Artist Interview: Stefan Smit

by Cass Art

Stefan Smit is a South African fine artist best known for his contemporary figurative oil paintings although his mural work has also acquired acclaim as he is skilled to work in mixed media on a tremendous scale. Since being invited to exhibit as the ABSA L'atelier in 2014, the demand for Smit's work has increased as it is now sought after by private collectors and well-known brands internationally. We were delighted to speak to Stefan about his journey as artist, get an insight into his practice and see what he's been up to over these strange past few months.

Hi Stefan, thanks so much for taking the time to speak to us. Firstly, could you tell us a little bit about your journey through this industry and what inspired you to be an artist?

Thanks for chatting with me. I've always been inspired by anything creative and originally started out studying music. After finishing my degree I decided to head in the direction of art which felt a lot freer because I'd never been taught how to paint and I really think this has been a secret blessing because I tend to break a lot of conventional rules just by experimenting with my tools and organically figuring out my own processes.

In your work you utilise traditional oil painting techniques with some improvised applications that almost create a tension on the surface, could you talk to us about this and how you go about your painting process?

Perfect question after what I mentioned! I love some old traditional masters like Sargent, Rembrandt or Zorn but also enjoy the cathartic process of being able to destroy my work and build it up again. I use almost any tool I can find from cement scrapers and window squeegees to palette knives and potatoes! For me the act of creating is more important than being too precise about the tools you use and to try put this theory to the test I've started accepting challenges from my followers on Instagram where I'll go live on Thursday and paint with the strangest tools, like Q-tips, potatoes or hammers. 

What is it about the urban environment that intrigues you as a concept?

I'm fascinated by the strange side effects that occur from living in increasingly dense and busy environments and view some people as ghosts who live their own richly complex lives but to others are just a spectre on the periphery of their vision, which is why I've often referred to my paintings as frozen moments of people watching where I feel privileged to look into another person's life for the briefest of moments and imagine the tumultuous seas or placid pools of their existence. There just isn't enough time to connect with everyone and I feel like my paintings offer a window or perspective into moments of those ghosts around us.

Could you tell us about the incredible project yourself and Chris Valentine undertook in the Hyde Park Shopping Centre?

Chris is another amazing artist who I'm honoured to also call my friend. We've worked together on a few memorable projects but the Hyde Park painting was a very special project because it was the very first mural we painted with nothing but oil paints from Daler-Rowney and is quite possibly the very first oil paint mural in South Africa! 

If we were to take a wander into your studio what materials would you find and why are these important to your practice? 

Firstly, you'd see a couple of large drawers full of all varieties of Daler-Rowney's amazing oil paints. I paint very thick textures so I need LOTS of paint for my work! I also love using my Edge Pro Paint Book and a large variety of Daler-Rowney brushes and other than that probably a whole array of weird and wonderful mark-making tools that I use to get my signature textures.  

What is it about Georgian oil paint that makes it your paint of choice?

I'm proudly sponsored by Daler-Rowney and can honestly say that I was using their paints long before we started working together. Their Georgian paints have a lovely quality to them that I've really enjoyed experimenting with and using on all my canvasses and smooth panels and I'd definitely suggest giving them a try to anyone thinking of starting out or who's never used them before. 

We’ve been speaking to quite a few artists over the last 5 months about how lockdown has affected their creative production. Some found it quite productive, some it found it great time to reflect over their entire practice and others said their creativity was diminished by it. How have you found the last 5 months since lockdown hit.

It has been a bittersweet period for me because I was meant to fly to Denver in the USA to have my very first solo exhibition and then fly to North Carolina, USA to paint a few murals and later fly to London to do paint some more murals and backdrops for fashion brands with the help of Daler-Rowney but everything obviously got put on hold when Covid hit. So that was obviously disappointing but did still manage to have my solo exhibition, which I'd encourage anyone interested to take a look at on my website: www.stefansmit.co.za

Finally, what has the rest of 2020 got in store for you?

With international travel still being banned here in South Africa, I've been doing more remote work with clients which I'm still so grateful to technology for allowing me to do and I'm currently looking towards my next solo exhibition for 2021 when I'm hoping to be able to travel again!

Here's a trailer for Stefan's upcoming solo exhibition with Abdend Gallery which you can see here.

Feeling Inspired?

See more of Stefans incredible work here.


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