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David Smith: Reflections on Ice

David Smith: Reflections on Ice

8 August - 6 October 2012

Tabular Iceberg by David Smith (SPRI ref Y: 79/2)

David Smith (1930–99) was a great modern interpreter of both landscape and the sea. His artistic vision is fresh, unconventional and always captures the spirit of place. His extraordinary images of Antarctica, the results of two extended voyages to the British scientific bases there, are amongst his best known works. His fascination with the sea also took him across the globe to Japan, as well as around the shorelines of Britain.

Born in Lowestoft, Suffolk, in 1920 to a fishing family, he was commissioned to sketch on bomber raids over Germany during wartime service in the RAF. He felt that he learnt little at the Slade, where he studied after the war. Nevertheless, he went on to a distinguished career as an art teacher, which included 14 years at the Chelsea School of Art, from where he retired as a senior lecturer in 1979. At the end of his career he became a greatly respected teacher of etching at the Camden Arts Centre.

RRS Bransfield by David Smith (SPRI ref. Y: 79/1/18)He was invited to be the Official Artist on the British Antarctic Survey's (BAS) annual relief voyage aboard RRS Bransfield in 1975 and BAS invited him back for a much longer (seven-and-a-half- month) voyage on his retirement from Chelsea. The extensive series of oil paintings which resulted from these voyages was exhibited at the Commonwealth Institute and illustrated Gordon Elliott Fogg's book The Explorations of Antarctica (1990), to which the Duke of Edinburgh contributed a foreword. Smith brilliantly captured the hidden intensity of colour locked in the pristine cleanliness of the polar desert, as well as the details of everday life on the ships and bases.

Impressed by his work in Antarctica, the officers of Trinity House approached him with the mammoth task of recording the lighthouses of England and Wales. Smith's images of the British coastline were very different from his Antarctica work. He firmly believed that the style of a work should be determined by the atmosphere the work attempts to capture. He was happy to admit that his work drew on a wide range of sources, saying that he 'ploughed a zig-zag furrow'.

The exhibition is open daily 10am-4pm, Tuesday to Saturday, excluding Bank Holiday weekends.