About the artist
A Foolish Harmony
Before committing to painting as his metier, Craig Smith (1961 – ) worked as an international and local award-winning production designer and in commercial photography.
Smith’s work and conceptual approach to painting has been favourably compared to that of the storied American artist, Cy Twombly, in his negotiation of space, gesture and chance in a way that subverts conventional understandings of aesthetics, and was recently cited as being part of a “brave and convincing” current mood in contemporary South African painting which interlaces abstraction and narrative, using bold allusions.
Smith uses ambiguity very effectively: subtle suggested shapes draw the viewer in, offering the opportunity to connect with the experience of contemplation and discovery. Using stains created first on the back of the canvas, and working over and under them in pencil, ink, charcoal and paint, Smith, driven by a lifelong fascination with texture , coaxes out seductively composed surfaces. Smith’s own invitation to the viewer is to “slow down, walk your eyes across the surface, stand up close and then step back, and slowly let your mind come to rest, as if you were gazing at a view: everything else should be irrelevant in this moment”.
He speaks of using the idea of interoception (the nuanced sense of the internal state of one’s body, using mindfulness techniques) and the notion of having empathy towards one’s own thoughts and instincts, as being central in his painting process.
Importantly, his research into this field and the regular interoceptive practices he has adopted have helped him to manage the anxieties and low moods occasioned by the pandemic and lockdown.
According to critic Robyn Sassen , “[t]here is something here that touches the nexus of what it is to make paintings in a way that is unobvious and clean of artifice. It’s a genre and an approach which tosses protocol to the wind …, pulling you urgently but quietly by the strings of gentle striations, fine lines and the guttural flow of ink or toner tossed at apparent random on a raw canvas”.
Smith has continued throughout his career to use photography as a medium: searching for elusive interstitial moments in ordinary experience. He finds that photography enhances his painting practice because it enables him to practice empathy in achieving fully attentive observation.