Smith returned to England in 1963, where he gained critical acclaim for extending the boundaries of painting into three dimensions, creating sculptural shaped canvases with monumental presence, which literally protruded into the space of the gallery. Evocative titles such as Panatella and Revlon, and cosmetic, synthetic colours alluded to the consumer landscapes of urban America which had proved so influential. After being awarded the Grand Prize at the 9th São Paulo Biennial in 1967 and important exhibitions at Kasmin Gallery in 1963, Tate in 1964, and Richard Feigen Gallery in 1966, Smith was invited to exhibit at the XXXV Venice Biennale as the official British artist in 1970.
The freestanding installation Gazebo exhibited at the Architectural League of New York in 1966, and a tent project at the Aspen Design Conference of the same year, led to the development of his renowned ‘Kite’ paintings. First exhibited in New York in 1971, the traditional wooden supports of the canvases were replaced by aluminium rods and strings, allowing them to be hung freely in response to the surrounding architecture. Smith continued in the subsequent decades to construct site-specific works in public and private spaces often hanging from the ceilings or architectural supports.
“Where the first great abstract painters, including Kandinsky, Delaunay and Mondrian, derived their forms and colour harmonies essentially from nature, half a century later Richard Smith was at the forefront of a development in painting that took its cues not from the natural world but from visual stimuli already processed through culture. Smith’s joyful embrace of glamour and prismatic colour after the grey decade and a half of postwar austerity, brought him within the orbit of Pop Art at its very inception and assured him an important place in its early history.” - Marco Livingstone, 2014
Smith was awarded the CBE in 1971. His work is held in the public collections of the Arts Council of Great Britain; The British Museum, London; Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York; The Museum of Modern Art, New York; TATE Gallery, London; Victoria and Albert Museum, London; Walker Art Center, Minneapolis; the Whitney, New York; MIT, Boston; Philadelphia Museum of Art; Museum of Contemporary Art, Chicago; Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, Washington, DC.