Frans Smit merges portraiture and street art through stylised oil paintings

Blurring the boundaries between portraiture and street art, Frans Smit’s recent work was exhibited at Urban Dawn Volume II in Lebanon. Playing around with colour and texture through oil paintings, the artist’s focus is mainly on portraiture and still lifes, which blends in a degree of abstract.

We caught up with Frans to chat urban art, Beirut, and the benefits of experimentation.

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‘Ginger’ 100 cm x 100 cm , oil and spray on canvas. Featured in Nando’s Art Collection.

Tell us how you got involved in Urban Dawn Volume II

About a year ago I started chatting to an art patron, Mateo Mize, in New York and he started following me on Instagram. He turned out to be one of the curators of Urban Dawn Volume II so that was my foot in the door. Last year Urban Dawn was held in Almaty, Kazakhstan and this year it ran for a month in Beirut, Lebanon. The month-long show featured a selection of curated artworks from both established and emerging young artists from the region and around the globe. Much of the work on view was linked to the urban environment, drawing heavily on graffiti traditions and street art.

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Portrait of a Russian girl in a blue dress. Oil and spray on canvas 90 cm x 95 cm. Featured in Nando’s Art Collection.

Did you go? What stood out for you in your Beirut experience?

Yes, I went to Beirut for six days. The opening night was fantastic. It was held in a new loft apartment that was still a shell of a building under construction.  It allowed for contact between poor and rich and was surrounded by buildings that are still abandoned as a result of the war. The people in Beirut were very friendly, the food was incredible, we were taken all around, and it’s a great city. Also, I sold two of three artworks, which was a good feeling.

after-velazquez-juan-de-pareja-120-cm-x-120-cm-oil-on-canvas
After Velazquez, Juan de Pareja, 120 cm x 120 cm, Oil on canvas.

Tell us about the other artworks on display.

A lot of the art had an urban graffiti vibe. Amongst those exhibited were big names like Shepard Fairey and Retna who are major league players, so to exhibit amongst them was wonderful. 

after-rembrandt-portrait-of-a-young-woman-1632-90-cm-x-95-cm-oil-on-canvas
After Rembrandt, Portrait of a young woman 1632, 90 cm x 95 cm, Oil on canvas.

You exhibited three portraits that blur the boundaries between traditional portraiture and street art, and beautifully blur the faces of those featured. Tell us about these.

Earlier this year I exhibited in London. I was there for two weeks and went to many galleries, and at the Lazarides Gallery there was this painting that referenced old masters but felt like you were looking through frosted glass. That’s where I got the idea to use old masters as subjects. I started with small ones, and they started selling like crazy. Since then I’ve been experimenting with other artists. I look through books, and I see what resonates with me, and then I paint. 

after-rembrandt-peale-portrait-of-rosalba-peale-1820-oil-on-belgian-linen-38-cmx-49-cm
After Rembrandt Peale, Portrait of Rosalba Peale 1820 , Oil on belgian linen, 38 cmx 49 cm.

You’re currently a member of Nando’s Artist’s Society. Does this make a positive impact on your career/development as an artist?

I’m very grateful for the Nando’s Artist Society. As an artist, it gives one the opportunity to experiment and play – and to get paid for it. Of course, the work has to be of a high quality. 

I think a lot of artists are reliant on this Nando’s initiative. One can always bargain on selling good work, and thus this creates the confidence for an artist to focus solely on art making. I think it has done great things for South African art through the exposure it creates for artists, as well as by giving an artist the opportunity to earn a living doing what they love. 

Frans Smit is represented by Art in the Yard in Franschhoek and Maddox Gallery in London.

Find more by Frans Smit on his Instagram and website

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