Colin Smith’s exhibition The Square Root Of Minus One to re-open Riverside Studios


Hammersmith’s Riverside Studios today announces the reopening of the building with a new exhibition featuring the work of renowned British artist Colin Smith. It is set to open throughout the public spaces at Riverside on 17 May 2021, running until 1 August, and is intriguingly titled The Square Root of Minus One.

Smith’s work is included in the permanent collections of galleries and museums around the world – including the Tate, the Sharjah Museum and Art Gallery in the UAE, and the Museum of Modern Art in Tel Aviv, as well as in numerous private and corporate collections. This is a rare chance to see his work in London as he is currently living and working in Belgium, and has spent much of his career living in the USA, Sweden and Spain.

“Colin brings a powerful imagination to his work which is simply beautiful and thought provoking,” Riverside’s Creative Director Rachel Tackley said. “We’re absolutely delighted that he has agreed to exhibit with us and share his vision with our visitors.”

Smith draws on the everyday for the subject matter of his paintings, which are deliberately enigmatic, leaving the interpretation in the hands and imagination of the viewer. “One of the joys of Colin’s work is that it is immediately visually accessible while still being complex and multi-layered. As a viewer we feel both safe and challenged at the same time,” Tackley said.

The exhibition aims to “Reposition the Real or Everyday which we necessarily take for granted, yet so often remain unexamined,” says Colin Smith. “There is no one meaning to any of these works other than that which the viewer brings to them. Only rarely will the titles give any hint as to an intention, and usually just state the obvious.”

To explain the role of the artist in the world, Smith leans on the words of playwright Samuel Beckett who said: ‘To find a form that accommodates the mess, that is the task of the artist now.’

This sentiment underpins the selection of work in the exhibition which opens at Riverside on 17 May and runs until 21 August. Riverside Studios is reopening in line with government advice and following current social distancing guidelines. The exhibition is free to all visitors.


“The title is a poetic interpretation of the role of this imaginary number used in Mathematics to render a Real Number a Complex one. It is a delicious coincidence that the symbol is the lower case i which in its small way suggests the Subjective.

“The literal content of these paintings is of less importance than is usually expected. It is simply another element in the mix of formal elements – colour, tone, touch, scale etc. The apparent identity of the recognisable can be deliberately ironic (Paradise Valley) or even a false lead. There is an attempt to make simple essential imagery which hopefully becomes all the more memorable because of it. Only rarely will the titles give any hint as to an intention, and usually just state the obvious. As Richard Wollheim elegantly understated in an essay on my work ‘Subject matter is complex’. It’s not possible to depict anything without summoning the demons of Narrative. We seem to have a voracious need for Narrative to help make sense of experience and these paintings apparently hint at some underlying or even overt story. They knowingly do this yet only to undermine and confound it. In that sense they are Anti Narrative and don’t attempt to tidy up, explain or make any sense at all. The imagery has a sense of having been observed, yet is invented, mediated and is completely artificial.

“The language of painting employed is unashamedly sensuous, at times exuberant, is often at odds with the overall mood of melancholy. It acts as a Lure to hopefully seduce and to some extent is an end it itself. The work is as full of contradiction, as slippery as my own grasp of what any of it adds up to. Subject matter, Life, Art, all very complex.”

‘To find a form that accommodates the mess, that is the task of the artist now.’ Samuel Beckett

RIVERSIDE STUDIOS has a long legacy and reputation as a boundary-pushing home for the arts and creative expression. This dynamic cultural venue is home to a confluence of theatre, film, music, dance, comedy, visual art, enterprise, innovative technology, events and hospitality – a constant stream of inspiration where creativity and community flow.

For over 40 years, Riverside Studios has brought the world to West London with a programme of theatre, dance, television, comedy and music. Some of the unforgettable figures who have appeared at Riverside include Samuel Beckett, Helen Mirren, Tadeusz Kantor, Yoko Ono, David Bowie, Amy Winehouse, Ant and Dec, Benjamin Zephaniah, Robert Lepage, Allen Ginsberg, Margaret Atwood, Lenny Henry and Michael Clark.

Riverside Trust is a charity, aiming to present high-quality arts that are accessible to all.

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