Richard Smith was born in Letchworth, Hertfordshire. After national service with the Royal Air Force in Hong Kong, he studied at St Albans School of Art and later undertook post-graduate studies at the Royal College of Art in London from 1954 to 1957. From 1957 to 1958 he was a lecturer at Hammersmith College of Art. He was awarded a Harkness Fellowship in 1959 and travelled to America and spent several years there painting and teaching, with his first one-man show at the Green Gallery, New York, in 1961.In 1970 he was the British representative at the Venice Biennale and in 1975 a retrospective exhibition of his work was exhibited at the Tate Gallery in London. He resettled permanently in New York in 1976.