Richard Smith and Robyn Denny: Graphic works: 3rd Floor, Riverwide House, 6 Mason's Yard, St James's, London SW1Y 6BU

27 April - 27 May 2017

Richard Smith 1931-2016

 

Richard Smith is an English printmaker and painter. He was born in Letchworth, Hertfordshire, in 1931. After military service with the Royal Air Force in Hong Kong, he attended St Albans School of Art followed by post-graduate studies at the Royal College of Art, London, from 1954 to 1957. In 1959 he travelled to New York to live there and teach for two years on a Harkness Fellowship, where he produced paintings combining the formal qualities of American abstract painters which made references to American commercial culture. His work gradually became more minimal, often painted in just one colour with a second colour used only as an accent. In trying to find ways of transposing ideas, Smith began to question the two-dimensional properties of art itself and to find ways by which a painting could express the shape of reality as he saw it. He began to take the canvas off the stretcher, letting it hang loose, or tied with knots, to suggest sails or kites - objects which could change with new directions rather than being held rigid against a wall, and taking painting close to the realm of sculpture. These principles he carried into his graphic work, as can be seen in the present exhibition, by introducing cut, folded and stapled elements into his prints; some works were multi-leaved screenprinting, and others printed onto three-dimensional fabricated metal. By 1968 Smith's ambition to produce paintings which shared a common sensibility with media, such as film and photography, began to wane. He resettled in New York in 1976.

 

This exhibition displays Smiths prints from the 1970s which were produced at the time when Smith was gaining his reputation as a leading proponent of abstract expressionism in Britain, and was producing the body of work which helped secure him an exhibition at the Tate.

 

His work is held in the public collections of the Arts Council of Great Britain; The British Museum, London; Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York; The Museum of Modern Art, New York; TATE Gallery, London; Victoria and Albert Museum, London; Walker Art Center, Minneapolis; the Whitney, New York; MIT, Boston; Philadelphia Museum of Art; Museum of Contemporary Art, Chicago; Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, Washington, DC.

 

 

Robyn Denny 1930-2014

 

Born in Abinger, Surrey, Denny studied at St Martins School of Art from 1951-54 after a spell in the Royal Navy. After that he went to the Royal College of Art from 1954-1957.  He was awarded a scholarship to study in Italy and then taught part-time at Hammersmith School of Art, the Slade School of Art and the Bath Academy of Art, Corsham.

 

Denny is known for his abstract collages and large gestural paintings which were inspired by American Abstract Expressionism, which he would have encountered at the Tate exhibitions in London in 1956 and 1959. In 1969, Denny organised an exhibition for the Arts Council on the American artist Charles Biederman, who for over 20 years worked exclusively on vividly coloured abstract reliefs. This experience coincided with a new intensity of colour in Denny’s work, shifting from rich, dark harmonies to high, bright contrasts, from a sense of twilight to daylight. In 1981 Denny moved to Los Angeles, but returned to London in 1986.Denny's most frequently seen work (and most often overlooked) is the public art at London's Embankment tube station, installed in 1985, in the form of coloured lines.

 

An active and distinguished career included participation in ground-breaking exhibitions throughout Europe and the United States. Denny also had a retrospective at the Tate Gallery (1973); ‘Place’ (Institute of Contemporary Arts, London, 1959); ‘Situation’ (RBA Galleries, London, 1960); ‘London: the New Scene’ (Walker Art Gallery, Liverpool, Minneapolis and North American tour, 1965); Venice Biennale, 1966 and ‘The Sixties Art Scene in London’ (Barbican Art Gallery, London, 1993).

 

As with Richard Smith, this exhibition also displays Denny’s prints from the 1970s, Denny is considered as one from a group of then young artists who had a significant impact on British Art in the 1950s and helped drive the avant-garde scene. The works on show for this exhibition are strong examples of Denny’s retraction from the mainstream practice of St Ives artists which their form of abstraction which developed out of landscapes and seascapes, to embrace a more formal abstraction.  The work here is devoid of reference to the outside world and concerned with the formal qualities of art, with geometry, overlapping planes, colour, light and surface.  Here, the strong influence of Abstract Expressionism apparent.