Steve Smith: 'Who are the trusted?'. Curator Nick Vickers — 23 Nov to 22 Dec 2012

A survey curated by Nick Vickers

23 November to 22 December 2012


Glenn Barkley, curator at Museum of Contemporary Art (MCA), on the world of underground comics, anti-heroes and back lanes, Saturday 24 November 2012

Curator Nick Vickers on Steve Smith, 'Through the looking glass', Saturday 1 December at 3pm

'The essence of Steve Smith’s images and the dream-like entities in his paintings and drawings are not taken from fiction, but are a blend of the reality that he observes each day travelling from his beloved Bondi and around the suburbs of inner-city Sydney. Working as an anonymous sign writer, painting to order, he disappears into the world within the looking glass, melding comics and street life into pre-apocalyptic propositions.

'Where Are The Strong? at The Cross Art Projects located in a back lane in Kings Cross, one of Sydney’s few project spaces crossing "art and social issues", is a brilliant match of artist, venue and location.' Nick Vickers exhibition catalogue.



Steve Smith turns a peripheral vision onto Sydney’s laneway life in an intense installation of paintings and drawings selected by curator Nick Vickers as a kind of 'mini-survey' of recent works and hallmark works. Steve Smith paints the marginal citizens performing on the streets of any large city (musicians, dominatrices, grounded aviators, boxers and of course tattooists) in situations normal and abnormal, usually glimpsed in reflections in reverse view as while sign writing 'you are invisible'. The portraits, for they are all portraits, carefully marry the luminosity and clarity of Quattrocento oils to the eyeball-scorching drop shadow of biker tattoos and custom hot-rod graphics in his backgrounds. For locals, these mean streets are a composite of Smith’s favoured haunts around Bondi to Kings Cross, Redfern and thereabouts.



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Steve Smith, Who are the trusted? Peace, love & understanding, 2012. Drawing, 144 x 151 cm Steve Smith, Flying Doctor with pilot (part 2), 2012. Drawing, 80 x 60 cm
Steve Smith, Three Sisters, 2012. Drawing,  90 x 55.5 cm   


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Steve Smith, Hairdressers (2012). Oil on canvasn 76 x 61 cm Steve Smith, Skate Angels with skate goddess at a cake shop (2003). Oil on canvas, 152 x 101 cm Steve Smith, Bongo twins with parents (2003). Oil on canvas, 75.55 x 55 cm  


Nick Vickers describes this as the world within the looking glass. Like many satirists and social observers, Smith’s images are often hilarious about tragic plights or strange circumstances but they are, ultimately, transcendent. The title, a homage to singer songwriter Jimmy Little’s version of a Nick Lowe song '(What’s so funny about) peace, love and understanding’ is woven into the text from banners to signs. Somewhere, we hope, peace and love and understanding can be found.

About Steve Smith

Steve Smith arrived in Victoria Street in Kings Cross from Perth, towards the end of the famous Green Bans sit-in to save tenanted housing. Steve took to counter-cultural activities, actions and signwriting, sketching street characters and the darker arts of the comic art form. He was encouraged by a neighbour, artist Frank Littler, to attend art school where he met exhibition curator Nick Vickers. Alexander Mackie CAE, (now Sydney’s COFA) was in its heyday with the house band Mental as Anything and its own magazine, illustrated by Smith and company. Steve Smith also drew for Eddie, Pounding Tales and other classics of Australian underground cartooning, including Frank Littler’s one issue only 'Loon Smirks' still sold at Watters Gallery -

Steve Smith has held many exhibitions at the not-so mainstream Mori Gallery and Ray Hughes Gallery. He is a finalist in the biennial Jacaranda Acquisitive Drawing Award at Grafton Regional Gallery (closing on 2 December 2012, then touring to regional galleries in NSW and Queensland). He divides his time between his Bondi studio and signwriting.



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Steve Smith, Pizza Dance Club (2001). Oil on canvas Steve Smith, Evolutionary Duette Part 1 (2003). Oil on canvas, 101 x 61 cm Steve Smith, Walking the dog (2012). Oil on canvas,           83 x 70.5 cm  


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Steve Smith, Idols examining their goals, 2006. Oil on canvas, 30 x 25 cm Steve Smith, Fundamental evolution with a broken cup, 2006. Oil on canvas, 30 x 25 cm Steve Smith, Lornie and Bonnie with stuffed discs, 2006. Oil on canvas, 25 x 30 cm  


Download exhibition catalogue: Steve Smith: Where are the strong by curator Nick Vickers, 2012




Steve Smith Survey installation shot