Stephen Smith British, b. 1975

“I am searching for the golden intersection between brutality and beauty.”


British artist Stephen Smith’s masterly approach to abstraction is a combination of drawing, decorative patterning, deconstruction, mark making and artful composition. This orchestration of ideas and technique emerge as a body of beautifully balanced tactile geometries of form. Of this process, Smith notes: “I have always had a natural interest in composition and drawing. This is central to my practice and guides the paintings and informs the construction of my work. Allowing a freedom to explore accidents and develop without controlling too much also enables this approach to flourish.”


The artist begins with what he calls “range of psycho geographic and post traumatic landscapes.” Smith will cut and rip and refold canvases, as well as using stretched surfaces. He welcomes the messy assemblage of forms: such as fraying, splatter and build-up of paint. As well, Smith will often also sew and crease the surface to create a topographic terrain, allowing a new materiality to emerge. “I am interested in the sculptural physicality of the object, so the work is often made off the stretcher as much as on. I am searching for impositions, severing the canvas completely to create new forms through intuition and chance. The build-up of these processes is evidenced on the surface. Layers of paint smother areas of the canvas unevenly. Edges are frayed and scraps of paint splattered and affixed to others. Often smaller works are collaged together to harness the energy of multiple sections. I want my work to carry a tension between order and chaos, beauty and brutality.”


Smith often works in series, allowing each piece to evolve sequentially, a part of an experimental technique. Much of the work begins on the floor, and then will be manipulated on the wall, stretcher or table. Often, the artist will stretch, disassemble and re-stretch again. The process of deconstruction seems to create a graceful accord in the work. Smith notes there is an element of both planning and improvisation in his practice: “A central section might be cut entirely from the canvas and removed; folding and unfolding painted canvases so that paint mono prints itself.”


This connection to the graphic tradition is important. Clearly there is a formal order to geometric arrangements which is connected to the artist’s training and work as an illustrator. However, it is the dialogue between illustrative drawing and a constructing, deconstructing and reinventing texture and form during the artistic process that makes Smith’s work so intensely expressive, calligraphic and harmonic. 


Rosa JH Berland