Stephen Smith

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

Instagram: #neasdencontrolcentre

Selected Exhibitions

2019 Desire Lines, Mini Galerie, (Solo) Amsterdam, Netherlands
2019 The Island Show, (Group Presentation) Galleri Kant, Fanø, Denmark
2019 Flat Earth Trap, (Group Presentation) Galerie Slika, Lyon, France
2019 A Take On Paper, (Group Presentation) Galleri Kant, Copenhagen, Denmark
2018 Deep End Echo, Sid Motion Gallery (2 person show with Joanne Hummel-Newell), London, UK
2018 Dirty Voyage, Schau Fenster, (Group Presentation) Berlin, Germany
2018 Blind Spot, Delimbo Gallery (2 person show with Jeroen Erosie), Seville, Spain
2017 Code Art Fair (w. Mini Galerie), Copenhagen, Denmark
2017 British Artists Summer Show, Heals, (Group Presentation) London, UK
2017 Current Mood (2 person show with Jeroen Erosie), Galerie Celal M13, Paris, France
2016 Shifting Ground, Hestercombe Gallery, (Solo), Taunton, UK
2016 Object Matter, (Group Presentation) Mini Galerie, Amsterdam, Netherlands
2016 Radical Utopias, Mini Galerie, (Solo) Amsterdam, Netherlands (Solo)
2016 Unstable Monuments, (Group Presentation) Victoria Wharf, Turo, UK
2015 II, Minigalerie, (Group Presentation) Amsterdam, Netherlands
2014 Inland Art: Assemble Now, Back Lane West,(Group Presentation) Cornwall
2013 Three Man Show, Protein Gallery, (Group Presentation) London, UK
2012 Play, Game, Place, State, Collyer Bristow Gallery, (Group Presentation) London, UK
2011 Smoke fall, Tintype Gallery, (Group Presentation) London, UK
2011 Get The Papers, Galleries Goldstein, (Group Presentation) London, UK
2011 It’s your lucky day (2 person show with Micheal Swaney), Meeatings 23, Barcelona, Spain
2010 More With Less, Mu, (Solo), Eindhoven, Netherlands
2010 Working Drawings, SIA Gallery, Sheffield, UK
2010 Autumn Show, Guerrero Gallery, San Francisco, US, Co-Curated by Eddie Martinez (Group Presentation)
2009 Das Herz Von St Pauli, Iguapop Gallery, (Group Presentation) Barcelona, Spain
2008 Take Away, Calm and Punk Gallery, Tokyo, Japan
2008 Now Jump!, Nam June Paik Centre, (Group Presentation) 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


2016 Shifting Ground, Hestercombe Gallery
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
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


Sid Motion Gallery
Delimbo Gallery
Hestercombe Gallery
Mini Galerie
Plymouth Arts Centre
Unknown Field Division
Nam June Paik Centre
Neasden Control Centre