biography / filmography

John Smith was born in Walthamstow, London in 1952. He studied at North-East London Polytechnic and the Royal College of Art, after which he became an active member of the London Filmmakers’ Co-op. Inspired in his formative years by conceptual art and structural film, but also fascinated by the immersive power of narrative and the spoken word, he has developed a diverse body of work that subverts the perceived boundaries between documentary, fiction, representation and abstraction. Often rooted in everyday life and personal experience, his meticulously crafted films playfully explore and expose the language of cinema.

Since 1972 Smith has made over sixty film, video and installation works that have been shown in independent cinemas, art galleries, museums and on television around the world. His films have been awarded major prizes at international film festivals in Oberhausen, Leipzig, Hamburg, Stuttgart, Graz, Geneva, Uppsala, Pamplona, Bordeaux, Lucca, Palermo, Split, Cork, Seoul, Ann Arbor and Chicago. He received a Paul Hamlyn Foundation Award for Artists in 2011, and in 2013 he was the winner of Film London’s Jarman Award.

Smith’s solo exhibitions include Kunstmuseum Magdeburg (2022 and 2005); CAST, Cornwall (2020); Kate MacGarry, London (2020 and 2016); Fine Arts, Sydney (2019); Alma Zevi, Venice (2017); Tanya Leighton, Berlin (2017, 2015, 2013, 2012 and 2010); Wolverhampton Art Gallery (2016); Museum of Contemporary Art, Leipzig (2015); Centre d’Art Contemporain de Noisy-le-Sec, Paris (2014); The Gallery, Tyneside Cinema, Newcastle upon Tyne (2014); Figge von Rosen, Cologne (2013); Kestnergesellschaft, Hanover (2012); Turner Contemporary, Margate (2012); Weserburg Museum for Modern Art, Bremen (2012); Uppsala Art Museum, Sweden (2011); PEER Gallery, London (2011); Pallas Projects, Dublin (2011); Royal College of Art Galleries, London (2010); Sala Diaz Gallery, San Antonio, Texas (2010); Ikon Gallery, Birmingham (2006); Open Eye Gallery, Liverpool (2003) and Pearl Gallery, London (2002).

Major group exhibitions include ‘Small World: 13th Taipei Biennial’, Taipei Fine Arts Museum (2023); ‘Life Is More Important Than Art, That’s Why Art Is Important’, Whitechapel Gallery, London (2023); ‘Street Life’, Wilhelm-Hack-Museum, Ludwigshafen am Rhein, Germany (2022); ‘Instantly! Vienna Street Photography’, Museen der Stadt Wien, Vienna (2022); ‘Atlas of Modernity’, Muzeum Sztuki, Lodz (2021), ‘Le Cours des Choses’, CAPC Musee d’Art Contemporain de Bordeaux (2020); ‘Migrating Worlds: The Art of the Moving Image in Britain’, Yale Centre for British Art, Connecticut (2019); ‘Face It!’, Kunstmuseum Ravensburg (2019); ‘As Seen on Screen’, Walker Art Gallery, Liverpool (2019); ‘Double Takes’, Museum of Contemporary At, Cleveland, Ohio (2019); ‘Journeys with The Waste Land’, Turner Contemporary, Margate (2018); ‘Age of Terror: Art Since 9/11’, Imperial War Museum, London (2017-18); ‘Between Film and Photography’, FOMU Museum, Antwerp (2017); ‘After the Fact: Propaganda in the 21st Century’, Städtische Galerie im Lenbachhaus, Munich (2017); ‘Found’, Foundling Museum, London (2016); ‘Double Act: Art and Comedy’, MAC, Belfast (2016); ‘Invocable Reality’, Museu d’Art Contemporani de Barcelona (2014); ‘The Reluctant Narrator’, Berardo Museum, Lisbon (2014); ‘Constellations’, Tate Liverpool (2013-14); ‘Image Counter Image’, Haus der Kunst, Munich (2012); ‘Has The Film Already Started?’, Tate Britain (2011-12); Berlin Biennial (2010); ‘The Talent Show’, Walker Art Center, Minneapolis and MoMA PS1, New York (2010); Venice Biennale (2007); ‘A Century of Artists’ Film in Britain’, Tate Britain (2004); ‘Live in Your Head: Concept and Experiment in Britain 1965-75’, Whitechapel Gallery, London (2000) and ‘The British Art Show’, UK touring exhibition (1984).

Smith regularly presents his work in person and since 2000 it has been profiled through retrospectives at film festivals in Oberhausen, Tampere, Leipzig, St. Petersburg, Madrid, La Rochelle, Paris, Lussas, Uppsala, Zagreb, Amsterdam, Cork, Sarajevo, Prizren, Munich, Regensburg, Stuttgart, Vilnius, Karlstad, Winterthur, Mexico City, London, Bristol, Leeds, Hull and Glasgow.

John Smith lives and works in London. His work is held in the collections of Tate Gallery; Arts Council England; Museum of Modern Art, New York; Muzeum Sztuki, Lodz; FRAC Île de France, Paris; Kunstmuseum Magdeburg; Ella Fontanals-Cisneros, Miami; Wolverhampton Art Gallery and Ferens Art Gallery, Hull. His films are distributed by LUX, London; Video Data Bank, Chicago; Canyon Cinema, San Francisco and Light Cone, Paris. He is represented by Tanya Leighton, Berlin and Kate MacGarry, London. John Smith is Emeritus Professor of Fine Art at University of East London, where he taught part-time for nearly 40 years.

complete filmography

Triangles    1972, 3 mins, 16mm, colour, sound.

