Art Makes Children Powerful
Bob and Roberta Smith

Upon the 40th anniversary of the Kilkenny Arts Festival, the Butler Gallery and the Kilkenny Arts Festival were extremely pleased to present Art Makes Children Powerful, the first major Irish presentation of the work of celebrated UK artist Bob and Roberta Smith.

Bob and Roberta Smith, who has two names but is actually one person, is an artist, an educator, a musician, a broadcaster and an activist. His visual art practice includes drawing, painting, sculpture, photography, installation, performance and public art. Mostly known for his extremely accomplished text based sign paintings, painted in a cursive hand on found wood, cardboard and canvas, the results are colourful, bold and deeply expressive.

In addition to telling the stories of his life, Smith’s writings explore the relationship between art, politics, and society, supported by an inimitable sense of humour, often the sharpest tool in the box. Smith’s DIY approach appropriates the languages of folk, punk and the alternative protest movements to personalise political sloganeering.

Kilkenny became the centre of the artworld from August 9th – 18th with a citywide exhibition that has affectionately took on the moniker ‘Bobumenta’, after ‘Documenta’, an exhibition of contemporary art that happens every five years throughout the unassuming city of Kassel in Germany. Starting from the assertion that everyone is good enough to make art, Smith turned Kilkenny City into an art school.

Public ownership of public issues is important to Bob and Roberta Smith. He perceptively taps into the Zeitgeist of our times with compassion and understanding. Instead of remaining mute about the impact of our nation’s recent extraordinary fiscal, political and social changes, Smith provides a platform for us to express our opinions.

The public were given the opportunity to get involved by providing responses to Smith’s ‘What’s What’ questions. ‘What is a Bank For’? ‘What is Next for Europe’? Some of these responses ended up on the walls of the Butler Gallery through the run of the exhibition.

Bob and Roberta Smith embraces the assertion that Art Makes Children Powerful. He wants us to engage in the process of art making to, as he puts it, Make Your Own Damn Art. Ultimately, the belief is that Art Makes People Powerful. In a talk given to The Royal Society of Arts in 2011, Smith related the following:

Art is not easy. Easy art is not good art. Art that is too easily understood requires no journey for the viewer. Art is about the appreciation of ambiguity. Only when people realise what unites us is huge and wonderful and what divides us is small and mean will people live peacefully.

Bob and Roberta Smith is a very smart hat-wearing artist. He incites and inspires and rallies us to really think about the world we live in. He stirs things up and encourages a response. He makes Democratic Art. He can be tough and serious but also very funny. He exposes the underbelly. He is not afraid of not being liked but hey, what’s not to like? He is genuinely the real deal and we are delighted to host him in Kilkenny to unleash his considerable talents in multiple venues to express how Art Makes Children Powerful.


Bob and Roberta Smith (b. London, UK, 1963) received a BFA from the University of Reading in 1985, an MFA in from Goldsmith’s College, London in 1993 and an Honorary Fellows of Arts from the University College Bournemouth in 2011. Bob and Roberta Smith lives and works in London and is represented by Hales Gallery, London. Selected solo shows include Pierogi (New York), Leeds City Art Gallery, Hayward Gallery (London), Galleria (Torino) and others. Selected group shows include Tate Britain (London), Whitechapel Gallery (London), Serpentine Gallery (London), Tate Liverpool, CCAC (San Francisco), National Gallery in Copenhagen (Denmark) and CIMA Gallery (Calcutta). Smith’s work can be found in public and private collections including the Tate Collection, UK Arts Council Collection and UK British Council Collection. In 2009 a sculpture by Bob and Roberta Smith was shortlisted to be exhibited at the fourth plinth in London’s Trafalgar Square. A feature documentary about the work of Bob and Roberta Smith, Make Your Own Damn Art: The world of Bob and Roberta Smith, 2012, directed by John Rogers was shown daily during the Kilkenny Arts Festival.

The Discovery Pen Audio Description Service was available on demand for visitors who are blind or visually impaired. This service is facilitated in partnership by Arts and Disability Ireland and Butler Gallery with funding from The Arts Council.

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