By Anne Taylor, Rhodes Journalism Review
Francois Smit is an artist, designer and illustrator. Many readers will recognise his distinctive illustrations from The Sunday Independent , which carried his work since its launch in 1995 until April 2010. During this time he produced around 800 works for the paper.
Critic Mary Corrigall likens Smit to a cunning journalist with a "talent for capturing the essence of a story and building it into a fascinating and absorbing product". Smit's gripping illustrations reveal his "knack for simplifying or reducing complex news stories into graphics with which one can easily identify", she wrote in The Sunday Independent in 2006 in response to his exhibition launched at the Gordon Institute of Business Science in Johannesburg in 2006. Conceived as a celebration of the close relationship between newspaper and artist, the exhibition showcased the best of his works – many of which are definitive in the country's visual discourse. Vivian van der Merwe, a former teacher, mentor and the curator of Smit's exhibition, says the artist is widely respected for his "formidable imagination, skill and artistic rigour, and especially for his idiosyncratic pathos". Describing him as an exceptional artist, Van der Merwe explains that Smit's art "somehow manages to balance on that almost impossible edge between sharp conceptual narrative and beautiful visual forms. Perhaps it is his extraordinary cultural background and personal experience, offset by a profoundly idiosyncratic sense of the contemporary world, which merge in a remarkable and unique vision. It is not often that we see imagery that engages complex media issues and yet is able to stand alone as compellingly good art." Smit's works demonstrate a sophisticated mastery of the digital medium. His tools are Photoshop, Freehand, Illustrator, Painter, and 3D software, which he combines with hand-drawn images, digital photography, scans and three-dimensional modelling. "Whereas most digital artists seem to be at pains to recreate reality as a way of assessing a digital medium's capabilities, Smit seems to revel in the infinite possibilities that digital technology offers, often pushing the boundaries of the software, allowing him to distort reality in order to bring the spirit of a story to the surface," Corrigall wrote. Smit studied Fine Art in the late eighties before moving to Johannesburg. In 1992, he took up a position as a graphic journalist and illustrator for the Sunday Star, working for the Star until 1996.
Smit is now the director of Quba Design & Motion, a company specialising in design, illustration and video production. Smit has won several SPA Pica Awards, including best overall magazine design for CMYK/Enjin magazine, as well as several Mondi awards for magazine and newspaper illustration. He worked with photographer David Goldblatt on the design of his book, Particulars, which won first prize at the photographic festival in Arles, France in 2005.