5th to 17th September 2017

ARO Gallery, Darlinghurst, Sydney, Australia

Video of exhibition: Click here

Kingsford-Smith artistic practice identifies the trans-historical cultural assumptions underpinning seemingly unrelated artistic traditions. The belief that at the end of our earthly existence that there will be an afterlife was common to the religious and or spiritual beliefs of most cultures. The artworks in the exhibit signal both Egyptian tombs and medieval European art that represented the relationship between the sacred and the profane. These cultural references are combined to demonstrate the extent that existential concerns transverse both disparate paradigms of thought and religious doctrine. In this exhibition he invites viewers to contemplate their own spiritual beliefs by way of comparison to earlier cultural understandings of human mortality.

This exhibition consists of an adult female in the fetal burial position seated on a wooden block. She is surrounded by her personal effects and the artifacts required for her journey into the afterlife. 19 framed etchings, titled ‘Scenes from daily life,’ line the gallery walls alluding to the ancient Egyptian practice of painting scenes from the life of the deceased onto the walls of their tomb.

Both the female figure and her grave goods are inscribed with narrative paintings that represent the imagined life journey of the female figure and the collective understanding of the human condition associated with both ancient Egyptian and medieval European cultures. The sources of the narratives are highly diverse and complicate the division between individual and collective memory. Kingsford-Smith combines narrative associated with fundamental dimensions of human experience (the cycle of life, love, despair, etc), rituals associated with ancestor worship, burial, the impact of the dead on the living and mythological representations of the relationship between the earthly and heavenly realms. He also draws on contemporary narratives to draw out the lingering impact of ancient spiritual beliefs on present times.

There is a consistent colour palette and range of imagery painted on both the female figure and her grave goods. This establishes that they are woven into a common narrative thread and that the significance of the objects is bound to their symbolic role in the life of the female figure. Painting representations of the inner life of female figure onto her body dissolve the division between her inner world and the outer world of appearances.

The status of the installation as a portrait of the female figure is ambiguous and does not conform to the general expectations of the genre. The female figure is shaped into the crouched/fetal burial position common in the pre-Christian period and in Peruvian Inca mummification burials. While some of the narratives painted on the figure and her grave goods represent individual life experiences, and convey a sense of an individual’s life journey, they are in fact representations of a category of experience and the artist’s fictional account of a woman’s life. This complicates the understanding of the burial scene as a site of memorial for a specific individual. What is provided instead is an oblique representation of the artist and of the collective cultural inheritance of the viewers.

The diversity of cultural sources signalled in the narratives provides a self-portrait of Kingsford-Smith’s imaginative life. The connections between the cultural sources of the narratives are lateral and are driven by the artist’s personal interests and explorations. Why are we drawn to disparate ideas, cultures, and artistic traditions? The complex matrixes of imaginative and intellectual explorations that we make during our lifetime are a vital source of our sense of self and help us to comprehend our place in the world and its history.

The installation instigates a dialogue with the deep historical roots of western culture. Kingsford-Smith’s desire to work in relationship to traditions and identify continuums within them can be viewed as the product of our existential desire to connect our individual contributions to something larger and more significant. Tradition itself can be viewed as a type of afterlife for those who have participated with it – the life of the artist lives on in the streams of cultural knowledge produced and extended by others even when their name and individual biography falls from history.

Historical perspectival and pictorial conventions have a critical role in the installation as the artist uses them to signify the belief systems and spiritual frameworks associated with them. Kingsford-Smith appropriates archaic pictorial conventions to question the hierarchical status awarded to them and by association the cultural framework they grew from. By reviving and elevating medieval pictorial conventions he questions the hierarchical importance awarded to the perspective systems developed during the renaissance and the emerging
tendency to reduce reality into terms compatible with mathematical models.

Signalling diverse cultural traditions associated with burial practices Kingsford-Smith seeks to create a vehicle for the viewer to reflect on their own relationship to spiritual ideas and their mortality. The interplay between historic and contemporary visual references forms continuities and also allows the viewer to be aware of the specificity of their beliefs by way of contrast or identification with past beliefs and traditions. The horizons of the other, is used to bring the horizons of the viewer into presence.

