Lionel Smit: Artist

I think the important part is just to create the work. Have endurance and perseverance. Just keep on trying.


Lionel Smit

Today we introduce you to Lionel Smit, a contemporary artist living in Cape Town, South Africa. His paintings have a way of capturing emotion while his larger than life sculptures are truly a sight to see. We contacted Lionel for an interview so we could meet the artist behind such captivating works.

EotB: Your portraits are so mature and detailed, how long have you been an artist and how did this journey begin?

LS: My father is a sculptor so I grew up around a studio environment and somehow just always continued to do art. I then started taking it more seriously when I went to art school and it all developed from there.

EotB: You live in South Africa, how much or little do your surroundings influence your artistic style?

LS: I think space is the biggest influence of my immediate surroundings, once my studio spaces started getting bigger it changed my process in making art. I can prolong the periods of time that I work on multiple pieces at the same time.

IMMENSE by Lionel Smit
Oil on linen
Photo provided by Lionel Smit

EotB: Has the turbulent history of Cape Town influenced your art?

LS: Definitely, when I moved down from Pretoria my surroundings started to change not only in the landscape but in the people I saw. And I have had a strong focus on the Cape Malay community as it was so unique to the area with a rich history. 

EotB: What compels you to paint portraits? Especially the female likeness. 

LS: I’m not completely sure… I have always enjoyed portraits, but I’m not sure why I paint more women though.

EotB: Tell us about your studio and creative process. 

LS: My studio is in Somerset West just outside Cape Town and it was built in 2018. I structured the space to be like an art studio and display area. I still try to continue the process of creating multiple disciplines of work in various areas, such as screen-printing, sculpting, and painting.

EXPAND by Lionel Smit
Oil on linen
Photo provided by Lionel Smit

EotB: Identity is mentioned repeatedly throughout the bio on your website. How do you identify as an artist?


LS: I think I was very fortunate that I grew up around creative people so I don’t really know how I identify, rather than just thinking that it is pretty normal (my normal).

EotB: What led you to the use of multi-colored patinas in your bronze sculptures? How long did it take to perfect this method in your work?

LS: I started off thinking I was going to become a sculptor but steered away and started painting. I continued for about 10 years before I returned back to sculpture. When I returned to sculpture from a painters perspective the surface and the color of the bronzes became important as well. I continuously experiment with patinas on the bronzes. It’s quite hard to “perfect” a patina, as it is such an organic process.

Images from current exhibit VERSO
Photo provided by Lionel Smit


EotB: What is most challenging for you in the process of creating a sculpture? 

LS: The fact that you need to work in a team to create something big, which ends up becoming much more technical than a painting would be.

EotB: We love how emotionally provoking your art is. What do you want others to feel when they see a piece of your work?

LS: I am not sure, I don’t think I can pinpoint what I want people to feel, I suppose it is more about what I am feeling at the time that directs the work. Art is very subjective, so I’m sure people feel different things towards the same artwork.

ABSORB by Lionel Smit
Oil on linen
Photo provided by Lionel Smit

EotB: Do you have a current favorite piece, and if so please talk to us about how it came to be and why it is your favorite?

LS: From the new online show I have a few favorite areas on pieces but it is hard to say, I think to EXPAND from my new exhibition VERSO. I have been returning to the way I used to paint but approaching it from a different angle.

EotB: Have you ever experienced failure in your career and how has it influenced you as an artist?

LS: Yes, I have had many failures. For instance, being rejected by galleries. I think the important part is just to create the work. Have endurance and perseverance. Just keep on trying.

Images from current exhibit VERSO
Photo provided by Lionel Smit

EotB: Any one of your pieces would be a treasure. How would someone go about purchasing your work? 

LS: I am represented by Everard Read in South Africa and London. People can also see updates of my upcoming shows on my website. One can also email hello@lionelsmit.co.za with any inquiries.

Visit Lionels Instagram to see more of his sculptures and paintings. You can also visit his website for more detailed information about him and his current exhibit titled VERSO. To view the virtual tour of VERSO lick here.

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