Gordon Smith: The Black Paintings

October 21, 2017 - February 4, 2018

Gordon Smith

Pachino 43, 1993

acrylic on tarpaulin

Collection of the Vancouver Art Gallery

Gift of Leon and Joan Tuey

Photo: Rachel Topham

Gordon Smith (b. June 18, 1919, Hove, England) is one of Canada’s most influential and compelling painters. His practice spans over seven decades and he continues to paint to this day. Though primarily known as a landscape painter, Smith’s complex oeuvre can be characterized as one of continued, rich and varied artistic exploration. Above all else, at the very core of Smith’s work is a love of painting and paint itself—texture, colour, form and brushstroke.

Beginning in 1990, Smith began producing a body of work described as the black paintings. These works, abstractions often with collaged elements, sometimes refer explicitly to his wartime experience when he was wounded at Pachino Beach in Sicily in 1943. The series marked a departure in Smith’s practice through the use of text, symbolism and personal content, essentially absent elsewhere in his work. Strikingly different from his landscape images, the black paintings have a depth and emotive richness, which reveals itself only with close observation. These are densely painted, darkly abstracted paintings, punctuated with occasional colour, text and collaged elements that reveal his ongoing interest in how paint looks and feels and how gesture reverberates when expressed through paint. Smith’s later black paintings see forms abstracted even further as memory and biographical associations are buried within layers of paint. The black paintings lay bare Smith’s notion that “painting should be a re-creation of an experience rather than an illustration of an experience.”

Organized by the Vancouver Art Gallery and curated by Ian Thom, Senior Curator–Historical

  • Gordon Smith

    Tanu, 1995

    acrylic on canvas

    Collection of the Vancouver Art Gallery, Acquisition Fund

  • Installation view of Gordon Smith: The Black Paintings, 2017, Photo: Rachel Topham, Vancouver Art Gallery

Visionary Partner for BC Artist Exhibitions:

David Aisenstat

Generously supported by:

Eric Savics Lesley Stowe and Geoffrey Scott

Additional support from:

Maohua Chen Yafei Li Jiantao Zhao