoria.

* Entrance for the ‘walkabouts’ is R20, which goes towards the Irma Stern Outreach Fund. Gallery hours are from 10am to 5pm, Tuesdays to Saturdays. Entrance to the Irma Stern Museum is R10 and R5 for pensioners and students.
For more information, call 021 438 9152, or send an email to Alternatively visit