2 May 2021
Expressionist Portraits by Kieran Smith
Kieran Smith is a peculiar and talented artist. He is able to mold and manipulate extremely complicated types of materials and obtain impressive results. Industrial glues, adhesives for tiles and sand are such difficult media to adopt for art. But Kieran has taken the challenge to make this materials live and flexible to his purpose to represent incredibly vivid and expressionist portraits. His experimentation on art materials is continuously evolving, so we will see even more great artworks from this talented artist.
Carlo Tozzi st-Art founder & art director
Where have you grown up?
I was born in a sleepy town on the British south coast called Eastbourne in 1980, but grew up in a province called KwaZulu-Natal on the east coast of South Africa, in a city called Durban. I moved to Amsterdam in 2011.
What is your artistic background?
I come from a pretty normal, middle class, politically progressive family with a cultural interest that was more focused on music than on art. So I studied the cello as a child and played at a semi-professional level until my 30s. I was always encouraged to pursue what interested me, and it was in high school that I discovered and developed a passion for art, specifically drawing and painting. I had many other interests – music, sports, poetry, and the regular things that occupy teenagers – but art quickly became my main passion. I worked with intensity and produced a lot of work (friends used to joke that my art could be measured by weight) and my final high school exhibition filled three rooms, as opposed to the single booth that the other students used.
As an adult I’ve continued to pursue a range of interests, playing a lot of music, studying and working as an urban planner and economic development specialist, and more recently managing a hotel in Amsterdam. I’ve always produced art in one form or another, depending on what else I was doing at the time, but I picked it up more seriously in my late 20s and mounted several exhibitions in Durban, before moving to Amsterdam.
How would you describe your art style?
My art is representational, and expressionist in style. I mostly depict people, although I feel like I could try different subject matter any time. For the moment though: people, portraits.
Untitled , 2021 – Tile adhesive, sand & acrylic on canvas – 100×120 cm
What inspires you to produce art?
This is always difficult to answer because by now it feels innate. I’m certainly inspired by my subject matter – people and the world around me. But also the act of painting itself – I enjoy the challenge of producing a significant piece of art from nothing. Each painting is a kind of dance between my instincts/intuition, and my conscious/practiced abilities; successful accidents/chance versus intent; spontaneity versus re-working things. I don’t aim for a true representation so the spatial, textural, colour and line choices are all happening in the moment and they are revisited after unsuccessful attempts. So it’s a process.
I also use difficult, quite unpredictable materials (industrial glues, adhesives and sand) which is always a mini saga in-and-of itself. I use them because of their fantastic textural and expressive possibilities and have always enjoyed the “rough, loose” element of painting – depicting something without necessarily doing the detail, achieving the result with a few gestures rather than multiple marks, for instance the way Rembrandt would dash off an important part of a painting in a few hasty strokes and get away with it.
So I’m interested in the actual act of “painting” and the visual result that is achieved through that process.
Two Women, 2021 – Tile adhesive, sand & acrylic on canvas -100×120 cm
Which artists mostly have influenced your art?
Invariably the artists that have influenced me the most are those who’ve worked in a way that embraces the material itself – the paint – and have achieved their results with roughness, boldness, expressive markings, spontaneity, energy, risk, movement, etc. Initially I found this in the German expressionists, particularly Kirschner, and Emil Nolde. Later it felt like an entire universe was broken open when my high school art teacher Zane Lang lent me a copy of “Frank Auerbach” by Robert Hughes. But there are many artists who paint(ed) with attitude and confidence, Leon Kossoff, Matisse, Jenny Saville, Kokoschka, Breitner, William Kentridge.
I’m also inspired by artists who have continued to paint representationally and figuratively, sometimes to huge acclaim, regardless of the popular or contemporary art movements of the time. Freud is one of those artists. He simply painted to the best of his ability, mostly people in quite mundane settings, without any pretense or overarching concepts, decade after decade. Auerbach is also like that. You see some development in different eras of his career but that’s more a refinement by way of repetition and searching as opposed to trying something inherently new or being concerned about what might have been happening in the ‘contemporary art scene’.
I’ve arrived at an approach and technique that works for me, and I want to explore that as deeply as I can. The idea of sticking to your guns because you believe in it and have confidence in it is very inspiring.
What are the art projects you have not done yet?
My main ‘project’ is simply to continue making art and to develop and improve – call that a work in progress. But over-and-above becoming a decent artist I’m looking to connect with an audience, exhibit my work and of course, to sell my art.
Tile adhesive, sand, acrylic and all kind of materials used during the elaborated creative process.
Check Kieran’s available artworks here.
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