(Paul James, Victoria University of Wellington, NZ)


Notes on the grave goods:

Statues: There are 4 female and 1 male naked statues. In Egyptian burial practise these statues could stand in for the body of the dead person and family in the afterlife if the body was destroyed. Nakedness of the statues clearly expressed a wish for resurrection with sexual organs intact. A naked woman found may have been intended to function as a sexual partner in the afterlife. A male statue might symbolise/represent her husband in the next world.

Large wooden box and small box with folding lid: These boxes are the storage required for clothing and bedding the tomb owner will need for the afterlife.

Dog, rooster and horse: In Mexican burial practise a dog was required to lead the tomb owner through the afterlife. The Rooster and Horse mirror the practise of burying the tomb owner’s needs in the afterlife. Warriors/village chiefs from early Britain were often buried with their horse and more rarely their chariot. Egyptian tombs often had model ships, bakers, fishers, etc all needed in the afterlife.

Pottery: These are the storage, eating and drinking vessels needed by the tomb owner in the afterlife. These were specifically made by a potter to my designs.




Lineage: An exhibition of painted sculpture

7th to 20th September 2016

m2 Gallery, Surry Hills, Sydney, Australia

Video of exhibition:  Click here

Lineage Man has been selected as a finalist in the Contemporary Art Awards 2016. Click here

We live in a culture where the perpetuation of family ancestral lineage and the family as a social institution are central. By making babies, we continue life’s pageant. In children, we cheat death. Yet something seems fundamentally very wrong, or incomplete, with this idea as humans. To find meaning only in child production seems an affront to human dignity and potential, individual differences, and personal choice (Kingsford-Smith).

The exhibition consists of a male adult astride a chair with his three babies positioned at his feet. The adult male stares into the void, his distant gaze demonstrates his psychological detachment from his offspring. Kingsford-Smith has painted a complex range of narratives upon the figures, which represent life narratives, historic myths associated with procreation, the cycle of life, ancestor worship, archetypal experiences (love, despair, faith, etc) and more personal levels of experience. In this exhibition Kingsford-Smith explores the complex reasons why people choose to bear children and challenges the assumption that the perpetuation of genetic bloodlines is the most meaningful form of human connection and lineage possible.

The visual coherence of the narratives painted on the figures, within the exhibition, suggests that they share the same bloodlines and are bound to the legacy of a families’ history. Through the narratives Kingsford-Smith has painted on the figures he has signalled the role that children have within their parents’ attempts to reconcile themselves with their own failings, traumas, disappointments and their complex relationships with their own parents. The parents’ desire for their offspring to have a better life than they have had, or to be raised in a different way than they were, can be interpreted as morally ambiguous, as the parents are using their children to work through issues associated with their own childhood.

Kingsford-Smith doesn’t seek to critique those who choose to raise children; he aims to engage with wider models of human connection and alternate understandings of how lineage can be formed. To achieve this he undertakes a number of strategies. He locates the validation of procreation in historical context (myths and narratives associated with fertility and bloodlines), complicates the division of self and other (specifically the relationship between personal and collective memory) and offers an alternate understanding of lineage centered on the continuum of fundamental levels of human experience.

In keeping with the pictorial strategies adopted in his previous work, Kingsford-Smith has combined pictorial narratives associated with the perspective of the individual with those associated with collective understandings of the parent/child relationship. He weaves narratives that reference ancient myths that valorise fertility and virility as ways of valuing people with narratives that question the moral justifications of procreation. This strategy emphasises the role of historical narrative in determining our understanding of the family unit, lineage and which members of society we view as valuable. Hovering in the background of the work is the cultural spectre of the history of advocating or deterring procreation for the sake of the nation state.

Challenging the historic value awarded to fertility and procreation Kingsford-Smith suggests alternate ways of understanding both how we connect to others and human lineage. He does this by highlighting the unstable division between self and other.

