An interview with: Nick Smith, Contemporary Artist in London, Miami & NYC

Billed as a ‘Contemporary British artist with a unique visual language’, this ex-interior designer now marries digital design with fine art and a deeper narrative…

Nick Smith’s rendition of ‘Salvator Mundi’ by Da Vinci which sold for the highest auction price ever for a painting.

A fascinating exhibition is set to open at the Lawrence Alkin Gallery, London this April.  Labelled ‘Priceless’, the show will set out to explore ‘high-end art auction results and the wider topic of the commercial value of art’...

The brainchild of Contemporary Artist Nick Smith, this exhibition begins with last year’s record-breaking auction sale of Da Vinci’s ‘Salvator Mundi’ for an eye-watering $450,312,500 (roughly £342,000,000) at Christie’s NYC.  Taking a brief 19 minutes of bidding by 5 hungry bidders, the painting (which once changed hands for just £45 in the 1950s when it was judged a mere copy) remains the only Da Vinci to be part of a private collection.

Art Today has been privileged to interview Nick on his captivating ‘Priceless’ exhibition, which will grace the Lawrence Alkin Gallery from 19th April.


Nick started out with a First Class Masters degree from Coventry University in Product Design.  From there, he spent the next 10 years engaged in Commercial Interior Design and was particularly interested in exploring the range of possibilities colour swatches could provide.  After dedicating himself full-time to his own art, he quickly bagged 3 sellout shows, 11 groups shows and 20 published print editions.


Nick works by deconstructing an image into individual colour swatches.  He then marries narrative with art by labelling each swatch with a word, which is often extended into linear narrative to further explore the context of the image.  Nick aims for such ‘contextual interplay’ to provide a platform for further subjective contemplation.

Nick Smith’s colour swatch version of Modigliani’s ‘Nu Couché’ – sold for a record-breaking $170.4 million (£113 million) at Christie’s NYC in November 2015.


1.   Please could you tell us more about your upcoming ‘Priceless’ exhibition at the Lawrence Alkin Gallery, London?

The show was catalysed by the recent record-breaking sale of Salvator Mundi for $450,312,500 at Christie’s, New York.  Like most people, I struggled to get my head around a number that big, so I set about trying to quantify it through my creative practice.  I recreated the artwork at the exact same dimensions as the original, consisting of 506 colour chips measuring 2 x 3cm.  This resulted in each chip having a proportional value of $889,945.65, which came a little closer to me understanding and quantifying the final sale price.

I find the idea of art commentating on its current financial value fascinating and only fair.  Following several recent, high profile auctions, the importance placed on the monetary values of high profile pieces of art, intrigued me.  It seemed obvious to create an opportunity to reflect on the financial milestones presented with the sale of each ‘priceless’ piece.

‘Priceless’ is my fourth show with the Lawrence Alkin Gallery and the one that has felt the most satisfying and resolved to make.  You will find 30 originals and 2 print editions exploring this concept.

2.  What makes priceless art interesting?
The fact that the term ‘priceless art’ doesn’t actually exist.  Just because a museum doesn’t want to sell a famous painting doesn’t mean it doesn’t have a price.  Yes, it’s irreplaceable, but I guarantee that if it’s placed in the right auction without a reserve price, it will sell and no longer be priceless.


‘Marie-Therese Walter’ by Picasso (interpretation by Nick Smith).  Sold for £49.8 million in March 2018.

3.   Which is your favourite priceless painting?
Any of the Yves Klein paintings from his IKB series.  This was a guy who spent his career painting with only one colour… Ultramarine blue.  He died young, at 34, but made a huge impact in the art world and still does today.   Having spent weeks researching and reinterpreting elements of his work for ‘Priceless’, I couldn’t help but feel my own mortality being alive at 37.  If I were to hang any of my own work from the show at home…  it would be these.
4.   What is your favourite art medium?

Tricky one!  Do I say ‘Collage on paper’, because that’s how I make a living, or painting because that’s how I like to wind down?   I’d say painting, because I never know how it’s going to end up, plus, there is the excitement of knowing when to stop.  Painting is similar to going to the movies…  You only vaguely know the plot before you enter the cinema.

5.   What is your favourite palette?

I’m not sure that I have a favourite colour palette.  If I did, it would be dictated by the setting in which it is presented.  I do have a love for monochromatic images, in particular lino cut prints, which may be because you can place them in any setting and they always work.  Perhaps this is because of my design background.

