Bob and Roberta Smith is the adopted persona of the artist Patrick Brill. Born in London in 1963, he studied Fine Art at the University of Reading and later at Goldsmiths College, London. He was an Artist Trustee of Tate between 2009 and 2013, and he is currently a trustee for the National Campaign for the Arts, and a patron of the National Society for Education in Art and Design. He was elected to be a Royal Academician in 2013. Recent exhibitions and commissions include: Yorkshire Sculpture Park, 2015; Butler Gallery, Kilkenny, 2013; Plymouth Arts Centre, 2013; Fourth Plinth: Contemporary Monument, London, 2012; Pierogi Gallery, New York, 2011; Beaconsfield, London, 2009, Tate Britain, London, 2009. Smith lives and works in London.
Bob and Roberta Smith (1958 – )
Smith’s work spans a variety of genres; painting, performance, music and even cookery and Do-It-Yourself, and is infused with a subversive humour. Many past projects and performances have involved participatory elements, sharing similarities with the Fluxus movement of the 1960s. I Believe in Joseph Mallard William Turner is one of Smith’s many ‘I believe in’ texts, this time proclaiming faith in the celebrated British 18th and 19th century landscape painter JMW Turner. Smith’s work operates around a miss-spelling in Turner’s name: usually referred to by his initials, the replacement of ‘o’ from Turner’s middle name (Mallord) with an ‘a’ constructs a malapropism, as a Mallard is a common type of duck. Both laudatory and levelling, Smith plays the fool, as if to provoke a response in the viewer. Smith teases contemporary anxieties about the relevance of painting as medium, using flat painted text as a direct and cheery communication tool. He painted the signs, he says, ‘because I believe in People and their creativity.’
Smith’s signs draw on sculpture and performance. I Believe in Joseph Mallard William Turner is a single panel resting informally on the floor – hinting at a past life as a sandwich board or shop sign. An enthusiast for rubbish and everyday things Smith paints on boards scavenged from skips or the streets. A panel has been sanded down and given a white ground, upon which the lettering stands out, a spectrum of bright colours. The joggled placement lends them a jauntiness, while the drop shadow of the block capital typeface is a simple graphic technique that pushes the letters forward, redolent of fairgrounds and comic strips. Speaking in 1997, he said ‘In England we define ourselves by our jobs far too much and I think we ought to define ourselves by the reality we want to construct around ourselves – define ourselves by the things we enjoy rather than the things that earn us money.