US welder who became the father of steel sculpture wins Tate's acclaim

When the American artist David Smith began welding his vast works from steel, no one even considered them sculpture. But 100 years after he was born in the artistically unpromising environment of the Midwest, he is being honoured with an exhibition of his work at Tate Modern in London.

The show includes more than 70 works, starting with early experiments in the 1930s through to sculpture made not long before he was fatally injured in a car crash in 1965.

Frances Morris, its curator, said Smith was an enormously innovative sculptor, notably in his use of industrial materials, his liberation of sculpture from the plinth and his humanist subject matter. But his work has been less well known in Britain up to now than the Abstract Expressionist painters Jackson Pollock and Willem de Kooning who were his contemporaries.

"I hope he will be the subject of a great retrieval. Before David Smith started making welded steel sculpture, there were no more than 50 welded sculptures in the world. He was in at the beginning of a tradition," Morris said. "But like a number of really distinctive individuals in the 20th century, he's not a member of a club."

One of his clear legatees was the great British sculptor in metal, Sir Anthony Caro, 82, who said yesterday that Smith, whom he knew well, had meant a great deal to him. "His work is a revelation. He advanced the tradition of steel sculpture and open sculpture by an enormous amount."

Pablo Picasso and Julio Gonzalez were early pioneers of modern sculpture, he said. "But David took it a giant step forward in the ambition and directness of his pieces. He was revolutionary. People didn't think he was a sculptor but because he was an American and able to be free of that heavy tradition of Europe, he could just make these things willy-nilly without worrying about tradition."

There was an exhibition of his work at the Whitechapel Gallery in London in 1987. "But look how long it has taken for him to be accepted for a major show at the Tate - a very long time."

David Smith was born in Indiana in 1906, the son of a telephone engineer, and decided at the age of four he wanted to be an artist. Jean Freas, his widow, who is in Britain for the exhibition with their daughters, Rebecca and Candida, said: "He knew that's what he wanted to do and that was very strange in his background." He learnt welding not as a practical job skill but because he wanted to use it in his work. "But he never dreamt that he would pioneer a huge movement in American art. There was no such thing as American art then," she said.

His work very much reflected him. "When you look at his work, you know he's a real he-man, he was no limp-wrist. He was a giant - about 6ft 2in - with big hands. When he came into a room, he really filled the room."

Candida Smith, who handles her father's estate, said that what was important about the exhibition was it showed work from his entire career. "David Smith is known for certain works in England like the Wagon and the great Tate Cubis but what I hope this shows is the breadth of his career," she said.

She remembers him as "a tremendous life force. He loved music and dancing and food. He really embraced life. He loved play and laughter."

David Smith, supported by the Horace W Goldsmith Foundation, the Henry Moore Foundation and the American Patrons of Tate, opens today and runs until 21 January. Admission £7

News
people'It can last and it's terrifying'
Sport
Danny Welbeck's Manchester United future is in doubt
footballGunners confirm signing from Manchester United
Sport
footballStriker has moved on loan for the remainder of the season
Sport
footballFeaturing Bart Simpson
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
New Articles
Olivia Colman topped the list of the 30 most influential females in broadcasting
tv
News
Kelly Brook
peopleA spokesperson said the support group was 'extremely disappointed'
News
The five geckos were launched into space to find out about the effects of weightlessness on the creatures’ sex lives
i100
Life and Style
techIf those brochure kitchens look a little too perfect to be true, well, that’s probably because they are
Sport
Andy Murray celebrates a shot while playing Jo-Wilfried Tsonga
TennisWin sets up blockbuster US Open quarter-final against Djokovic
Arts and Entertainment
Hare’s a riddle: Kit Williams with the treasure linked to Masquerade
booksRiddling trilogy could net you $3m
Arts and Entertainment
Alex Kapranos of Franz Ferdinand performs live
music Pro-independence show to take place four days before vote
News
news Video - hailed as 'most original' since Benedict Cumberbatch's
News
i100
Life and Style
The longer David Sedaris had his Fitbit, the further afield his walks took him through the West Sussex countryside
lifeDavid Sedaris: What I learnt from my fitness tracker about the world
Arts and Entertainment
Word master: Self holds up a copy of his novel ‘Umbrella’
booksUnlike 'talented mediocrity' George Orwell, you must approach this writer dictionary in hand
News
i100
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

