Lionel Smit Bio

Lionel Smit

years with Cynthia-Reeves: 7
Curriculum Vitae (pdf)

Obscura, Museum of Contemporary Art North Miami, FL
MORPHOUS, public art installation, Union Square, NYC, 2016-17
Close/Perspective, Everard Read, Johannesburg, South Africa, 2015
Accumulation of Disorder, public art installation, Art Miami, 2014
National Portrait Gallery, London, UK, 2012

My fascination with portraiture and the abstraction of color 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 color, line and form, is what inspires the imaginative and abstract essence of the work. –Lionel Smit

Smit is considered one of South Africa’s strongest artists, best known for his contemporary portraiture executed through monumental canvases and sculptures. Each of his works offers us an entry point into the variety and richness that lies beneath every face – a task he undertakes with great sensitivity.

His monumental work, MORPHOUS, was installed in Union Square last June, where it was on view through April 2017. The project was spearheaded by CYNTHIA-REEVES in conjunction with the New York City Parks Department and our collaborating partners, Art Miami. This significant bronze sculpture is the premier public art exhibition of Lionel Smit’s work in the US.

Smit’s work centers heavily on identity, realized through the formation of disparate layering. His luscious, bold surfaces, upon closer inspection, expose his subject’s genealogy through sporadic and translucent complexions. The viewer is left to reconcile these overlapping styles and emotive gestures, symbolically referencing the new generation in his native country.

Lionel Smit’s process is adaptive, inventive, and physically engaged. He paints abstract canvases and lets them sit around the studio, ideas gestating until he is ready to project photographs of the model on them, in a mode that recalls Andy Warhol’s approach to portraiture. But Smit does not work with reproductive processes…, instead relying on his hand to transcribe form, and frequently reworking images multiple times, such that color and line merge, breaking down both…His bronzes made in the traditional lost wax process, are treated as fragmented surfaces subject to polychromatic surface experimentation inside and out. (Jason Rosenfeld, Ph.D., Distinguished Chair and Professor of Art History, Marymount Manhattan College, New York).

Lionel Smit was born in Pretoria, South Africa in 1982, he started exhibiting straight after art school at Pro Arte Alphen Park. He now lives and works in Cape Town. Best known for his contemporary portraiture executed through monumental canvasses and sculptures, Lionel is represented locally in South Africa and internationally in London and the US. He exhibits regularly and is considered one of SA’s youngest proven artists. Over the past 10 years, he has established a substantial international following with collectors ranging from the Standard Chartered Bank to Laurence Graff Art Collection at Graff Delaire wine estate. Smit’s painting has been exhibited at the National Portrait Gallery, where it received the Viewer’s Choice Award, as well as selected as the “face” of the BP Portrait Award 2013 for all campaigns. He was recently honored with a Ministerial Award from the Department of Culture for Visual Art.