Lionel Smit, Sculptor, Artist

Lionel Smit, gallery artists featured in an article by Cape Town Legends.

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Growing up in a house full of art, Lionel Smit was exposed to his father, renowned sculptor Anton Smit’s work from an early age. Spending much time in and around his father’s home studio, there were always artists and art – and it started to rub off on him. Before he knew it and without too much thought, he was following the natural path to becoming an artist and sculptor himself. “It wasn’t something that was decided, but simply what I needed to, and what was meant to do”, he says.

Born in Pretoria in 1982, Lionel now works from his impressive studio in Cape Town’s Somerset West. Having established himself as a painter and then as a sculptor, he now works in multiple mediums.

In his figurative work and portraits Lionel captures the emotions and essence of the human being. This idea has translated into different forms of expression which he has expanded and explored over the years. “An artist who works in different mediums cannot be classified as a painter or a sculptor, he is simply put able to be both.”

Inspired by people in his immediate surrounds, when Lionel moved to Cape Town he started painting Cape Malay women. The idea behind that created a more conceptual platform as he started thinking about the mixed and blended races so prevalent in the Cape, and how we all have an undeniable connection to European, Asian and African influences. Lionel enjoys merging these universal ideas about who we are as people and our roots, while managing to shift away from anything too political.

“I’m still trying to figure out why most of my work involves women. To me women are a mystery, they are the bearers of beauty”.

At a glance it is clear that most of Lionel’s work involves women. Is there a reason for that, we ask? “I’m still trying to figure it out myself”, he laughs. “I think to me, women are a mystery. They are the bearers of beauty. There is no specific reason beyond that, it is just something that I naturally do. Women are beautiful, that is reason enough”.

The scale of Lionel’s work and the physicality of it has evolved over time and he started to create bigger pieces as his work space began to increase in size. As the pieces grew they became more abstract and he started to sense the tactile, expressionistic impact of being up close to his work. “The more you immerse yourself into the art itself, the more you delve into it. Then as you step away you get a sense of the actual visual connection to the image. It means a different physicality for the viewer and for the artist creating it.”

As for any underlying message – some works have this more than others – but mostly Lionel wants people to connect with his art instinctively and on an emotional level. See it and it let it speak for itself. No guide or book should be required to connect with what exists in our own hearts and minds. With regard to the focus of his work being predominantly on the image of the face, Lionel point out that all faces are connected and herein lies the complexity, as well as the purest form of communication.

His paintings start with abstract lines and swaths of colour that establish a base for the subsequently overlaid image of a face or bust – in most cases posed by anonymous models from the Cape Malay community. For Smit, ‘the Cape Malay woman epitomises a hybrid identity within a South African context, and reflects the disintegrating construction of identity within our increasingly globalised world.’ His work is loaded with both historical and aesthetic precedent; clearly focused on the dialogue between the figurative and the abstract.

Smit translates his own understanding of identity – drawing from images in his daily surrounds.

Each of his works offers us an entry point into the variety and richness that lies beneath the face – a task he undertakes with great sensitivity. “My fascination with portraiture and the abstraction of colour plays a dualistic role in my artistic expression and creation. The combination of the representation of human form, and the mercurial quality of emotions, translated by colour, line and form, is what inspires the imagination.”

Talking of proudest moments, Lionel refers to the installation of his bronze sculpture MORPHOUS in Union Square in New York, where it took pride of place for a year as part of their public sculpture project. “It felt like putting South Africa right there in the middle of New York”, he says.

Each of his works offers us an entry point into the variety and richness that lies beneath the face – a task he undertakes with great sensitivity. “My fascination with portraiture and the abstraction of colour plays a dualistic role in my artistic expression and creation. The combination of the representation of human form, and the mercurial quality of emotions, translated by colour, line and form, is what inspires the imagination.”

Talking of proudest moments, Lionel refers to the installation of his bronze sculpture MORPHOUS in Union Square in New York, where it took pride of place for a year as part of their public sculpture project. “It felt like putting South Africa right there in the middle of New York”, he says.

His process as an artist remains adaptive, inventive, and physically engaging. He supports several charities on a regular basis with donations of artworks for auction. Time with him, is time reconnecting with self.

Represented by Everard Read, Lionel has been a featured artist at the Miami Art Fair 2014 and on the cover of Christie’s catalogue in London. Other exhibitions include Faces of Identity, a solo exhibition with Everard Read in London and Premise, a solo exhibition with Everard Read in Cape Town. He has been honoured with a Ministerial Award from the South African Department of Culture for Visual Art and has over the years established a substantial international following with collectors ranging from the Standard Chartered Bank to Laurence Graff Art Collection at Delaire Graff Wine Estate. A highlight of his career has been the publication of one of his paintings on the cover of Christie’s Auction Catalogue.

 

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