This occurs on a range of levels; firstly the relationship between parent and child and secondly the relationship between individual and collective experience. The child is presented as both an extension of the self/parent (by the transmission of genes) and as a means to fulfill the goals the parent failed to achieve. By painting closely related narratives on the figures, Kingsford-Smith conveys the sense that the parents’ horizons and aspiration have been projected onto their children. The parent/child relationship is represented as co-dependent.

The division of self and other is complicated by Kingsford-Smith’s model of portraiture. His painted figures challenge conventional expectations of portraiture. The division between personal and collective memory and self and other are problematised by the work. The generic features of the figure do not represent a specific person. The life narratives painted on the figures do not relate to any particular individual; they are a composite of various peoples’ life narratives. In an oblique way Kingsford-Smith’s selection and combination of pre-existent narratives and archetypes constitutes an oblique form of self-portrait. His selections demonstrate his preoccupations.

On the broader level the division of self and other is blurred by the way that individual experiences are rendered intelligible by connecting them to the horizons of a culture, and to the history of representations of fundamental levels of human experience. The movement between individual and collective experiences emphasises continuums within human experience and the range of attempts to award meaning to them. Locating individual experience in context of collective memory makes us recognise that the depths of our personal experiences have been already been uttered within representations produced by those who have preceded us.

In context of this exhibition the term ‘lineage’ refers to both the genetic and paternal connection between father and his children and to the broader lineage of the history of representations of family connections and common life experiences.

The affective role of art is often dependent on the possibility recognizing the self through the mirror of the other. When Kingsford-Smith suggests that procreation is an inadequate answer to a meaningful life he suggests that there are alternate ways of understanding human connection and what it means to contribute to a lineage. Lineage in this exhibition is presented as our collective effort to make sense of our existence through narratives and art.

(Paul James, Victoria University of Wellington)




Mappa Vitae (Life Maps)

Mappa Vitae: An exhibition of painted sculpture

7th to 11th July 2015

Sheffer Gallery, Darlington, Sydney, Australia

Video of exhibition: Mappa Vitae video

Mappa Vitae (Life Maps) provided an alternative representation of how a subject scripts themself. Kingsford-Smith represents the subject’s life narrative rather than their external appearance as traditional portraiture does. He depicts the aspects of the sitter’s life that are the most significant to them; key relationships, experiences, events, places, buildings, animals, etc. As with recollected memories these narratives are distorted, amplified, fragmented, and often involve the compression of time and the juxtaposition of locations and countries. The narratives he paints are intended to provide insights into the subject’s inner world.

The ‘Life Maps’ offer an alternative form of portraiture to that provided by traditional psychological portraits that privilege the careful observation of appearances. Kingsford-Smith represents the narrative of a subject formed out of the transformative process of memory and recollection.

The conceptual and formal basis of the ‘Life Maps’ series were developed out of the study of two historical precedents, which offered alternative way of conceptualizing the relationship between the visible and invisible dimensions of reality. Namely the Hereford World Map (1300 approx) and upper Paleolithic European rock art. These disparate sources orientated the ‘Life Maps’ towards a symbolic vision of reality, within which sensory appearances are conceived as a medium through which higher concepts can be accessed.

The Hereford World Map represented how medieval people saw the physical world around them. It is a spiritual and historical map, which conveys the teachings of the Bible and depicts the wonders of history and legend. Cosmological, ethnographical, geographical, historical, theological and zoological information all come together in a single composition, crowned by a religious scene intended to lead the viewer’s thoughts to God. Over 1,000 inscriptions and almost as many painted scenes and symbolic decorations combine to create a strange and unfamiliar world: a world in which France is below the Red Sea, where Jerusalem occupies the exact centre and where a rhinoceros is as likely or unlikely an animal as a unicorn. This reveals a heroic ambition on the part of the mapmakers – to create both an encyclopaedia and meditative aid in one document.