SQL Implementation Consultant (VB,C#, SQL, Java, Eclipse, integ

£40000 - £50000 per annum + benefits+bonus+package: Harrington Starr: SQL Impl...

SQL Technical Implementation Consultant (Java, BA, Oracle, VBA)

£45000 - £55000 per annum + Benefits + Bonus: Harrington Starr: SQL Technical ...

Head of IT (Windows, Server, VMware, SAN, Fidessa, Equities)

£85000 per annum: Harrington Starr: Head of IT (Windows, Server, VMware, SAN, ...

Lead C# Developer (.Net, nHibernate, MVC, SQL) Surrey

£55000 - £60000 per annum + Benefits + Bonus: Harrington Starr: Lead C# Develo...

Day In a Page

'I’ll tell you what I would not serve - lamb and potatoes': US ambassador hits out at stodgy British food served at diplomatic dinners

'I’ll tell you what I would not serve - lamb and potatoes'

US ambassador hits out at stodgy British food
Radio Times female powerlist: A 'revolution' in TV gender roles

A 'revolution' in TV gender roles

Inside the Radio Times female powerlist
Endgame: James Frey's literary treasure hunt

James Frey's literary treasure hunt

Riddling trilogy could net you $3m
Fitbit: Because the tingle feels so good

Fitbit: Because the tingle feels so good

What David Sedaris learnt about the world from his fitness tracker
Saudis risk new Muslim division with proposal to move Mohamed’s tomb

Saudis risk new Muslim division with proposal to move Mohamed’s tomb

Second-holiest site in Islam attracts millions of pilgrims each year
Alexander Fury: The designer names to look for at fashion week this season

The big names to look for this fashion week

This week, designers begin to show their spring 2015 collections in New York
Will Self: 'I like Orwell's writing as much as the next talented mediocrity'

'I like Orwell's writing as much as the next talented mediocrity'

Will Self takes aim at Orwell's rules for writing plain English
Meet Afghanistan's middle-class paint-ballers

Meet Afghanistan's middle-class paint-ballers

Toy guns proving a popular diversion in a country flooded with the real thing
Al Pacino wows Venice

Al Pacino wows Venice

Ham among the brilliance as actor premieres two films at festival
Neil Lawson Baker interview: ‘I’ve gained so much from art. It’s only right to give something back’.

Neil Lawson Baker interview

‘I’ve gained so much from art. It’s only right to give something back’.
The other Mugabe who is lining up for the Zimbabwean presidency

The other Mugabe who is lining up for the Zimbabwean presidency

Wife of President Robert Mugabe appears to have her sights set on succeeding her husband
The model of a gadget launch: Cultivate an atmosphere of mystery and excitement to sell stuff people didn't realise they needed

The model for a gadget launch

Cultivate an atmosphere of mystery and excitement to sell stuff people didn't realise they needed
Alice Roberts: She's done pretty well, for a boffin without a beard

She's done pretty well, for a boffin without a beard

Alice Roberts talks about her new book on evolution - and why her early TV work drew flak from (mostly male) colleagues
Get well soon, Joan Rivers - an inspiration, whether she likes it or not

Get well soon, Joan Rivers

She is awful. But she's also wonderful, not in spite of but because of the fact she's forever saying appalling things, argues Ellen E Jones
Doctor Who Into the Dalek review: A classic sci-fi adventure with all the spectacle of a blockbuster

A fresh take on an old foe

Doctor Who Into the Dalek more than compensated for last week's nonsensical offering