I love how you can know someone for years, see his or her art, and find something profoundly new. Interviewing old friend and figurative artist, Audrey Smith was like walking into your apartment and finding someone painted the all walls your favorite color. Serendipitous and oddly personal.
Here’s what she had to say about growing up in Montreal, making her way as an artist, and the interdisciplinary nature of finding your own style.
Thanks for bringing me into your studio! To get started, tell me a little bit about your background.
I actually transitioned from literature to psychology and all the way back to art again. After graduation I became a graphic designer at Bell. I went from there to start my own company and went from my own company to being a full time artist.
Did you know, as a student, that you wanted to pursue art full-time?
Yea, but I was one of those purists. I took my first year in university in fine arts but made a swift change. I moved out and thought, “I didn’t want to be a starving artist” – but a lot of people were going into graphic design and I assumed that would be a good compromise.
That’s a practical use!
But I’m not a practical person! I thought I would be and it was really silly.
Does your psychology background draw into your emotive, portrait artwork?
I think it could go either way. I was into psychology because I’m into people. It all bleeds together in an interdisciplinary. None of it was a mistake, and all it is a part of me.
What was it like in Montreal, when you were a student at Concordia trying to make your way into the art scene?
That was around the 1990s. Women’s rights culture picked up, and I remember, even in my high school, students campaigning against cheerleaders and prom queens. It was an all girls’ school and we thought this was all too sexist.
I mean- my art is always female because it relates to my understanding as a woman. It’s about change and growth. In that sense it represents the feminine, but I wouldn’t say it’s cause-driven at heart.
What was the art scene like in Montreal around that time?
Conceptual. In that, I mean it was more about the idea behind it than the actual art itself. There are so many exhibitions like this in Montreal that are less about showcasing art and more about showcasing the movement behind the art. A lot of galleries tend to show that…actually most galleries.
In the galleries I’ve shown in, it’s a mix. Mine plays the line because it’s more representational- more about an emotion than it is about a concept.
How would you describe your style?
I go through phases with my art, the same way I go through phases with my life. My art is about change and adapting and adjusting. So, through different phases of my life you’ll see that there is struggle and now I’m coming out of the other side of that struggle and trying to show liberation.
This year I only did about 5 paintings, because I was really focused on moving out and moving on. So this coming year, and the body of work I’m doing next, has more to do with a sense of empowerment in addition to the change.
Talk to me about the business side- what was it like, deciding this was going to be your full time profession?
It’s still really tough. When I became part of the Society of Canadian Artists (that just felt really good, just having that), I met really successful artists that have been doing this for forever. They would all get together and laugh, saying this is no place to make money. People are lucky to make money by it. It’s true what they say, but it’s not impossible.
[I stop to rant about the wonderful accessibility and insight of Fridge Door Gallery as an artistic outlet for McGill students that may also share her interdisciplinary background]
That’s really healthy. I think we’re so compartmentalized in our thinking. You’re this or that, there’s not that need or desire to be a little broader.
What would you tell your young, artist self now?
I would tell her that this is a part of you and if you follow your heart, nothing is ever wasted. For instance, I was in literature and for a long time and that shows.
Yea, it’s really interesting the way your incorporate words and phrases etched onto the paintings. It makes it so personal and inviting.
Yes! Psychology definitely shows in parts of my art, as most of it is portrait work.
It’s kind of like color- not unlike any instinct really.
What can you tell me about color?
Totally intuition. I don’t usually think about certain colors (as providing symbolic meaning), it’s limiting. But I’m not focused on whether it matches somebody’s sofa- you know what I mean?
What are some of the biggest changes between your early art and now?
Movement. Movement is a big part of what I’ve developed over the years. It’s so important to have that sense of flow, for me. Some of my early work was so rigid and stagnant. I’ve tried to develop in ways that move away from that.
Some of the pieces you have now focus on just a hand, the side of a face, and a pair of legs or a pair of boots. It draws you in, not because it feels incomplete, but because of a vague insight into something more.
That’s why I call that expressionistic. It’s not realistic from the sense- it’s hyper realistic right, but this is more emotional.
I mean, you might see her as sad and I might see her as pensive, just melting into the background. Both are right. That’s art.
Audrey Smith is currently working in the Greater Toronto Area and showing in various galleries across Canada, the United States and Europe. She expresses, in her artist statement, that “…What’s left after all the layering, etching and sanding is, I hope, a painting. And a captured fragment of time, a moment between the moments, a silence, a thought, an emotion, a naked and vulnerable human truth.”