Pause for reflection

Don Van Vliet: Up Sifter, 94×82.6 cm, Oil on canvas

I’ve reached that age when the majority of my true heroes have, or are now, dropping off the perch…’so it goes’ as one of them was wont to remark. Just now I’m listening to the good Captain…from ‘Doc At The Radar Station’…magical stuff from someone who treated his music as a pastime against the real business of painting. Of course in the modern world there’s a purdah on being better at more than one thing so he’s cursed in terms of his art which is a crying shame as he was a pretty damn fine painter and musician.

Dick Smith
Richard Smith, double page spread from ‘Private View’ photo by Snowden

It’s in my mind this morning with the news of the passing of Richard Smith yesterday in New York. I had a tutorial with him once, almost certainly the most perceptive and affirming one I ever had. He was a lovely man I remember, and I recall his lecture where he talked at length about many things but included a small vignette about visiting a Philip Pearlstein exhibition. It rather shocked me at the time, with that certainty of youth I’d dismissed Pearlstein as a curious anomaly at the time, a nude figure painter using thick grungy oil. But Smith with characteristic quiet authority critiqued them thoughtfully and threw in an observation that a good painter learnt as much from works s/he was less sympathetic to as that they loved. A lesson learned for me. I have since always tried to find something in any work I come across. Smith had a big retrospective ‘Seven Exhibitions’ at the Tate in 1975 and it influenced me hugely, I was especially taken with the massive Amazone 1-5, now in the Leeds Museums collection.00373f93Of course the spotlight moved on after that and although his work cropped up from time to time (I recall a lovely little show at Bernard Jacobson’s in the summer of 1996) it’s only been recently that he’s been cropping up in some survey shows again. Hopefully now there will be a recognition of his very full contribution to the development of abstraction – one of the fiercest painterly intelligences I’ve met in my time but also a generous, thoughtful and decent person. It saddened me to hear the news.





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