Features / Here 2016

How I Got Here: Bob and Roberta Smith, artist


Michael Driver

In the run up to It’s Nice That’s annual symposium, Here 2016, we’ll be introducing each speaker who will appear at the event. We have asked each of them to share an early piece of work and a recent project, to reflect on how they’ve progressed between the two.

Bob and Roberta Smith is the pseudonym of the artist, writer, author, musician and activist Patrick Brill. His career began as a sign painter in New York before following his father’s footsteps into the art world. Smith’s distinctive work uses typography as an art form to create slogans on colourful banners and placards.

He is a passionate advocate of design education, seen in his work Letter to Michael Gove 2011 and holds strong beliefs about the importance of creativity in politics. The artist will be talking about his career and his belief that we need to talk about the arts in the context of human rights.


Train (1969)

What is the work?  
A drawing of a train.

Why was it created?
I like trains.

What did you learn while doing it?
How to draw trains.

What do you think of it now?
I think it’s great. It has a directness that I like. All children’s art has this directness. I still try to be direct.


Art is Your Human Right (2016)

What is the work?
A sign that reads Art is Your Human Right. 

Why was it created?
It was created when I heard Michael Gove was charged with creating a British bill of Human Rights distinct from our international commitments to Human Rights. I think this limits my ability to speak out about human rights infringements around the world. Art is increasingly under threat from authoritarian regimes. There is a growing understanding that art is about free expression and that it forms an important element of all our Human Rights.

What would you tell your younger self about this work?  
When I was seven I am not sure I would have been that concerned with Human Rights but I would have liked the colours and the typography.

As well as Bob and Roberta Smith, Here 2016 speakers include illustrator Malika Favre, photographer Nadav Kander, design director of The New York Times Magazine Gail Bichler and visual artist Yolanda Domínguez.

We will also be welcoming creative director at MTV Richard Turley, co-founder of Turner-prize winning collective Assemble, Joe Halligan and Omar Sosa and Marco Velardi, art director and editor-in-chief of Apartamento magazine.