6.   What stages do your collages go through before they become a finished piece?

Each collection is born from an overarching concept or idea that I wish to explore, and then I collect and collate reference and source material, both images and text, before digitally manipulating a piece to achieve the desired effect.  This is followed by a print process and then manual selection, collation and application of each colour chip.  It’s an intricate and complex process, which either works or doesn’t.

Annotated with the precise fraction of the overall auction sale price which each colour swatch tile represents, Nick Smith’s very own pointillism captures a deeper meaning behind his subject matter.  (Detail from Smith’s analysis of Da Vinci’s ‘Salvator Mundi’.).

7.   What do you hope to express through your work?

I always seek to present a narrative or commentary.  With each new show, I like to tell a different story.  This keeps me (and hopefully the audience) engaged.  Specifically, through this show, I want to express my opinion that the art world appears to be going through a bit of a mid-life crisis.
The work I create has different settings upon which the viewer can engage.  An abstract image close up becomes more real as the viewer moves away from it.  While the opposite happens with the text content… legible close up and illegible from a distance.  The conversation between these two elements is what give meaning to my work.
8.   What made you choose art as a career?

I took a risk, foregoing a lucrative career in design to pursue a life of creative freedom and a self-regulated schedule.

9.   Where did you train?

In an office while I was supposed to be doing design work.

10. What exhibitions have you previously taken part in?

I’ve had three solo shows and several group shows, both here and in the US.

11. For your 2016 show ‘Paramour’, how did you combine romantic literature with art?

The artist himself!

I was compelled to explore the degradation of our current culture’s interaction with naked human forms.  ‘The Nude’ has been denigrated to a culture of flesh flashing selfies and dick pics…  I wanted to reintroduce a little culture, beauty, sensuality and romance.  Beneath each colour chip was a word, creating part of a narrative lifted from various pieces of classical, romantic literature… From Shakespeare’s sonnets and love scenes, to some seriously beautiful, if a little provocative and colourful, prose.  As with all my work, close-up reading is a must.

12. What is your most common inspiration?

It would have to be humanity.  Human behaviour is of endless interest to me.

13. Who is your favourite artist?

The answer to this question changes regularly, but currently Yves Klein takes the top spot for his uniqueness as an artist.

14. Where would you like your art career to take you next?

I’m always thinking one or two shows ahead.  I have this idea that I want to create a more immersive experience for a new concept I’ve been working on.  I’d like to take my art a step further than presenting it on gallery walls by creating an environment to present the work that connects with the message in the work.  I can’t say much more than that, but there is currently something in the pipeline that I’m very excited about.

15. If a piece of your art could be purchased by anyone, who would you like to buy it and why?

The Queen.  Being part of the Royal collection would be awesome.

Chosen as Nick Smith’s current favourite painter of all time, Yves Klein’s particular ultramarine blue is captured here in one of Smith’s respectful reimaginings…

16. Which artist/s – past or modern – would you like to invite to dinner?

Jim Carrey, Salvador Dali, Frida Kahlo, David Hockney and Tracey Emin would create some interesting chemistry.

17. Who would you like to collaborate with creatively?

An opportunity to collaborate or be an artist in residence for a large auction house, like Sotheby’s or Christie’s, would be very fulfilling.

18. What piece of advice do you have for upcoming artists?

Art is a lot more enjoyable and easier to create if you establish some kind of concept or parameter to work within before you start.  Also, there is no shame in treating what you do like a business…  All the most successful contemporary artists do just that.

19. How would you like to be remembered as an artist?

Oh my!  I’m not sure I’m there just yet.  I hope I won’t be known just for making pretty pictures.  I strive to tell a story or present an idea with each new series.  Hopefully, it is this that I will be remembered for, as someone who forged their own original style to commentate on humanity.

Art Today sincerely wishes Nick (and The Lawrence Alkin Gallery) the best of luck with their ‘Priceless’ endeavours!  We aim to follow this ingenious and fascinating visual commentator on his exciting creative journey, one colour swatch at a time…  


[Credits:  (Feature image – ‘Warhol’s Turquoise Marilyn’ by Nick Smith);;;;; The Lawrence Alkin Gallery Press Office]



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