Catalogue entry

Richard Smith b. 1931
T01161 RIVERFALL 1969
Inscribed on central canvas turnover ‘R Smith 69 RIVERFALL’.
Oil and polyurethane on five canvases, overall dimensions 90×270×14 (228.5×685×35.5).
Presented by the Friends of the Tate Gallery 1970.
Coll: Purchased by the Friends of the Tate Gallery from the artist through Kasmin Ltd 1970.
Exh: Kasmin Ltd, November–December 1969 (no catalogue numbers); British Pavilion, XXXV Venice Biennale 1970 (10, repr. in colour).
Lit: Edward Lucie-Smith and Patricia White, Art in Britain 1969/70, 1970, p. 155, repr. in colour p. 84; Anne Seymour, ‘Richard Smith’, in Studio International, CLXXIX, 1970, pp. 256–61, repr. in colour; Richard Smith and Anne Seymour, ‘Preoccupations’, edited conversation in catalogue of British Pavilion, Venice Biennale 1970 (reprinted in Art & Artists, V, June 1970, p. 29, repr.).

Serial forms, blurred focus, deep greens, weight, and the shaped canvas, long-standing preoccupations of Smith's, are combined in T01161 with more recent concerns—sprayed paint, and an interest in textures which transform perception of the painting as paint on canvas.

In ‘Preoccupations’ (loc. cit.) the artist stated:

'With Riverfall there are veils of colour which are very difficult to focus on. If you brush colour on surface to surface, edge to edge, it has a tangible quality. No matter how thin it is it still has this kind of quality. With spraying the surface really goes out of focus. It is a large painting and in a way kind of casual.

The qualities that come together in that picture are very difficult to see as a system for me. I have never been concerned with having a particular system.

'The recent show [at Kasmin Ltd, November–December 1969] was basically a green show. I think green is a very difficult colour to use, but it has tremendous versatility, kind of hidden depths. It has in a way unwanted associations like underwater. If a thing gets that close you can't deny it.

'As some of the paintings have got much bigger part of the experience has to be in walking by, you can't really get it all by standing at the far end of the gallery. They demand a close inspection as the paint incident is only visible close up. I paint very large paintings for a feeling of enclosure, to occupy the total vision and to make the full gesture of the hand visible. They do become architectural in scale, rather like some kind of grand facade in a narrow street, but for a painting to be architectonic is not something I intend.

'I think the quality of the suspended thing gives emphasis to weight almost by denying it. There's something unnerving about a bulky thing suspended on the wall: it can fall.

'Making a single painting on several stretchers is often to do with the sheer technical problem of not being able to stretch canvas round particular configurations, or not being able to get canvas wide enough, or not being able to get paintings through doors. But making them on separate canvases also directs the kind of forms that one becomes involved with. The sequence of forms is never very diverse within a painting. They are all very slight variants...

'It is a density of colour that I value now, and have really liked all the way along. In a way one got seduced for a time by the forms that one was making by stretching canvas. These forms were the dominant thing. One just wanted to cast a coloured veil over them. But now I don't want the thing to look like canvas, like cotton duck. I want it to look silken or earthy or towel-like. The ability of paint to mutate/modify the appearance of material: this quality is what I think about in the paint now.

‘I find a spray far more erratic than a brush, but this is in a way lack of experience. I only started using one in the last year. It's something I did with the intention of covering large areas very simply, but I found that I can brush quicker or more satisfactorily. One thing it did reveal to me was the way when you brush paint on you bend down the nap of the canvas when you lay it down. But when you spray it on it picks up the nap of the canvas, so it's all revealed and standing up. I've been using a variety of paints recently— epoxy paints and polyurethane paints—and these get to a much harder surface, so when the paint dries this nap is like steel wool. Then in a way you're setting up a new material to work with. The cotton duck has become very buried. You change the character.’

The stepped progression used in T01161 is echoed in ‘Plum Meridian’ 1968 and inverted in ‘Amazone’ 1969. It is directly anticipated as early as 1963 in ‘Re-Place’. The form of T01161 as a whole is almost precisely echoed in a lithograph of 1970, ‘Horizon 5’.

Published in:
The Tate Gallery 1968-70, London 1970