vragen aan Robert Smit in Engelse vertaling van ( translated by ) Susan Janssen :
Ten questions put to Robert Smit in 2021 by gallerist/curator Rob de Vries about Then & Now!
The world of the visual arts and that of jewelry lie quite far apart, but not in your case. A coincidence?
As soon as an ornament's function of being wearable is no longer what it's all about, the step towards the visual arts is not far away. “Everyday Adornment” in 1975 was that kind of decisive moment for me.
You were born during the war in Delft in 1941, making you a toddler when the Netherlands were liberated in 1945. Later on you liberated the drawing. Could one say that you wanted to free yourself from something (an enemy or tradition)?
If so, then certainly within the tradition of drawing.
You are referring to “Towards the Liberation of Drawings”, particularly the series of sheets where a chalk line sketched on paperboard was erased. Thus visualizing the idea that the preconceived image did not correspond with the sketched result.
The When Attitudes Become form, dating from the beginning of Conceptual Art, surely applies to you. No well-beaten tracks?
No. In 1958 when I was seventeen, I saw the work of Piero Manzoni in Rotterdam. My first impressions, introductions were his Achromes, and the relief works of Enrico Castellani at Hans Sonnenberg's Gallery Delta in Rotterdam. And in Gallery Orez in The Hague (run by Leo Verboon and Albert Vogel). Unforgettable!
Later, it was in 1961, I saw a picture of Manzoni's “Socle du Monde”. That's when I thought all the work preceding this had become unnecessary. These were my very first encounters with the arts. A great time. One you never forget.
Did your association with Jan Schoonhoven influence your drawings? I myself would say it didn't. Schoonhoven had his motifs, patterns, repetitions, recurrent themes, sometimes drawn with a steady hand, sometimes also free-hand. His reliefs also became more austere over time, you are more inclined to search for freedom in your drawings. They are charged but also unlabored, natural, experimental, more basic. As an American, Cy Twombly made a connection with European art history, as a kind of bridge. How about you?
Jan Schoonhoven was important in a general sense. His work discipline and insight were examples to me of how art emerges and evolves.
The way the first serial relief came about was really striking, and when it
was almost finished it was subsequently demolished, destroyed.
It wasn't any good! But a new relief evolved immediately, a copy of the previous one, and that one was good. I witnessed all this and looked on in amazement.
Of course, when you are young you are influenced in everything you do. Lucio Fontana, who showed the vulnerability of the flat plane. As it happens, also Cy Twombly, who you mentioned, because of his fabulous hand.
I don't have any examples in the field of jewelry, actually. The steps taken
in that field occurred in Europe, not in the US.
Presently there's such an incredible amount of information available that new developments from wherever, will have an influence on young folks. No getting away from that. [No buts about it.]
You studied goldsmithing in Pforzheim from 1963 till 1966, you taught, you won prizes, exhibited jewelry in the Netherlands and abroad, your wife ran a leading contemporary jewelry gallery in the old center of Amsterdam for many years, so you must have seen lots of jewelry. You knew that world. Did you realize early on that your work was quite unique and incomparable?
Yes, but it's all about the click, the rapport you have with other people. With gallerists, museums, collectors, friends.
Usually interest is aroused when a different view or conception gains validity.
As was the case with my “introduction” of gold in work made round about 1984.
The generally received “jubilant” view about the so-called democratization of jewelry, the imperious dogmas about how things ought to be and other short-sightedness, took a slight knock.
Unique is a working method as far as I am concerned.
As a rule necklaces or neck-ornaments were displayed on the bare skin
above the bosom of a pretty woman. You chose painter Rob van Koningsbruggen as a model. Seems typically Robert Smit to me. It can and should be done differently, no well-trodden paths, is that it?
No, but I knew Rob van Koningsbruggen for a long time.
It is precisely his vanity and contrariness, his natural beauty and vulnerability that make him an ideal model.
