Jack Smith


Born in Sheffield in 1928, Smith’s artistic talents were evident from an early age. He left school at age sixteen to pursue a scholarship that he was offered at Sheffield College of Art and went on to study at a postgraduate level at The Royal College of Art in 1952.


Smith’s early work presents a striking contrast to his mature style, and it is the transformative qualities displayed within this development which makes his progression as an artist particularly fascinating.


During the 1950’s, he began by portraying the gritty realism of domestic life in Britain, working alongside artists Edward Middleditch, Derrick Greaves and John Bratby in what was known as the Beaux Arts Quartet. Critic David Sylvester coined the term Kitchen Sink Movement in relation to these artists, viewing their artistic production as a demonstration of politically challenging social realism. Smith resisted this term, seeing it as reductive and in reaction to this, his painting veered increasingly into the realm of abstraction. Smith aimed to avoid the political connotations that had been attached to his early piece’s and to emphasize that it was an exploration of the aesthetic which was integral to him.


From this point onwards, Smith’s painting became an increasingly refined version of abstraction. Linear forms are used to disturb a sense of formal composition, whilst the arrangements of shapes create a subversive interplay with concepts of rhythm. Often likened to Kandinsky, this period draws on his interest in jazz, which marks a paradox with the jarring sense of stillness evoked in his constructions of flat shapes layered onto pure, potent colour.