The Hereford world map informed Kingsford-Smith’s ‘Life Maps’ in three primary ways. It influenced the way he thought about the ways in which diverse areas of knowledge could be conflated to provide a holistic representation of a subject’s understanding, and experience, of reality. It also informed the formal development of the pictorial narratives present in the ‘Life Maps’. Symbolic, as opposed to illusionistic, conventions of pictorial representation have governed his use of hierarchy of scale, and his deployment of narratives to determine the arrangement of fragments. More significantly, it is evident that the medieval sense of how the spiritual and physical worlds intersected has influenced Kingsford-Smiths relationship to representing life experiences. He has reflected on how experiences gain symbolic significance within identity formation. He also gives weight to the lenses through which we view places and people. The ‘Life Maps’ emphasis the dynamic relationship between the phenomenal world and our transformation of it within the formation of our life narratives. The works in the series provide as much a representation of a way of seeing, as a portrait of the sitter. The otherness of medieval horizons gave him insight into the limits of our current fields of vision.

Kingsford-Smith drew on David Lewis-Williams academic scholarship on rock art who proposed that Paleolithic European rock art owed its inspiration, at least in part, to trance experiences (altered states of consciousness) associated with shamanistic practices. He conjectured that shamans during this time period believed that the animal spirits were in an underworld and that the surface of the wall was a membrane separating them from it. By making the paintings, he surmised that the shamans believed that they could bring those spirits through the wall and communicate with them.

Kingsford-Smith was inspired by the idea that art could act as a membrane through which the spirit/inner world could be accessed. It was this image that informed the conceptualisation of the relationship between the figures and the narrative painted upon it. The figure is reduced to a mask – the inner/invisible world of the sitter is represented through the painted narratives and given hierarchical weight over the realm of appearances.

(Paul James, Victoria University of Wellington)




Pilgrimage: mortal life viewed as a journey

Mortal life viewed as a journey
6th to 17th February 2014
Gaffa Gallery, Sydney, Australia

Our lives are punctuated by events that take on symbolic significance. The role of these types of events within the narration of our lives is a central theme of the exhibition.

There is a continuum between our lingering need to narrate our lives and the historic role of myth in comprehending the significance of collective experiences. Drawing on insights from comparative mythology, experiences have been isolated that have historically been attributed with symbolic significance by diverse cultures, such as the ‘Warmth of Others’ or ‘Touch the Ocean’.

The works in the exhibition focus on the connectedness of humankind, the mystery and magic of human experiences and the five elements: earth, water, fire, wind and void.

(Paul James, Victoria University of Wellington, New Zealand)

Exhibition Brief

Works in the exhibition include eight paintings (oil on wood panel) and fifteen etchings (intaglio) 42 x 32cm.








Dreams In Captivity

Dreams in Captivity

12th to 24th March 2013

Global Gallery, Paddington, Sydney

This exhibition of Ian Kingsford-Smith’s exuberant and whimsical artworks explores the ways that memories are constructed. Within this series of paintings and prints he represents his earliest memories of his London childhood spent in Lewisham. The border between personal and collective memory blurs within the artist’s research processes. He shapes faint memories – sifting them through family records and public archives – in an attempt to locate moments of recognition within the wider body of representations produced by others. The inner world of the artist’s childhood was shaped by imagery from popular culture, which coloured his experience of the external world. Reconstructing memories of his childhood was also a process of reconstructing the broader collective imagination of the community he inhabited. The artworks explore how our ability to represent the depths of our personal experiences is over-determined by the body of representations contained with family records and the public realm.

Kingsford-Smith explores how we use dreams and fantasy to escape mundane reality.  Images of glamorous people, evoking old Hollywood, hover in front of gritty urban landscapes comprised of anonymous terrace houses and gasometers, which operate as markers of Lewisham’s industrial past.  The figures are psychologically disconnected from one another; their sightlines seldom meet, they either look blankly into the middle distance or towards the viewer of the artworks. The gilded lifestyle these figures represent is undercut by the use of pictorial devises, such as accelerated perspective and strong saturated colours, which emphasize the artifice of representations, suggesting that we are witnessing the moment prior to the collapse of the fantasy. This evokes the artist’s experience of the research process within which he attempted to separate out facts from fantasy. It is, however, a mistake to read this as evidence of the artist’s dependency on a model of reality that can be measured empirically. While the desire to retrieve memories of childhood governs the work, the pathway towards reconstructing this distant level of experience is complicated by the understanding that fantasy (both personal and collective) is a vital part of the inner level of our experience of reality. The work as a whole can be viewed as reflection on the complex role of representations in both the formation and retrieval of memories of childhood.

