One of South Africa’s most talented artists, Lionel Smit is best known for his contemporary portraiture executed through monumental canvases and sculptures. His art is defined by a deeply rooted symbiotic relationship between sculpture and painting.
Lionel Smit’s works offer us an entry point into the variety and richness that lies beneath every face we encounter in life, whether applied in bronze or in paint. The blending of techniques across genres is a display of his work in multiple media, all bearing visible overlap.
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 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 expressive abstract. Smit thus translates his own understanding of identity – drawing from images in his daily surrounds.
Smit’s subject matter is consistent. The people he paints or sculpts possess a particular quality that appeals to his visual sensitivity, but nothing more in the way of social influence. The sitter’s face acts, quite simply, as a vessel for Smit’s experimentation with colour, stroke and technique.
In regards to bronze, Smit’s treatment of the medium reveals it to be especially well suited to the translation of his painterly activities into sculpture.
Smit’s bronzes are created using the lost wax casting method – one of the oldest known metal-forming techniques. Patinas commonly available to artists working in bronze include natural browns, blacks and greens. However, considering the importance of colour to Smit in his painting, he uses alternative methods that result in a unique fusion of intensely saturated patinas onto the bronze.
Brilliant streaks of blues and greens enrich the grooves of an ear, while the natural shadow of an eyelid is intensified by the deepening of rich black patinas. Combing his ability to manipulate the patination process and his focused enthusiasm for surface gradations – Smit’s avant-garde approach to the medium has allowed him to consistently push the envelope.
Smit continues his visual and tactile exploration of hybrid identity and its ever changing and emerging nature within South Africa’s psycho-social landscape. While retaining all their austerity and peaceful aesthetic, Smit’s figures remain highly charged with the emotive and gestural energy of his creative process.
As the son of famed South African artist Anton Smith, Lionel was exposed to the world of sculpture from an early age.
Based in the Strand, Cape Town, Lionel Smit’s process as an artist today remains adaptive, inventive, and physically engaging. Through this he has achieved success all over the world including sell-out exhibitions in London and Hong Kong. His work continues to inspire and captivate the minds of art novices and experts alike from Europe to America.