Ian Smith, artist and performer
Ian Smith (1959-2014) was an artist, performer and artistic director, founding the acclaimed Glasgow-based performance company, Mischief La-Bas, with his wife, Angie Dight in 1992. He studied Expressive Arts at Brighton Polytechnic, graduating in 1981 and, as a self-proclaimed ‘Art Gangster’ and mischief maker, Smith used a multitude of art forms throughout his career including visual art, performance, street theatre, dance, comedy, cabaret, compering and music, forming close working relationships with Liz Aggiss and Billy Cowie, both long-term staff at the Brighton Art College, .
Smith was born in Bexley, South-East London in 1959, attending Ravensbourne Art College between before studying at Brighton Polytechnic, where he invented a fictitious youth cult called Monolizm (1979-1980), which gained media attention and influenced Smith’s practice of manipulation of reality in public spaces.
He became an established figure in the local performance, music and cabaret scene, and part of the experimental Zap Club for cross-media performances, art, dance, music, comedy and cabaret. Emerging as permanent compare at the club, these skills were used whilst touring with the anarchic French circus troupe Archaos in 1990-1991 and for the National Review of Live Art (NRLA), where he performed the role of Master of Ceremonies for many years.
In the 1980s, Smith toured extensively, notably as the frontman for the band, Birds With Ears formed with Billy Cowie, and as part of the dance company, The Wild Wigglers with Liz Aggiss. During this period, Smith exhibited his artistic creations known as ‘Pulptures’, described by Smith as ‘like sculptures but not as good’, in Brighton and Wolverhampton, before moving to Glasgow and setting up the interactive performance company, Mischief La-Bas.
On the occasion of the 150th anniversary of the Brighton College of Art in 2009, Ian Smith wrote:
“My main activity at present is as Artistic Director of Mischief La-Bas performance company, based in Glasgow and founded in 1992 with wife Angie Dight. The company presents up to 200 gigs a year, mainly as interactive walkabout theatre, although I regularly devise large-scale art projects whereby artists from a variety of disciplines are invited to collaborate.
“The latest, Peeping at Bosch, was created with partners the National Theatre of Scotland and Tramway, Glasgow, and we are investigating the possibility of expanding the show into a full sized outdoor perverted theme park. In the meantime, I am currently creating a full size theatrical street market, the Market of Optimism, for Liverpool European City of Culture 08, which will be adapted for transfer to Scotland in 2009.
“I continue to devise my own solo performance/installation pieces and also act as associate and long-term Master of Ceremonies for the National Review of Live Art.
“I think it is fair to say that I have never deviated from the aims of the original Brighton expressive arts course (if there were any) of which I was part of the first year’s intake. Bemused tutors, perhaps not sure how this ghetto course would develop, pretty much had to deal with loose cannons as they arose. I lost no time in forming a band (Birds with Ears) with music tutor Billy Cowie, and prancing about with incoming dance tutor Liz Aggiss (of The Wild Wigglers) even though I was supposed to be concentrating on theatre and fine art. This scattergun activity made its way into the public domain via the Zap Club.
“To this day I acknowledge no boundaries between art forms, and continue to make bold and naïve suggestions for collaborative practice at the international level. If anything, the outcome of being given that early chance to explore mixed media practices in Brighton has meant that, after 30 years, I am such an experienced jack-of-all-trades I can perhaps claim that to be an art in itself.
“Creating contexts for cross-fertilisation not only expands possibilities for individual collaborators (who may otherwise work in solitude) but also means that the public can appreciate the work in public spaces. Accessibility and even humour are often seen as poor cousins in the art world. They are not. They merely signify that the artist is not afraid of communicating with the public. It is all smoke and mirrors.
“Which I did learn on the theatre course.”
Ian Smith, 2009