Chris Lewis Smith and I first met in a print room in Great Dunmow, Essex. It was 2005. The White Stripes were playing. I was impressed by that fact as I liked the band. Chris was working with a chap named Pete. A stocky, former weightlifter who had a great sense of humour. Chris struck me as being very grounded yet untypical for the role he was in.
Chris was born on the 18th April 1953 in Bishops Stortford, Hertfordshire. He was educated at Bishops Stortford High School before leaving to attend Ware College (now a university).
I like his art for its limitless acceptance of what it is you should and shouldn't paint. All too often artists tend to club together. They create movements that can sometimes feel bogus. That isn't to say that there haven't been many such movements I have enjoyed or who have pushed the medium forward. Of course, there have but Chris, like many I guess, seems to be a gang of one.
This interview was conducted via Facebook's Private Messanger. I have tried, where possible, to refrain from editing it in any way.
Russell CJ Duffy
Right then. Let us begin.....We've known each other off and on for, would you believe, eleven years. In all that time I only had the vaguest notion that you painted. I think Dave may have mentioned it but I never knew to what extent. The question is I guess why? What drove you to paint?
Painting and drawing is something I have always done. The first person to encourage me was my teacher Miss Bull at primary school, she gave me the great honour, I still feel proud to this day, of allowing me to paint Gredell's mother on our classroom frieze depicting Beowulf. Later my art master Mr Whyard took me under his wing. I am still in contact with him and see him often. At college my tutors were John Tobin and Peter Hibberd who was one of Henry Moore's technicians. Don't think any of that explains why I paint, I don't even always enjoy it if it all goes wrong! I just keep at it.
So painting for you is a natural urge. Something you are driven to do?
Absolutely. The more I do the more natural it becomes. Sometimes a painting comes along that really works and I have this feeling of not knowing where it came from and it fascinates me and I have to keep looking at it. I can never replicate this type of painting. One offs.
How would you describe your art? To me it is figurative. Lots of landscapes and animals. Yet there are other elements in there.
Yes it is figurative, but I find I am playing with the images more and more
I think it is the 'playing' with it I like. What or rather who inspires you?
My favourite quote as regards "playing" is from the artist David Jones who said " My method is merely arse around..." I'm not sure who inspires me, that changes all the time...what inspires me is things I see, and then I work at putting them together in paint, ink or watercolour. Keeping at it inspires me, keeping working and maybe there will be inspiration and the picture will work.
I can understand that. I have often been asked who I class as my influences and in truth they are many but they change from day to day. I also tend to find that I keep on finding new inspiration.
OK. So you have no hard and fast artistic influences. What about favourite artists? Or does that vary from day to day too?
Henry Moore, William Blake, Samuel Palmer, Turner, Constable, Francis Bacon, Graham Sutherland, Renoir, Otto Dix, Rembrandt, Van Gogh, Goya, Mervyn Peake, David Jones...that's mainstream list. But as you say it does vary.
Had you been around at the time you would have, still do in fact, fit in nicely with the Stuckist movement. I love bacon. Try some Keith Vaughan. What do you think of the Brit Art thing?
Maybe I have always been a Stuckist. Brit art was okay
I first remember meeting you in the print room along with Pete. You had The White Stripes playing. I was very impressed. Do you play music when painting?
No I don't play music I find it distracting, however I did play Black Star repeatedly when I painted my Spaceman pictures.
Same here, when I write, I have to have complete silence. Do you have a studio?
My daughters old bedroom...I suppose I can call it a studio! I am considering a studio in an arts complex. A good working environment with other artists and creative people.
I think having other, like-minded, people around helps no end. When Dave and I worked together, apart from the pleasure of being in his company, his art inspired my writing. Would you be happy to share, though? It's kind of intimate the actual process of creativity isn't it? I mean the point when your thoughts and brush put paint onto canvas?
Yes you are correct. I like nothing better than spending time with artists, but not so much when I'm working. I also like having a few beers with artist friends as well.
Your work is very...organic. It strikes me as being virtual 'improvised.' You have a core of a thought then go for it. Is that right?
Wow Russell that is very insightful! I just dive in...sometimes I only have half an idea and the image works itself into view. They are the best ones. They are the ones that surprise me. The ones that I don't know where they have come from.
It's a bit like Jazz then. You tend to go with how your heart guides you. Do the results ever shock you? Maybe surprise you is a better term.
All the time. The downside of this method is sometimes it just does not work, so I paint over the canvas and use it again.
Sort of like a palimpsest?
Yes and I like something to show through.
You also seem to approach your work with fair degree of flexibility. A lot of what you do, or so it seems to me, features nature. It might be an animal, badger, fox, whatever or a landscape. From this platform you then strike out in another direction. What I mean is you start from a natural perspective but with given latitude that enables your art to go from animal portraits to landscape to the heavens. A wide range of styles -including abstract surrealism. i.e 'Starman.'
Exactly...a key word for me is undergrowth. The other word is stars, as in the Moby song..."We are all made of Stars"
Like the Zen saying "Heaven and earth and I are of the same root, The ten-thousand things and I are of one substance." A connectivity. Is yours a spiritual journey or just an examination?
Big question, I could base my whole life, and probably have been, on that quote. Painting my pictures is a journey and my way of trying to understand the way of things.
Me too. Probably why I like your art Just read Tao Te Ching and The Analects. Both make a great deal of sense to me. Have you any exhibitions coming up?
Thank you. Making plans and working on my next series of paintings, so later in the year.
You must let me know when and where. I'd love to attend one. Having completed Spaceman 3 any plans for the next one?
Yes, one idea leads to another.
Looking forward to seeing that next idea when it materializes.
Russell Cuts the Corn From The Brewers Whiskers.