Born London, England, 2nd January 1959. Died Glasgow, Scotland, 1st August 2014.
Ian graduated from Brighton Polytechnic in 1981 with a First Class Honours Degree in Expressive Arts (Fine Art/Theatre Practice), Nobody ever asked to see it. This new course was experimental in combining art forms, and Ian used and abused every available facility to ensure that he was already presenting work professionally in Music, Dance and Performance Art by the time he left. After Art School he continually worked in many fields including Performance Art, Dance, Film, Music, TV, Radio, Cabaret, Circus and cross-media work. His main occupation latterly was that of Artistic Director to Mischief La-Bas, Performance Company, (founded with ANGIE DIGHT in 1992). Children Stanley and Lily continue the family tradition in this peculiar trade.
Ian Smith in WASPS Studios amongst
BRIGHTON AND THE EIGHTIES
Brighton, on the south coast of England, is a fun-filled seaside resort that traditionally accommodates artistic, theatrical and eccentric types with ease. Ian stayed there about ten years, and during that time established and developed many of his activities.
An early large scale ‘fantasy mythology’ project was the invention of a fictitious youth cult called MONOLIZM, which ran from 1979 to 1980 and culminated in a multi-media event THE MONOCROWD featuring Monolizt representatives ‘from around the globe’. This quasi-futurist experiment (a reaction to the complacency of the dying punk ethic) actually started to attract genuine devotees, and had to be swiftly disowned as reality blurred with art practice. This manipulation of reality in public spaces continued to be a founding principle of Ian’s work.
|Finding himself in a sea of potential collaborators, Ian joined with Music Lecturer Billy Cowie in forming a band BIRDS WITH EARS and Dance Lecturer Liz Aggiss in forming irreverent Dance Company THE WILD WIGGLERS. Both projects toured extensively and gained TV coverage throughout the early eighties.|
|BIRDS WITH EARS produced some singles and an album YOUTH IN ASIA (Attrix Records), and when the band folded in the mid-eighties, Ian got a solo recording contract as THE VAGABOND KING - producing an album GOLDEN GRATES (Coldharbour Records).|
Punk Brighton for ‘Youth in Asia’ free LP download
THE ZAP CLUB
A project that served as a focus for all this activity was THE ZAP CLUB, formed by Neil Butler, whom Ian worked with throughout the eighties. This experimental multi-media performance club gained its own premises on the seafront, and as permanent MC, Ian oversaw and experienced a huge variety of activity over six or seven years. One of his most enduring and valid contributions to the grass-roots encouragement of new talent was his personal weekly hosting of a PERFORMANCE PLATFORM which ran for about four years and had no lower limits of quality control, only encouragement.
ZAP ARCHIVE for ‘25 Years of The Zap Club’ book free download
|In keeping with his fondness for irreverence, Ian also meddled with the Fine Art world by inventing PULPTURES (like sculptures but not as good). These assemblages often featured plastic model kits and had a pricing structure based on a plumber’s bill, with materials, labour and concept all itemised. The cheapness and honesty of this approach meant that Ian’s exhibitions (often featuring a brass band) usually sold out in about thirty minutes, much to the chagrin of the established art crowd. An exhibition at Wolverhampton Civic Art Gallery led to them buying a piece ‘Naff Crystal Ball’ for their own Modern Art Collection. It cost about twenty quid.|
Amongst all the other activity, Performance Art continued to be a strong interest, and during the eighties Ian personally represented Britain at International Art Fairs and Festivals in New York, Lisbon, Kassel (Documenta 8) Nuremburg, Frankfurt, as well as on several tours of North America and Holland.
|During this period he associated with the international Mail-Art scene and forged a bond with the German NOMADS and Canadian NEOISTS.|
Notable was his evangelical solo presentation CANNIBAL! which he toured with Angie Dight, and collaborative work with poet/performer ROGER ELY, often involving marvellously impractical banquet presentations.
The first major collaborative experiment devised by Ian was ‘THE TELL TALE HEART’ featuring the late Kathy Acker (Author), Captain Sensible (Narrator), Peter Sinclair (Mechanical Orchestra), Liz Aggis (Choreographer/Dancer), Roger Ely (Film-maker/Poet), Grand Theatre of Lemmings (Cabaret Theatre), and Holly Warburton (Images). It was devised with Neil Butler as producer and appeared at the Purcell Rooms, South Bank, London. This was the first model of Ian’s approach to commissioning artists, inviting them to collaborate on a theme under his direction.