The “Towards the Liberation of Drawings” project at Orez (Mobiel) in The Hague in 1978, where in one year, you made a different exhibition each month in those large rooms of the gallery, ten months in a row, a hell of a tour de force, did you know exactly what you were going to make, or did you also improvise?
The work evolved as I went along, and in itself it followed an understandable route, which is clearly visible in retrospect.
The cooperation with Leo Verboon was exceptional and in a class of its
'Don't hang it too high, lad,' still rings in my ears sometimes, with him nodding his approval while holding a glass of sherry in his hand.
And he could really strut around.
Leo had a lot of knowledge, was a great story-teller, and didn't open the door to just everybody.
Once he didn't let an art critic in, while remarking to me: 'A good dog rings twice.'
The show in Wales was a surprise that year because I wanted to continue when the gallery closed for a Spring break.
Let's not talk about this whole corona business. Museums being closed is a drag, but staying inside isn't unusual for a visual artist. Are you busy with your art every day?
Generally speaking I'm always working.
Considering my health I stick to the current regulations. It's a lousy time in many respects.
In the exhibition Buiten (Outside) in Haarlem you show 5 framed photographs. The background of the photos is a rippled stretch of water, with a design floating on it for what looks like a compounded ornament, placed on a diagonal with a vanishing point top right.
How did you arrive at this form of presentation?
The image is composition of 2 photographs:
the first one is a reflection of a cluster of clouds in the water,
the second photo is of an object without any specific characteristics.
It was drawn gradually and computer-generated from a series of works exploring color.
I became interested in the opposite color.
--------- February 2018. I see the opposite color as a supplement to that color: the reverse side? upside down?..... a new identity.
It is as if the color acquires a completeness which, in my eyes at any rate, wasn't there before; as if the color achieves a certain volume, a certain weight, mass.
In reality this isn't the case of course, but I can imagine it.
It is like the manifestation of metal with a mat or otherwise glossy surface. In many ways it is the same, but it can nonetheless have an enormous effect on how you observe it -------
Choices regarding lighting, shade and saturation of color, are in line with my commitment to and my partiality for this marshy landscape.
At times it's just as if the light is absconding with the landscape.
In “Letter to Madonna delle Dolomiti” * you made a group of works that can also be seen as sculptures. I know these works dating from 2013 from your Padova catalogue. A vertical strip of metal sheet, maybe 1 mm thick, its shape folded in such a way that at each end a part is folded over, at the bottom at a right angle, at the top less so, but both in the same direction. The bottom surface can be put on a table for instance, and in the middle, going up, halfway, there is a small bend, to make the vertical object more stable probably.
* cover: Brooch 2013 cat. Padova
Madonna delle Dolomiti
In August 1980 I heard her sing.
We were on our way to Amsterdam, coming from- Venice.
I was driving and riding on route 242 between S. Cristina
and S. Pietro.
It was night and the sound was coming from the car radio.
An Italian yodel of the most exquisite kind.
The quality of her voice was beyond all comparison.
Even if I had been able to understand the language, the
lyrics would not have mattered at all, their significance
being absolutely secondary to her voice.
The meaning of the song for me consisted in the
These sounds and intonations produced an unprecedented sense of enchantment.
When the song was over, I believed myself to be in
This moment of beauty and enlightenment has never
left me since.
In my current work, I search for a similar kind of purity and excitement. My fellow-passengers, Wim, Karel and Kees, were
asleep when she was singing, so I had the sound of her
voice all to myself.
When I, all excited, told them about this experience of sheer
bliss afterwards, they looked at me incredulously.
Robert Smit (October 2006)
Question 10A: reserve question
How do you look at the today's art, where politics, matters of race, the slavery past etc.
seem to be the main issue, instead of interesting concepts, beauty?
You find these kind of politically motivated statements not only here, but around the whole world. It all feels a bit forced, contrived.
Translated by Susan Janssen