Lionel Smit Exhibit Opens At MOCA

Artist Talks About Sculpting, Painting

Michelle F. Solomon


Artist Lionel Smit finds his inspiration in the residents of the Cape Malay community in South Africa. His colorful works are at the Museum of Contemporary Art (MOCA) North Miami through May 6.

Guided by influences of Francis Bacon, Lucian Freud and Andy Warhol work, he combines gestural brushstrokes, splattered and dripping paint.

"I usually create portraits from people who I see in the street. It's not someone very specific, I find people with a specific look and use that as a vehicle to convey something message or emotional quality," says Smit.

Smit was born in Pretoria, South Africa, and studied sculpture from a young age with his father, Anton Smit, who is a celebrated South African sculptor. Over the past ten years, Smit has established an international following and has been featured in exhibitions all over the globe including New York City’s Union Square, the Avenue Concept in Providence, Rhode Island, National Portrait Gallery in London, and at the Helsinki Art Museum in Finland.

"I think my work is not really about the portrait, and not about the people themselves. I probably draw more from the portraits then from an expression point of view by maybe expressing a bit of myself in them rather than trying to record them as people. At the same time, I'm also using the idea of who they are at the same time like hybrid identities, and the actual ethnic groups that I'm using."


In his works, Smit digs beneath the skin to unfold the multidimensional nature of the individual by creating colorful and inventive interpretations. Smit’s imaginative paintings, prints, sculptures, video and public installations focus on the residents of Cape Town, South Africa, in abstract and representational portraits. The frequent subjects of his works are from the ethnic Cape Malay community and are most often women.


Don't miss “Morphous,” a two-headed sculpture that makes reference to the female version of the Roman god Janus, the god of beginnings. The two faces depict the ability to see both the past and the future, and express how in which many ways the past shaped ourselves and the world around us. The 10-foot tall, bronze sculpture of a blue color resided in New York City’s Union Square in 2016.

His work sometimes appears unfinished. He explains why: I like the idea of fragmentation and I think that comes from a point where I used to work very classical and very influenced by classical painters like da Vinci and Carravagio. I took that idea and took the influences that I had later on like abstract impressionism that threw me into a whole different direction I'm trying to include the abstraction with that naturalistic form in the way that translates on an emotional level as well."


“We are delighted to present ‘Obscura’ by Lionel Smit for his U.S. debut,” says Natasha Colebrook Williams, MOCA’s Interim Director. “The artist draws the viewers into his portraitures by using mixed media in his paintings and sculptures. MOCA is proud to share this unique exhibition with our audience.”

Admission to MOCA is $5, but free for MOCA members and North Miami residents.


The Museum of Contemporary Art (MOCA), North Miami is dedicated to making contemporary art accessible to diverse audiences – especially underserved populations – through the collection, preservation and exhibition of the best of contemporary art and its art historical influences.

The Museum is located at 770 NE 125th Street, North Miami, FL 33161. It is open Tuesday–Friday from 11 a.m.–5 p.m., Saturday 1–9 p.m., and Sunday 11 a.m.–5 p.m. (closed Mondays and major holidays). Admission to the museum is $5 and is free to MOCA members and North Miami residents. For more information, visit, call 305-893-6211.

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