Danger signs - 'This Artist is Deeply Dangerous'
This article is from 2009.
On seeing a sports writer become an art critic for one day, Bob and Roberta Smith experienced a lightbulb moment for his latest exhibition. Talitha Kotzé catches up with him
Bob Smith is currently en route to the Venice Biennale. In keeping with his green politics, he was making the journey from London to Venice by train but a stop over in Paris gave us time to talk about his new show. First things first: ‘Bob and Roberta Smith’ is actually one man, Patrick Brill, who chose the pseudonym early on in his career. ‘At the time I was making art with my sister Roberta. Our joint aim was to inspire others to create as well, not so much to make art, but to develop entrepreneurial thinking by using art as a force for social change.’
Based in London, this mid-career artist’s practice is characterised by bright, colourful words and slogans on recycled placards of wood. As part of the Festival and represented by the nomadic Grey Gallery, Bob and Roberta Smith will exhibit This Artist is Deeply Dangerous, a new 11 metre-long text painting which will grace the walls of the opulent Georgian house interior of Hawke and Hunter. ‘I’m going to place the paintings in sequence around the room. This will create a kind of "surround vision" and allow the viewer to interact with them, though potentially in the wrong order.’
The piece was inspired by an art review written by Guardian tennis correspondent Steve Bierley as the outcome of their sports and arts writers swapping jobs for a day. According to Smith, Bierley’s take on Louise Bourgeois’ recent exhibition at the Pompidou Centre in Paris was written with clarity and enthusiasm. ‘An honest mission to inform is rare in the world of professional art criticism. I think his article is fantastic. It is written by somebody who discovered Bourgeois for the first time; like turning over a stone on a beach and discovering a different kind of world.’
What struck Smith was the way Bierley explained the relationship between sport and art: sport is about you and the moment, whereas art is concerned with ideas. ‘There are peaks in one’s life, but in contemporary culture, youth is more fashionable. Bierley came to Louise Bourgeois at a late peak in her life and goes on to describe the art of this 97-year-old woman who lived through the 20th century.’ Smith suggests that the title of his work may be confusing. ‘It is not me who is dangerous, it is Louise Bourgeois!’
The work was produced during a three-month residency at Beaconsfield gallery in London, where Smith meticulously transcribed Bierley’s entire article onto sheets of hardboard. Commenting on the experience of being watched by the public while working, Smith confesses that ‘it was interesting, but a mad thing to allow people in, because like most artists, I’m a bit of a hermit.’ But for Smith it has always been the actual process of art, rather than the final product that is most important.
He recently participated in Altermodern at the Tate Triennial and last year he fabricated the official ‘Tate Christmas Tree’ from recycled pieces of previous Tate Britain exhibitions. Smith was also shortlisted for the fourth plinth on Trafalgar Square. His career is certainly impressive, but his approach is humorous and ironic. In 2002, he exhibited All Artists are a Bunch of Cowards at Edinburgh’s Collective Gallery, and he performed there with The Apathy Band earlier this year. ‘I’m self-righteous and melancholic to the point of becoming laughable.’
Bob and Roberta Smith: This Artist is Deeply Dangerous, Grey Gallery at Hawke and Hunter, Picardy Place, 07910 359086, 6 Aug–5 Sep, free.