The Company We Keep: Frans Smit

The Company We Keep is a column on the CN&CO blog that profiles some of the most interesting people in our networks. Here we share the details of the lives of people we know, showcasing the extraordinary diversity of our society and proving that people truly are at the heart of everything we do. Our latest blog showcases South African born and raised artist, Frans Smit who is fast becoming one of the rising stars within the South African art community. 

CN&CO has always been passionate about business and the arts specifically in the case of BASA. We continue to enjoy a close association with BASA, with Carel Nolte being a member of the board. As a business we have always been passionate about people and relationships.

Reflection on grey stripes

Frans Smit forms part of the broader CN&CO family.

When asked about Frans in our office, Rikus recalls the first time he saw Frans’ work, “I would love to one day own a piece by Frans myself but have to save a little bit to be able to have my own piece. Last year I attended the Turbine Art Fair with Caroline Waterhouse from RMB and Frans was one of the artists whose art was out on display, I took a picture and tagged Frans immediately!”

A close friend to Carel, Christelle Coleman once gave Carel a magnificent piece of art from Frans’ dilapidated flower collection and has been on display in Carel’s home in Stellenbosch.

With more than thirty exhibitions under his name and Absa L’atelier award nominee in 2008 and 2010, Smit’s artwork has been showcased locally and internationally. His focus is mainly on portraiture and still lives, which blends in a degree of abstract. His pieces are all oil-based artworks which demonstrate a balance between texture and palette.

Frans has many awards under his belt. To name a few: in 2013, he won the Queen’s Plate “Moments” Photographic Competition and received a Merit Award at the Vuleka Art Award; and in 2016 he spent 3 months in New York doing an artist residency.

That being said, I had the opportunity to find out a little bit more about Frans Smit.

  • Who is Frans Smit? 

I’m quite the introvert and have no problem being by myself. Hard working. Very competitive… one might not think it when you meet me… but I am. Love nature and animals. I’m a great cook… happiest when I have people around a table with a nice meal. Love travelling… luckily it is something I have to do often now with all my international exhibitions.

  • Where do you draw your inspiration from and why?

I will go onto Google and look at images of old paintings… I will immediately get excited about a piece when I see the image I will use… as if it reveals itself to me. I will always try push myself, I will know instantly when I make a brushstroke if it worked. If I don’t like it, I will work it till I’m happy. Otherwise, it will be scrapped. I tend not to look at other artists’ work too much, especially on Instagram; one can be influenced very easily. I’m trying to keep my progress pure to myself. While travelling I visit a lot of museums, it is always a great place to be inspired…hanging with the masters.

  • What are your thoughts about the relationship between business and the arts in South Africa?

I actually was sent an article about this topic by a friend the other day. 7 out of 20 contemporary artists today, born after 1940, are South African. I treat my art as a business. It is very important to see yourself as one. I did a BAA (Business Acumen for Artists) course through UCT Business school 3 years ago. They touch on topics from accounting to social media, marketing strategies etc. I found it has helped me tremendously. South Africa produces a very high standard of art: world-class. We should be very proud of ourselves.

  • You mentioned you took a leap of faith 6 years ago and quit your job to start painting full time – how was this experience for you? 

It was frightening… as I didn’t have any savings to fall back onto, I was a waiter for 8 years supporting myself while building a name as an artist. But as they say, when you close one door another one opens. As soon as I focused all my energy on my art, things started to happen. I won the Queen’s Plate photography competition, where I won a Leica M camera. It was worth R80k, I sold the camera and payed for my first solo exhibition at the AVA Gallery, from there one thing led to the other… I’ve never looked back!

  • What is integral to your work as an artist?

 Time and the freedom to do whatever the hell I like.. will never be able to work for a boss again. I have a lot of self-discipline. I work from 9 – 6 everyday, and sometimes on weekends, but I love what I do, so it doesn’t feel like working.

  • What is your favourite art work? 

I would have to say “Girl with a pearl ear ring” by Vermeer. I yet have to see it in real life.. hopefully one day.

  • Are there any artwork trends you are passionate about? 

Well I think portraiture has definitely made a comeback..

  • What does your artwork aim to say? 

    After Sargent, Portrait of Mrs Joseph E Widener

I think my work is quite playful, I use old masters as references, so people can identify and relate to the image, as it is already familiar to them. I bring in an element of street art with the spray, and break the image down to a more abstract level. I try to compress the visual information of the actual portrait, making the portrait anonymous in an abstract way.

  • What is the biggest challenge you face professionally? 

The production of the work. Currently, I don’t have an assistant; I do all the work myself. At this moment I work with 5 galleries, of which 4 are international, and I have another London gallery lined up as well a possible gallery in the USA.

  • If you had to invite a person, dead or alive, to dinner who would it be and why? 

Possibly Frank Auerbach; I just love his work, the application of the thick paint and his palette is very interesting. I’ve read a few books about his work, but will be great to hear it from himself.

With endless accolades under his belt, it is no doubt that Smit is a very well-recognised artist in local and international communities. I will certainly be joining those wishing to be an owner of one of his artworks in the near future!