GLASGOW & THE NINETIES
In 1989, looking for fresh challenges, Ian and partner Angie Dight moved to Glasgow, Scotland. After a fairly tough start, due to the comparatively minimal live art scene, a peculiar opportunity arose for both of them to join the UK crew assisting anarchic French Circus troupe ARCHAOS. Starting as Front of House MC and box office assistant respectively, they developed their roles to include stints as pyrotechnic riggers, performers and for the 1991 season, (after presenting a solo midnight show to the cast and crew) Ian was invited by Pierrot Bidon to assist in the creation and direction of the new show in Ales, France. Ian and Angie then toured with this BX91 production visiting Nuremburg, Koln, Manchester, Glasgow, Edinburgh, Jerusalem and finally Toronto - where Archaos imploded under financial duress and the company, like pirates, were paid off and set loose.
|Back in Glasgow, Ian and Angie found a new spiritual base at THE ARCHES, a subterranean theatre space that would evolve into the multi-media cultural centre that it remains today.|
|One of the highlights of their early collaborative relationship with The Arches’ Director Andy Arnold, was the devising of ‘METROPOLIS’ - a live multi-media project with 80 performers that used the whole building, another device that Ian would use in subsequent projects.|
Creating weekly installations in THE ARCHES nightclub setting, MISCHIEF LA-BAS was born in 1992, and after the original eighty or so ‘experimental’ gigs as a duo it has since grown to a ‘walkabout theatre’ company with a pool of over 20 performers presenting dozens of gigs a year. Most of the work now consists of teams of performers, often multiples of the same character, going out into public spaces and interacting with the public. The company has managed to grow completely organically over nearly twenty years to become an internationally significant operation.
|During the nineties, Ian maintained his interest in Performance Art and larger-scale projects – often involving the members of Mischief La-Bas in these activities. His historical connection with Brighton led to several invitations for experimentation, notably performance pieces such as ‘The 59er’ and ‘Alchemy’. As one half of ‘SMITH & BLACKWOOD’ – a ‘sophisticated’ crooning duo featuring vocals and accordion - he hosted a retro-style club at The Arches in Glasgow called CASINO ROYALE which then went on to appear for a full month at the Spiegeltent during the Edinburgh Fringe Festival.|
MISCHIEF LA-BAS PROJECTS DURING THE NINETIES
A significant link was made with Andrew Broadley, Director of THE ALBANY THEATRE, London, which led to four major commissioned projects using collaborative artists alongside the Mischief crew:
‘THE FEAST’ (1994)
‘FEAST TWO’ and ‘BYE BYE BLUES’ (1995)
Noteworthy projects devised by Ian in Glasgow with Mischief La-Bas included:
'BULLBALLET (Blokes Dancing Round a Stick)’ (1998/9)
'TOONHOOSE' (1999)‘PROJECT X’ (1999)
21st CENTURY LARGE SCALE PROJECTS
After crashing that space rocket to mark the turn of the century, Ian developed several other large scale projects with Mischief La-Bas in collaboration with international artists. They included:
‘PAINFUL CREATURES’ (2003/4)
‘MONTAGUE PLACE’ (2006)
‘PEEPING AT BOSCH’ (2008)
‘THE MARKET OF OPTIMISM’ (2009/10)
ALL OF THESE PROJECTS FEATURE IN THE ‘COMMISSIONS’ SECTION OF THE MAIN WEBSITE
While continuing to direct Mischief La-Bas, Ian consolidated his Performance Art credentials by continuing to act as MC for the NATIONAL REVIEW OF LIVE ART - a role he maintained for 14 festivals – occasionally presenting his own installations and talks. In 2002 he became an 'Honorary Associate' of the NRLA. In 2003 he presented his own critically acclaimed installation ‘Good Grief’, collaborating with Digital artist Bevis Evans-Teush and painter Graeme Wilcox.
|One NRLA installation - 'Medicins sans Frontieres' 2006 resulted from a residency in Sri Lanka where Ian was one of several artists chosen to test out the pilot scheme for a new Creation Centre, funded by the Hikkaduwa Area Relief Fund.|
|The six-week residency saw the development of a spontaneous performance 'Feeling Blue' into a celebratory jungle parade 'Up in Smoke' incorporating all of the local villagers. The work was re-presented for Glasgow's Merchant City Festival in 2007.|
In 2009 Ian was invited with Neil Butler to represent the UK at the first Colombo Biennale in Sri Lanka, following the conclusion of the civil war, and he presented a sculptural installation entitled ‘Finest Blend’.
On his days off, Ian also made sure he introduced the classic British dance routines ‘The Hokey Cokey’ and ‘Knees Up Mother Brown’ to local villagers.
'Beastly Beauty' (2009)
To sum up his feelings about hitting 50, Ian Smith created a two-part poetic image for the context of an outdoor arts festival, with no language, no punchline, and no story. In short, dressed as a bull, he dragged a dead matador around, firstly in colour, then in monochrome. Artist and dancer Brian Hartley collaborated as the dead matador.