(Paul James, Victoria University of Wellington, New Zealand)

Works in the exhibition include five paintings (acrylic on wood) 830 x 660 and fourteen etchings (intaglio) 400 x 320.



Australian Stories

Australian Stories: An exhibition of paintings and painted sculpture

13th to 1st April 2012

Global Gallery, Paddington, Sydney

In this series of works Australian Stories Kingsford-Smith has appropriated pictorial representations of Australian history from the archive and recombined them in a manner that challenges the established hierarchies of official history. In contrast to post-colonial artists such as Gordon Bennett who created critical and polemical ‘history’ paintings, Kingsford-Smith evades making didactic statements and instead presents a relatively subjective and playful relationship to the archive and the historical narratives it is entrusted to preserve. Key moments in Australia’s history have been combined with imagery of animals and other motifs, which appear peripheral if not tangential to the central historical narrative. Several elements in the paintings appear to be selected by personal impulse or because of their connection to personal memories. To some this may appear to render the paintings unintelligible – what should the viewer pay attention to? Which elements in the paintings are significant and which are incidental? The apparent arbitrariness within the work becomes more intelligible when we reflect on the model of history presented by the artist’s practice. In his essay The Light of the Sud-Ouest the French theorist Roland Barthes provided evocative descriptions of phenomena, such as weather, asserting the importance of being attentive to what is presented as either insignificant or outside the concerns of the official history of the region. In Kingsford-Smith’s work The Kelly Saga, Ned Kelly is given less hierarchical importance (by way of size and position) than images of less famous and momentous significance within Australia’s history. The artist, like the viewer, encounters history through the filter of their own horizon, which is formed from both shared cultural fields and more subjective and psychological dimensions. While what is conveyed in the series of paintings may not meet expectations of those seeking coherent historical narratives, it does provide a representation of the artist’s encounter with the archive and the processes involved in reconciling oneself with the narrative structure of history.

(Paul James, Victoria University of Wellington, New Zealand)

Works in the exhibition include six paintings (acrylic on wood) and ten painted horses (acrylic on papier mache). The six paintings are titled Explorers, The Eureka Incident, The Kelly Saga, Bushrangers, First Ships and Settlers.


Dingoes: An Exhibition of Linocuts

Dingoes: An Exhibition of Linocuts

12th April to 1st May 2011

Global Gallery, Paddington, Sydney

These works evolved from a series of drawings the artist made of dingos at Taronga Zoo in 2001. They also include bats from the Royal Botanic Gardens. The work can be seen as a stylistic development of Kingsford-Smith’s expressionistic landscapes in his 2010 ‘Trees on Paper’ exhibition. Here he has sought to create a dimensional aspect to the print surface by emphasising textural surfaces and edges with the layering of block and ink.

The Print Process

The sixteen works are hand printed using the reductive lino cut process. Cut from a single lino block, the work is progressively cut away as each colour is printed. A total of seven colours are layered on the print, one on top of the other, from yellow through to black.

With the final cut and print the lino block cannot be used again. This process ensures a limited edition print run. Each work has a print run of three, one of which is framed for this exhibition.


Trees on Paper

Trees on Paper

16th to 28th February 2010

Global Gallery, Paddington, Sydney.

The artist has endured rain, cold, wind and sun over five seasons of 2008/09 to produce this body of work. The ‘Trees on Paper’ exhibition expresses energies created by trees, land and light and their emotional impact. The vibrant colours and the unique style evident in each work are a dynamic interpretation of the landscape with its own harmony and power. The work is completed in a single sitting en plein air. The artist often returns to the same location over a number of weeks or months to study the changed mood, light, weather and seasons. The artist likens his almost obsessive interest in the same subject to Cezanne’s interest in Mont Sant-Victoire which he visited time and time again to work on the same view of the same subject. This body of work is the result of a persistent and self-critical approach over a number of years revealing a unique style and vision. The thirty two works are created using Albert Durer , Faber Castell pencil on archival paper.