‘It feels very poignant that his last exhibition should take place in Letchworth’ – tributes to artist Richard Smith

Richard Smith has died at the age of 84.

Richard Smith has died at the age of 84. - Credit: Archant

A layer of poignancy has been imprinted onto the opening exhibition of Letchworth’s Broadway Gallery and Studio after the death of one of the town’s most famous sons.

Internationally acclaimed artist Richard Smith – whose exhibition of paintings and sketches launched the rebranded gallery in February – died in New York from heart failure on Friday at the age of 84.

The Letchworth-born printmaker – who last visited the town in the 1990s – rose to the forefront of the emerging avant-garde scene in London more than 50 years ago, by melding the vibrant imagery found in advertising billboards and consumer packaging with an abstract style of his own making.

In tribute to the man the New York Times described him as ‘one of the most original and accomplished British artists of his generation, with a ravishing sense of colour and formal restraint that stood in marked contrast to the more emphatic, polemical American style’.

Securing a collection of the artist’s work from The Flowers Gallery was a sizable coup for the team tasked with breathing new life into the refurbished former Letchworth Arts Centre in The Arcade, and visual arts curator Laura Dennis is honoured to have showcased such an esteemed artist to the town.

“It feels very poignant that Richard’s last exhibition should take place here in Letchworth, the town of his birth, and which he held in strong affection throughout his life,” Laura said. “He had spoken to me of travelling to the UK to see the exhibition this spring, once the weather was a little warmer, and he was curious to see the town again.

“Richard had shared with me many fond memories of Letchworth including rollerskating outside the Broadway Cinema as a little boy, playground jokes about the school photographer called ‘Clutterbuck’, and his happy family home on High Avenue.

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“Although I feel terribly sad that I will now never meet Richard, I also feel deeply honoured to have had the opportunity to show work by this wonderful artist during his lifetime.”

A book has been placed in the Gallery where tributes to Richard can be made by visitors.

It will then be sent on to his family after the exhibition closes on Sunday, June 5.

Laura added: “Given the many warm comments we have already received I am sure this book will be a comfort to them.”

Richard is survived by his wife Betsy, sons Edward and Harry, daughters-in-law Camille and Bernadette, and grandchildren Rose, Emma, Noah, Adeline, Charlotte, and Julia.