Jack Smith, the Kitchen Sink realist painter who turned abstractionist has died age 82. Smith was one of four artists associated with the Beaux Arts quartet, a group formed in the early 1950s in London. Others in the group were John Bratby, Edward Middleditch and Derrick Greaves. Their particular brand of realism was highly acclaimed by both critics and the public. The four all exhibited at Helen Lessore’s Beaux Arts gallery in Bruton Place. All were given solo shows which helped to elevate their careers. The critic David Sylvester coined the name Kitchen Sink School in the December 1954 issue of Encounter magazine and they became forever associated with the label, which was uniformly loathed by the four artists.
Smith had only recently graduated from the Royal College of Art in 1952 and was still experimenting with his style, finding himself in the dingy throws of post war Britain. He was born in Sheffield and educated at Netheredge grammar school before moving on to Sheffield college of art in 1944. In 1946 he was called up for national service in the RAF, somehow contriving to combine being a teleprinter operator with servicing flying boats. Study at St Martin’s School of Art in London followed in 1948 and, from 1950 he attended the RCA, where two of his tutors, John Minton and Carel Weight, undoubtedly encouraged his inclination to paint subjects from his own life.
In 1956 Smith showed a group of five paintings in the British Pavilion in the Venice Biennale, alongside the other three Beaux Arts realists, the abstractionist Lynn Chadwick and Ivon Hitchens. This was a turning point in his career. The following year, he won first prize at the first John Moores exhibition in Liverpool, with his painting Creation and the Crucifixion. It was well received. His later abstracts, often compared to hieroglyphs or musical notations was an exploration that was to occupy him throughout the last 50 years of his life. In 1971 Smith became the youngest to have a solo show at the Whitechapel Gallery. His change of direction had alienated Lessore, but in the following years he had shows at Marlborough Fine Art, Fischer Fine Art, the Mayor Gallery and the Grosvenor Gallery, among many others, as well as around the world. From 1990, Smith showed frequently at Flowers East in Kingsland Road, east London.
Mother Bating Child 1953 (see photo) is one of a series of paintings of the same subject all done in 1953. The artist afterwards destroyed the others. It was this particular theme which prompted the label of ‘Kitchen Sink’ painting – a description disliked by the painters concerned. Smith has commented on his work of the 1950s ‘The art of the 1940s in France and England didn’t excite me. I reacted against its lack of creative energy. So like many artists before me I turned to my own environment for subject matter … I wanted to make the ordinary miraculous. This had nothing to do with social comment. If I had lived in a palace I would have painted chandeliers’. Photo: Collection Tate Britain