Richard Asbjørn Smythe is a landscape painter living and working in the south of England.
His pictures of the area around the South Downs in Sussex are painted in an impressionist style reflecting an interest in light conditions and atmosphere. His work combines clarity of form with richness of texture, and betrays a seriousness of purpose often absent in contemporary art.
He is also a designer and illustrator, and in this capacity works with a number of Black Metal bands. He has designed the cover for a forthcoming compilation CD, Leoþhord I; Hwit Wyrm Arisan ofer Angelcynne, profits from which will be donated to the Steadfast Trust, the only charity seeking to benefit the ethnic English.
Could you give some information about your background?
I have been drawing since I was a young lad. I grew up in quite a rural setting so always used drawing to keep myself amused. I wasn’t very academic at school so I suppose drawing become the sort of thing that I could say I was ‘good’ at. I was awful at most other subjects at school so I always took pride in the fact that I could at least draw reasonably well. As I got older and started to think about careers I originally wanted to be an animator as I used to like comics and cartoons. But I never really knew that you could make a viable career out of art, so I put it aside for a few years and headed in a completely unrelated direction.
When I was deciding what to do at university I ended up applying to a computer science degree. I am not sure what was going through my head at the time because like I said, I was never that great at school, particularly maths. I lasted a year on that course, ended up messing it up and dropped out.
At this point I realized that I should have done something to do with art. Somehow I managed to get myself onto a design degree. I completed that and then took a masters degree in art and design specializing in illustration. I really enjoyed this. After that course ended I had a brief stint as a freelance illustrator. I managed to get represented by an agency and did a few jobs for them. I then decided that, although I loved to draw and make pictures, painting was my true calling. So I quit my illustration career and started again with painting. I have now been painting for about 2 years and have not looked back!
Which painters would you say have influenced you?
I am a big fan of the impressionists. Particularly Monet. But I also really like Turner, Corot and Inness who really capture atmosphere.
Your paintings are very accessible and can be appreciated by anyone, unlike a great deal of modern art. Are you conscious of trying to avoid the pretentiousness and hubris of the contemporary art world?
I guess my paintings are simpler to interpret than modern art. What you see is what you get. I just try and paint the mood and the light the way I see it and try to add a bit of feeling in there too. I am not sure if it’s me trying to avoid modern art or not. I think it’s just that I don’t need to try and do something that seems ‘new’ and ‘revolutionary’.
What sort of modern art impresses you?
I find it credible that some artists want to push the boundaries and experiment. There is a sculptor called Andy Goldsworthy who makes fantastic sculptures out of leaves, and stones and other organic material. I find this quite appealing.
You seem to be obsessed with painting landscapes. Is there something specific that draws you to this subject?
The landscape is very important to me. I grew up exploring woods, running through fields and jumping over streams. In that respect the landscape sort of defined me as a person. I have grown up to always appreciate nature and the beauty of it. I have always had some strange connection with the landscape.
You seem to be concerned with the history of the places you paint. For instance, on your blog you explain the Old English etymology of a place that you have painted. Why is this important to you?
History is very important to me. I find it interesting to know the origins of the places that I paint. I also find it very inspiring that these areas were inhabited by other people before us. I feel also that it is my responsibility in a way, to provide the viewer with some information about the place that I am painting. Most people who buy my work are from the area near where I painted, or are familiar with it.
Would you say that there is a spiritual aspect to your work?
I think so, yes. I have always had some kind of connection to the land, and I am certainly happiest when I am out in the woods completely isolated. I like the fact that landscapes have secrets and stories to discover. Maybe I just have an over-active imagination!
You have done some design work for some Black Metal bands. How did this come about?
I enjoy making logos for bands, and doing the cover work. Black Metal Bands have some of the best graphic design I have ever seen. Many also use artwork from famous painters. I know that one of the Burzum albums has a Theodore Kittelsen picture as it’s cover.
Your cover illustration for the compilation, Leoþhord I; Hwit Wyrm Arisan ofer Angelcynne, is a wonderful work that reminds me of some of Frank Frazetta’s paintings. Some people might object that this belongs to a “low” art, or “pulp” tradition as opposed to a “high” art tradition of landscape painting. Do you think there is any merit to such a distinction?
Frazetta was a very talented artist. And I suppose this is where it’s hard to judge because to me, someone like Frazetta has infinitely more talent and skill than some of the modern artists of today like Damien Hirst or Tracey Emin. There is a lot of snobbery in art, which is why I tend not to follow the art scenes. I think a lot of fine artists look down at illustration because it is more ‘commercial’. It seems to me that a lot of modern artists adopt the whole ‘I only make art, for art’s sake’. When in reality the modern artists such as Hirst are among the richest artists in the world. I read somewhere that he is worth something like 250 million pounds, which is a staggering amount for someone that just cuts cows in half and displays them in a gallery.
The proceeds from Leoþhord I will be donated to the Steadfast Trust. Why do you think this charity is deserving of your support?
I have never come across a charity like the Steadfast Trust. I like what they are doing and think that it is important too. With immigration spiraling out of control and the merging of various cultures, I think it’s very important to keep alive the native culture.
Editor’s Note: You can view more of Richard Asbjørn Smythe’s work at: http://richardsmythe.wordpress.com/