'The Hurty Gurty Man' (2009/2010)
Realising that he often muttered ‘Sometimes I wish I just had a barrel organ and a bleeding monkey’ when confronted with freight issues, accommodation and transport for big shows, Ian thought this was the year to actually get one, and as the Hurty Gurty Man inflicted his versions of Bjork, Robert Wyatt and Andy Williams on unsuspecting passers by.
‘…oddly haunting…strange erotic versions of pop classics … The Scotsman
'Moving Stories for Bedtime' (2009)
Still in a reminiscent mode, this collaboration with Brian Hartley enabled visitors to enter a shower room and unlock genuine memories from the past 50 years, that they were then obliged to read to Smith as a bedtime story before he shredded them for duvet stuffing. Brian interpreted his own feelings at the foot of the bed.
‘…complex and affecting …a moving evocative piece’ The Herald * * * * *
‘My Hands are Dancing but my Heart is Cold’ (2010)
In 2010 Dancebase Edinburgh and Arches Live Glasgow both hosted another intimate piece of theatre involving Smith wiggling his fingers in a tiny hand-built theatre. It received very favourable critical response and consequently (in critical terms) became the ‘greatest hit’ of his career.
'Exquisite one to one vignette’ The Herald * * * *
‘This is miniature art of the highest order, moving out beyond self-absorption, to that moment when performance becomes poetry’ The Scotsman * * * *
‘Smith is a quiet genius, able to lead an audience towards contemplation without ever dictating the answers’ The Skinny Magazine * * * * *
Nominated for 'Best Male Performance 2010', CATS Awards (Critics Awards for Theatre in Scotland).
In 2011 Dancebase Edinburgh commissioned a third piece of intimate theatre whereby Smith investigated the possibilities of physically getting to grips with his single audience members in a dimly lit room.
’Solo performances of this kind can be very trying, but this was a triumph, economic, briefly shattering with glimpses of past sadness and joy’ HIGHLY RECOMMENDED SHOW FringeReview ****
‘Being hugged by Smith is a tremulous, enveloping experience: a raw and profound moment in the superficial mania of The Fringe…beautiful enough to make you envy family members who get this hot male action on a regular basis…’ The Skinny Magazine ****
‘When you embrace Smith, feel his heartbeat and share the intensity of his personal investment in the moment, you are not inclined to blab out his secrets’ The Herald ****
Throughout his career, from the first national coverage of the hoax MONOLIZM cult, Ian managed to manipulate the media through countless interviews in print, on television and on radio. He even created a fictitious BBC broadcaster persona MONTY CANTSIN (a reference to Neoism) which developed into a character actually employed by the BBC to produce and present dozens of genuine radio transmissions and television programmes, as well as regular magazine columns in several publications. As Monty, Ian became associated with the London-based anarcho-dandy movement of THE CHAP, for whom he hosted many live events and pirate radio broadcasts.
Over the years, as The Vagabond King, Paxo Nectarine, Monty Cantsin or plain old Ian Smith, he was interviewed by various characters including: Russell Harty, John Walters, Janice Long, Annie Nightingale, Simon Bates, Derek Jameson, Nicky Campbell, Chris Tarrant, Fern Britten, Captain Sensible and Fred Macaulay.
Similarly, there were numerous TV appearances from the early eighties onwards, with highlights such as terrorising Sooty with a demonic puppet, co-starring in a documentary with Dora Bryan and mystifying Leonard Rossiter by prancing about in gold lame trousers and a full length skirt. In 1999, 20 four-minute Mischief La-Bas movies were commissioned for the ‘Fool’s Gold’ stream on UK Play (now BBC 3).
On the silver screen, Ian had a cameo role as the Head of the BBC in Annie Griffin's award winning feature film 'Festival' (2005)
In 2006, Ian was shortlisted for a Creative Scotland Award, but then he sent in a DVD of himself stapling Nicholas Parsons to a giant 'Botticelli's Venus' on national TV.
With Mischief La-Bas touring Europe, Ian was invited to contribute to a 'coffee table book' produced by In-Situ called 'European Artists on the Road'. 'Painful Creatures' was also chosen as the subject of the first In-Situ project book. Closer to home, Ian also contributed to a book commemorating The Zap Club's 25th anniversary and returned to Brighton to host the launch event in 2007. Other contributions included being featured in a book commemorating 150 years of the Brighton Art College in 2009, and also the 30th Anniversary commemorative book of the National Review of Live Art in 2010.
Various articles and presentations were commissioned with more alarming frequency as Ian slowly achieved a historical perspective through sheer misguided tenacity. Students continued to pick his meagre brains in order to pad out various theses and dissertations.
Ian's untimely death in August 2014 was met with an outpouring of love for the man and praise for his work. All who knew him agreed he was a creative, quirky, warm, lovely man who influenced and encouraged colleagues and others in his field of work, and whose contribution to art was remarkable and will live on for a long time.