England, 1976

Stephen Smith is a UK based artist that makes work that draws on a process of construction and deconstruction.


In the hands of Smith, canvas is not used as a neutral vehicle for carrying paint. Instead it functions as an integral component of his paintings on a par with the colours and forms that adorn them. Canvas is ripped, torn, folded, stretched, saturated, cut, sewn, creased and layered. Many of these processes stand out for their physicality; they represent impositions upon the canvas, severing the canvas as a butcher might a carcass, foisting Smith's will upon the material with force. The results however do not ring out of violence, or at least not a spurious or wholly destructive violence, because this process of dismantling represents the means by which his paintings are simultaneously reconstructed. Smith describes this as his wrangling of beauty with brutality.


The build up of these processes - that move between the gradual and fluid to the stark and dramatic - are heavily evidenced on the surface of Smith's work. Layers of often deep black paint smother areas of the canvas unevenly. Edges are frayed, tendrils of the canvas's weave undoing, and scraps of paint splattered canvas removed and affixed to others. There is something of the makeshift about them, a sense in which Smith brings that quality to the fore in celebration, in an attempt to capture the spontaneity of making in the work's final iteration. His recent solution has been to form a large work by collaging smaller works together, thereby harnessing the energy of multiple sections of smaller works within the landscape of a whole painting. As a process it is in someways analogous to grafting where one plant is artificially affixed to another, to grow together as one. Having said that, with Smith nothing ever seems absolutely final but marked with volatility. The chances are that a once final work may well be later slashed and redistributed - a chunk here, a slice there - the images appear almost self-propagating.


This tension between order and chaos, relates also to Smith's concurrent mastery of his motifs and a relinquishing of control of the whole.  He goes to elaborate lengths to open his work up to potential accidental mark-making: cutting out a central section from a canvas and removing it entirely; folding and unfolding painted canvases so that the paint from one rubs off on another; using unprimed canvases which he paints on from the back in diluted and hard to manage paint, suffusing the canvas in inky pools. 


Smith's work summons, therefore, his ongoing struggle to incapsulate the energy so natural to drawing, in his large scale works. He sees drawing as pivotal, describing a process of 'drawing into the painting'. This is perhaps why much of his work strikes as highly redolent of Paul Klee - if blown up ten-fold - who famously described drawing as like 'taking a line for a walk'. Klee's assertion was founded on the belief that drawing was a fundamentally intuitive and spontaneous process during which a line could go anywhere at any time. Similarly, Smith strives to keep as many options as possible open for the marks and incisions that stalk his painted surfaces, whether intentionally drawn, impressed or accidentally dripped or bled.

Text Lizzie Lloyd


2020 The Island Show, Galleri Kant, Fanø
2019 Desire Lines, Mini Galerie, (Solo) Amsterdam
2019 The Island Show, (Group Presentation) Galleri Kant, Fanø
2019 Flat Earth Trap, (Group Presentation) Galerie Slika, Lyon
2019 A Take On Paper, (Group Presentation) Galleri Kant, Copenhagen
2018 Deep End Echo, Sid Motion Gallery (with Joanne Hummel-Newell), London
2018 Dirty Voyage, Schau Fenster, (Group Presentation) Berlin
2018 Blind Spot, Delimbo Gallery (with Jeroen Erosie), Seville
2017 Code Art Fair (w. Mini Galerie), Copenhagen, Denmark

2017 Abu Dhabi Artspace, Abu Dhabi, Saudi Arabia

2017 British Artists Summer Show, Heals, London, UK

2017 Current Mood (w. Jeroen Erosie), Galerie Celal M13, Paris, France

2016 Shifting Ground, Hestercombe Gallery, UK

2016 Object Matter, Mini Galerie, Amsterdam, Netherlands

2016 Radical Utopias, Mini Galerie, Amsterdam, Netherlands (Solo)

2016 Unstable Monuments, Group Show, Victoria Wharf, Turo, UK

2015 Papierkowa Robota(w. Jeroen Erosie), V9 Gallery, Warsaw

2015 Col.la.ge II, Minigalerie, Amsterdam, Netherlands

2014 Inland Art: Assemble Now, Back Lane West, Redruth, Cornwall

2013 Three Man Show, Protein Gallery, London, UK

2012 Play, Game, Place, State, Collyer Bristow Gallery, London, UK

2011 Smoke fall, Tintype Gallery, London, UK

2011 Get The Papers, Galleries Goldstein, London, UK

2011 It's your lucky day (w. Micheal Swaney), Meeatings 23, Barcelona, Spain

2010 More With Less, Mu, Eindhoven, Netherlands (Solo)

2010 Working Drawings, SIA Gallery, Sheffield, UK

2010 Autumn Show, Guerrero Gallery, San Francisco, US, Co-Curated by Eddie Martinez

2009 Das Herz Von St Pauli, Iguapop Gallery, Barcelona, Spain

2008 Take Away, Calm and Punk Gallery, Tokyo, Japan

2008 Now Jump!, Nam June Paik Centre, South Korea

2008 5 Year Show, Helium Cowboy Gallery, Hamburg, Germany (Solo)

2008 Scope Art Fair, Basel, Switzerland (w. Helium Cowboy Gallery)

2007 Little Land, Helium Cowboy Gallery, Hamburg, Germany (Solo)

2006 Spank The Monkey, Baltic Centre for Contemporary Art, Gateshead

2006 Bar Leandro, Helium Cowboy Gallery, Hamburg, Germany (Solo)

2003 Crossed New Territories of Avant Garde, Centre de Cultura Contemporània, Barcelona, Spain



2013 The Age of Collage, Contemporary Collage in Modern Art, Gestalten

2010 More With Less, MU

2009 Now Jump!, Nam June Paik Art Center, South Korea

2007 Lost Control, Neasden Control Centre, Gestalten

2006 Spank The Monkey, Baltic Centre for Contemporary Art, Gestalten

2006 Smithfield Building, Neasden Control Centre, Rojo

2003 Neasden Control Centre, Gestalten

2003 Crossed, New Avant-Garde Design Territories, Centre de Cultura Contemporània de Barcelona


Awards / Residency / Workshops

2016 Hestercombe Gallery, Residency

2016 Plymouth Arts Centre, Batter Street Studio, Residency

2014 CalArts | California Institute of the Arts

2011 Unknown Fields Division (Chernobyl, Aral Sea + Russian Space Centre) Residency

2008 British Council Visual Arts Award

2006 Arts Council of England Visual Arts Award