Missing image

© copyright The Artist


Bob and Roberta Smith (1958 – )


13 X 30 X 13.5
Accession number


Bob and Roberta Smith’s boats sit on the gallery floor, as if they and their waterway have been petrified mid-motion. The sailing boat, a toyshop standard, has been recast, outsized and rendered obsolete, in hard, crusty, sludge-coloured concrete. It’s a crude model, comprising a flat, tapered base, a partial upper deck, and one or two funnels, but it leaves various associations – pathos, nostalgia – in its wake. The slack length of string tied to the nose of each boat harks back to childhoods entertained by pull-along toys. The funnels echo cardboard toilet roll tubes, those old friends of elementary model-making.

The boats’ lack of technical finesse contributes to a direct message. ‘The concrete boat, no matter how much faith and belief it has’, says the artist, ‘will never float.’( ) Instead, Bob and Roberta Smith, the artistic persona of Patrick Brill, argues for using imagination as an alternative system for organising one’s personal world. He adopted the plural artist identity at the turn of the 1990s, before taking his MFA from Goldsmiths’ College (1991–93); and the name is open source, anyone can take it over, he insists.

Casting concrete is a Brill family tradition. Mother Brill and, before her, grandmother Brill would cast concrete vegetables from real vegetables. When it came to painting them Brill’s grandmother favoured naturalistic colouring, whereas his mother went for brighter colours and crazy hybrid-vegetable combinations. The concrete boats transpose a homespun hobby from the kitchen table to the gallery. They are on a campaign trail for getting involved, making things, transforming your environment – a trail that is anything but grandiose. Smith’s video Flawed (1996) shows the artist directing a doomed concrete flotilla on the Serpentine, in London’s Hyde Park. The following year, his exhibition Don’t Hate Sculpt, at the Chisenhale Gallery, London, mimicked a workshop, with different activities for visitors to partake in, led by six different fictitious folk artists.

( ) Bob and Roberta Smith, email correspondence, 13 November 2011