Someone Moving    1972, 5 mins, 16mm, colour, sound.

The Hut    1973, 5 mins, 16mm, colour, sound.

Words    1973, 7 mins, 16mm, B/W, sound.
Collaboration with Lis Rhodes.

Out the Back    1974, 5 mins, Super 8mm, colour, silent.

William and the Cows    1974, 6 mins, 16mm, colour, silent.

Faces 1    1974, 11 mins, 16mm, B/W, silent.

Faces 2    1974, 3 mins, 16mm, B/W, silent.

Associations    1975, 7 mins, 16mm, colour, sound.

Leading Light    1975, 11 mins, 16mm, colour, sound.

Nine Short Stories    1975, 3 mins, 16mm, B/W, silent.

Subjective Tick-Tocks    1975, 11 mins, 16mm, B/W, sound.

The Girl Chewing Gum    1976, 12 mins, 16mm, B/W, sound.

Summer Diary    1976-7, 30 mins, 16mm, colour, sound.

Gardner    1977, 6 mins, video from 16mm, colour, sound.

Hackney Marshes – November 4th 1977    1977, 15 mins, 16mm, colour, silent.

Hackney Marshes (TV version)    1978, 30 mins, video from 16mm, colour, sound.

7P    1978, 7 mins, 16mm, colour, sound.

Blue Bathroom    1978-9, 25 mins, 16mm, colour, sound.

Celestial Navigation    1980, 10 mins, 16mm, colour, sound.

Spring Tree    1980, 3 mins, 16mm, colour, silent.

Shine So Hard    1981, 32 mins, 16mm, colour, sound.

Light Sleep    1981, 6 mins, 16mm, colour, sound.

Shepherd’s Delight    1980-4, 35 mins, 16mm, colour, sound.

Om    1986, 4 mins, 16mm, colour, sound.

The Black Tower    1985-7, 24 mins, 16mm, colour, sound.

Dungeness    1987, 12 mins, 16mm, colour, silent.
3 films for theatre production by Graeme Miller.

Slow Glass    1988-91, 40 mins, 16mm, colour, sound.

Gargantuan    1992, 1 min, 16mm, colour, sound.

Home Suite    1993-4, 96 mins, video, colour, sound.

Blight    1994-96, 14 mins, video from 16mm, colour, sound.
Collaboration with Jocelyn Pook.

The Kiss     1999, 5 mins, video from 16mm, colour, sound.
Collaboration with Ian Bourn.

The Waste Land    1999, 5 mins, video, colour, sound.

Regression    1999, 17 mins, video, colour, sound.

Lost Sound     1998-2001, 28 mins, video, colour, sound.
Collaboration with Graeme Miller.

Frozen War (Hotel Diaries 1)    2001, 11 mins, video, colour, sound.

Worst Case Scenario    2001-3, 18 mins, video from 35mm, colour & B/W, sound.

Museum Piece (Hotel Diaries 2)    2004, 12 mins, video, colour, sound.

Throwing Stones (Hotel Diaries 3)    2004, 11 mins, video, colour, sound.

B & B (Hotel Diaries 4)    2005, 6 mins, video, colour, sound.

Pyramids / Skunk (Hotel Diaries 5)    2006/7, 17 mins, video, colour, sound.

Dirty Pictures (Hotel Diaries 6)    2007, 14 mins, video, colour, sound.

Six Years Later (Hotel Diaries 7)    2007, 9 mins, video, colour, sound.

Flag Mountain    2010, 8 mins, HD video, colour, sound.

Demo Tape   2010, 5 mins, video, colour, sound.

unusual Red cardigan    2011, 12 mins, video, colour, sound.

The Man Phoning Mum    2011, 12 mins, HD video, colour, sound.

Soft Work    2012, 37 mins, HD video, colour, sound.

Dad’s Stick    2012, 5 mins, HD video, colour, sound.

Dark Light    2014, 4 mins, HD video, B/W, sound.

White Hole    2014, 7 mins, HD video, B/W, sound.

Steve Hates Fish    2015, 5 mins, HD video, colour, sound.

Who Are We ?    2016, 4 mins, HD video, colour, sound.

Song for Europe    2017, 4 mins, HD video, colour, sound.

Jour de Fête    2017, 1 min, HD video, colour, sound.

The Last Word    2018, 8 mins, HD video, colour, sound.
Collaboration with Marcia Farquhar.

The Camera, The Actor    2019, 5 mins, HD video, colour, sound.
Collaboration with Charles Hayward.

A State of Grace    2019, 3 mins, HD video, colour, sound.

Citadel    2020, 16 mins, HD video, colour, sound.

Covid Messages    2020, 22 mins, HD video, colour, sound.

Time and Motion (for A L Rees)   2021, 2 mins, HD video, colour, sound.

Record   2021, 1 min, HD video, colour, sound.


The Kiss     1999, video installation for 2 suspended projectors and etched glass screens. Collaboration with Ian Bourn.

Rebus    2001, video loop for single monitor.

Beside the A-Side   2002, site-specific video installation for 2 projectors and suspended screen. Collaboration with Graeme Miller.

Double Shutter    2010, 2 screen video installation incorporating material from ‘Blue Bathroom’ (1979-80).

Third Attempt    2010, 2 screen film and video installation incorporating ‘7P’ (1978-9) and ‘Regression’ (1998-9).

unusual Red cardigan    2011, mixed media installation incorporating ‘The Man Phoning Mum’ (2011), photographic prints and ready made objects.

Horizon (Five Pounds a Belgian)    2012, HD video installation for single projector and purpose built space.