Interview: Lionel Smit

Lionel Smit was born in Pretoria, South Africa in 1982. He is renowned for his monumental portraiture works on canvas in paintings, sculpture, silkscreen, video and public installations.

Since his first solo exhibition in 2009, Smit’s work has been exhibited locally and internationally in prestigious galleries and art fairs. His work is currently showcased in a solo exhibition at the Didrichsen Art Museum, Helsinki; a public sculpture of his is currently featured in Union Square, New York City.

Smit’s painting, Kholiswa, received the Viewer’s Choice Award as part of the BP Portrait Award 2013 at the National Portrait Gallery in London. It was also the ‘face’ of all advertising campaigns for this exhibition. He has been a featured artist at the Miami Art Fair 2014 and on the cover of Christie’s catalogue in London 2009.

Recent exhibitions include Echo, with Cynthia Reeves Gallery on the campus of MASS MOCA in North Adams, Massachusetts and New Release, a solo exhibition with Everard Read in Johannesburg.

Smit was also featured at the Cape Town Art Fair in conjunction with Everard Read. Other exhibitions include Trace, a solo exhibition with Rook & Raven New York, and Obscura 2, a solo exhibition with Rook & Raven London.

In recent years, he has been honoured with a Ministerial Award from the South African Department of Culture for Visual Art. 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 Delaire Graff Wine Estate.

Today Smit is based in Strand, Cape Town. His process as an artist today remains adaptive, inventive, and physically engaging.

He supports several charities on a regular basis with donations of artworks for auction, including ArtAngels, Wild Aid and the MAD Charity.

How long have you been a full-time artist? Tell us when you knew you wanted to pursue this career.

Since I left school, so for 16 years. Art is something I grew up with, as my father is sculptor. I don’t remember deciding that I was going to pursue art, I guess it’s something that just happened. 

Briefly describe a typical day in your studio.

My weekly routine includes a mixture of visiting bronze casting foundries, painting, sculpting, print-making, meetings and eating. 

How do you replenish your creativity? What are some of your favorite things to do when you are not making art?

We live nearby the winelands (in South Africa), so I enjoy discovering new wines and foods with my family.

What is the best advice you received or lesson you learned throughout your career?

To always stay productive is the best advice I have received.

What do you hope the viewer takes away from your work?

It’s difficult to say, as I think each person sees the work differently. Emotionally, I think it transcends differently to each person.

Name one thing you are most proud of as an artist so far. 

The fact that I can make a living through my art.