Travelling Man at Harrisons

Celebrated Tauranga artist Richard Smith will combine with Harrisons Fine Art Gallery to take people on a trip around the world at his next exhibition.

The 57-year-old, a master of detailed New Zealand scenes in acrylic, will display up to 18 new paintings depicting subjects from as far afield as Vietnam, Nepal, France, Italy, Germany, Austria and San Francisco at Harrisons from October 3 to 27. There will also be two fresh works of New Zealand scenes.

The "Travelling Man" exhibition covers the last 10 years Smith and his wife Chris have travelled and promises to be eye-catching. "I'm looking forward to the show," says Smith. "It's been a new challenge and hopefully people like what I've put together."

Smith takes up to six photographs of each subject from different angles and then back in his studio he "puts it all together using my memories of the scene". "I can sit and watch a subject or take in a scene for quite some time which in the end might override what's actually in the photograph." He adds that the photographs are a reference point. "It's the knowledge of the subject that's important."

Some of the standout paintings lined up for the exhibition include a scene from a Nepalese village in the Everest National Park; a fabulous Western Australian tavern; a Vietnamese woman in a boat; a character-filled piece focussing on a San Francisco fire hydrant; a boat in Nice, France, decorated in balloons for a local festival; and a simple but stunning painting of a woman in Florence against the backdrop of a colourful wall. "She was heading home from work and she looked like she needed a stiff gin or a glass of beer," says Smith.

"I really enjoyed the Vietnam trip," he says. "My wife and I went with a group of friends last November. The food was great and the people were friendly. It was great having a new set of subjects present themselves."

Smith was originally a "plein air" oil painter following on from the Impressionists like Monet. "I'd find a quiet spot and set up and paint from sketches. Then I'd go home and get more detailed." But the onset of a family - he has three children - meant there wasn't time to spend on site so he turned to watercolour painting at night. "I eventually moved into acrylics and a different style altogether."

Although he has no formal art training, Smith has been committed to painting since his teenage years. Even before then, he had spent many hours in his father's boat-building workshop, observing and drawing boats under construction, developing the accomplished formal skills and techniques now so evident in his work. He has been influenced by American artist Edward Hooper and by a number of New Zealand painters including, Peter McIntyre. The solid compositional and drawing abilities and unerring sense of perspective that are demonstrated in their work is also a strong feature in Smith's.

Throughout his working life, which was spent predominantly in the marine and furniture-manufacturing industries, Smith sustained his passion for art. It became his primary focus in 2001 when he made the decision to paint full-time. Since then, he has participated in numerous group and solo exhibitions.

Smith's versatility leads him to depict landscape, the marine environment of wharfs and vessels, and buildings of character.

It was from his years spent in the marine environment, both through work and sporting activities, that Smith gleaned his knowledge of boats and of the mercurial nature and characteristics of water. He is able to capture the distinctive "personalities" of different boats and the elusive, reflective quality of the water around them. "I want water to look fluid and wet, as if you could dip your hand in ... or an old post so solid and textured that you want to reach out and touch it. An elusive goal but one I'm always aiming for," he says.

He describes his style as "contemporary realism, executed with a strong depth of space and colour, form and contrast".

The Fine Print

Exhibition title: Travelling Man - Richard Smith

Location: Harrisons Fine Art Gallery, 106 Eleventh Avenue, Tauranga.

Exhibition dates: October 3 to 27

- Bay of Plenty Times

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