An animated Brian Smith is back in the Pop up Shop in the Winter Gardens. The Sheffield artist will be there each day, next to the BBC’s Cue Zone, until the Snooker World Championships at the Crucible Theatre ends on May 6.
Brian has become an intrinsic part of the snooker scene since he was asked randomly by a BBC producer to do a painting of the Crucible arena and be filmed doing so, live, in 2016.
That film was used in the televised opening sequence to the final between Mark Selby and Ding Junhui.
Brian, a professional artist of great versatility, became immersed in the world of snooker and with the Crucible as a result of the project.
Previously, he was a casual viewer of the sport and the personalities within.
But now he has executed portraits of the world’s top 20 ranking players, along with a ‘special’ portrait to commemorate Ronnie O'Sullivan's 1000th century break.
Famous players from the past leap out from his canvas, along with some of the Crucible's most celebrated snooker moments; there is Ronnie Sullivan's fastest ever 147, and Dennis Taylor's victory after the "black ball marathon" in 1985.
Working within the Crucible was “a bit of a revelation” said Brian.
“I went and walked in the footsteps of the players as they enter the arena, and it’s interesting to see and feel that side of the coin.
“I wore a shirt and waistcoat to blend in to the surroundings and think I was mistaken for a player on at least one occasion.”
He is happy to be in the Pop up Shop…..sketching again…. and part of the ‘electric’ atmosphere that is created by the snooker competition and the excitement it brings to the city.
“The adrenaline is flowing more than a little. From here I can see the back of Steve Davis’ head, and Graeme Dott over there,” he gushed.
“It’s an eventful time. I’m hooked after coming back and trying the Pop-Up Shop last year.
“I’ve done portraiture for some time.
“A few years ago I took up some space in the Oasis at Meadowhall and that led to commissions.
“Commissions often involve professional sports players for some reason.
“In snooker, naturally, you have the upward focus of the eyes and the intensity that is part and parcel of the snooker game.
“Off duty of course, there is a whole other cross section of characteristics within players that come in to force.”
But essentially, he said, portraiture is no different to any other piece of art in that it is down to “good observation”.
“I think that artists see the world differently to most people,” he explained.
“I enjoyed doing the past greats such as Alex Hurricane Higgins and Jimmy White, both of whom are depicted with fag in mouth…..that's how it was...
“I’m particularly pleased with my most recent one of Mark Selby, and a commemorative portrait of five times world champion Ronnie, who made his thousandth century. What an accomplishment!
“I’m wondering now about a portrait of James Cahill. He’s a huge star right now.
“But other players are competing for my attention.”
He thinks Neil Robertson could be the ‘dark horse’ of this year’s competition as he is “running in good form with momentum behind him”.
“He might be a good bet for the semis and possibly the final,” said Brian. “Williams is steady though. He never gets flustered at all.
“There could be some surprises this year….”
Everybody in and around the Crucible at this time is “snooker daft” added Brian.
“People will be coming to Sheffield from all over the world.
“I get folk from all continents coming and talking to me.
“There was a guy from Russia last year, and another from the far East who had paid £2000 to come and then it looked like the session he had a seat for may not even take place.
“I think in his case he actually did get his viewing but it was a close run thing. I’m glad he hadn’t wasted his money.
“It’s great just being here and talking to people about snooker and about Sheffield.
“They all want to compare notes about the different cultures, and learn about the city, it’s a real treat.”
A former architect, Brian loves to draw and paint “anything that moves – and anything that doesn’t.”
He’s a fan of plein air drawing, he runs art groups, lectures at university and teaches life drawing at the Millennium Gallery in Sheffield.
He adds: “I’m a communicator of what I know. I like to share knowledge.”