Tagged: painter

Schoolin’ Life: Fiona Smyth

In today’s episode of Schoolin’ Life, we meet illustrator/painter/cartoonist Fiona Smyth.

fiona smyth at 24 and now

Quick bio: who are you, what are you into, and how do you spend your days?

I’m a feminist artist whose practice includes drawing, painting, illustration, and cartooning. I’m into zine collecting, comics, and snacking! I teach illustration and cartooning at the Ontario College of Art and Design University (OCAD U) and the Art Gallery of Ontario. I’m the illustrator in collaboration with writer and sex educator Cory Silverberg for the picture book What Makes A Baby and the newly released follow-up Sex Is A Funny Word from Seven Stories Press. My first graphic novel, The Never Weres, was published by Annick Press in 2011.

What expectations did you have for yourself over the coming decade?

I graduated art school in 1986 but I was already exhibiting my paintings the year before. My expectations were to spread my work internationally and live off my art. I managed to establish myself as an artist, illustrator, and cartoonist in Toronto and get a bit of a reputation beyond Canada.  Sometimes there were day jobs and there was a brief stint on welfare.

In what ways did society shape your expectations of yourself?

I was inspired by what was happening in New York City’s Lower East Side’s art scene- fast creators and ever present artists like Keith Haring. Toronto was a real boys’ club in art and comics. I knew as a woman artist (in Toronto and beyond) I was an exception and so was the content of my work/what I had to say. I was creating sexy, in your face, colourful work. I was driven to show my work often, and also outside the gallery system through posters, murals, clothing, and zines.

What was your first job like?

My very first job ever was when I was 15 at a deli/café named Sweet Gallery but later in my twenties my day job was working the candy counter and ticket sales at a repertory cinema. I was doing illustration commissions, painting clothes and murals, and making comics during the day. I worked with Reactor Art & Design for illustration, Vortex Comics, and Weller-Potovsky Gallery in Toronto.

What was your first apartment like?

I lived in the basement of a student rented house. There were at least 4 other roomies. I had a studio at the time that was shared with 3 other artists. At some point I decided to get a cat, which the roomies were not psyched about.

Did you experience any big life changes?

My family moved to Nova Scotia and I was on my own for the first time in Toronto. It was a much bigger adjustment than I realized- freedom but also dealing with emotional issues.

In what ways did your friendships change?

I knew a lot of people but had a handful of close friends. I got into a bad habit of finding “surrogate parent” friends, or troubled and depressed folks like myself. There were many bad decisions in relation to friends, living situations, and partying during those days.

What did you learn through your romantic relationships?

There weren’t romantic ones until I met my partner (of now 23 years) when I was 28.  Before Craig Daniels entered my life, it was drug addicts, alcoholics, and genuine jerks- territory that was familiar.

How did your relationships with your family change?

Distance and time helped me build healthier boundaries and self-esteem (plus the stability and support of my relationship with Craig, and therapy).

How do you feel society viewed you?

As a woman artist society tends to judge your work in relation to what you look like in a way that doesn’t happen to male artists. When I was younger, folks were often surprised by my demeanour in relation to the sexy, violent, outrageous content of my work and they also made assumptions because I was a punk rocker. I find now as an older artist, folks are surprised I don’t look like a punk rocker. I can’t win!

Also you can be pigeonholed as a particular kind of artist- for example for years I’d have art directors say something like: “We love your work but we don’t want erect penises or flaming vaginas in this kids’ illustration” –well, duh!

How do you feel you changed emotionally?

At the time I was making bad decisions and acting out in ways I wouldn’t understand until years later. I’ve gained understanding and empathy for my younger self since then.

How did you change intellectually?

When I first made a name for myself as an artist I was afraid of the F word. I would call myself a humanist. That didn’t last long, I am a feminist artist and fiercer about that stance the older I get. Personal experience and feminism opened my eyes.

In what ways do you feel your identity changed?

I discovered my art acted like an alter ego and that was an okay way to deal with being in the world.

How did your worldview change over the course of the decade?

My worldview was becoming more and more fatalistic, especially with the occurrence of family illness.

What was the most embarrassing moment?

Apart from not calling myself a feminist for a time? Being 15 minutes late for a friend’s wedding for which I was the “best man”.

What was your biggest disappointment and how did that affect you later?

There was a chance I might have gone to NYC as part of a studio residency. For many years an established artist teacher/mentor of mine would bemoan the fact I hadn’t gone but in retrospect I often think of it as missing a bullet not an opportunity. I needed the stability and slowness of Toronto to discover my healthiest self and my visual voice. I think I would have been burnt out on drugs and the fast pace of NYC, I don’t think my 20’s self would’ve survived.

Who was your biggest influence and why?

Punk rock and hip hop DIY culture (this was pre-Riot Grrrl and Queercore) which taught me to be wary of the establishment, not give a fuck, and promote and disseminate my work outside the gallery system. Keith Haring showed the way in creating populist iconic work fast and effectively, and including social justice themes. He taught me the personal is political, and can be accessible and universal.

Is there any one experience that you feel defined the decade? Or one historical moment that changed you?

The murder of 14 women at École Polytechnique in Montreal in 1989: I remember hearing the news, being in denial thinking they were murdered because they were engineering students- and having the nauseating realization they were murdered because they were women.

Do you have any regrets? Are there things you wish you’d done, hadn’t done, or done differently?

I wish I’d done more comics- I pursued art more fervently but comics travel in the world better.

Is there a story that you feel best sums up the decade?

I had some adventures in Detroit- showing art, and visiting with Craig and his band, The Leather Uppers. The grit and rawness of this dystopic American city was juxtaposed with an amazing music scene (The Gories). This culture was at its most punk and resilient, grounded by broken glass and burning cars.

Dame of the Day: Josefina Pla

josefina pla

Today’s Dame of the Day is Josephina Pla (November 9, 1903-January 11, 1999).In the 1950s, Pla founded the New Art Group with fellow artists Olga Blinder, Lilí De Mónico and José Laterza Parodi. As a poet, art critic, playwright, painter and journalist, she is one of the most respected members of the Paraguayan artistic community.

Aleah Chapin’s Aunties

When was the last time you took a good, hard look at yourself in the mirror? I’m talking clothes off, ready to shower realness. What do you see: a great butt? Some gorgeous thighs? Beautiful shoulders? What about the imperfections? Is there a mixture of cellulite, crow’s feet, jiggly bits and uneven skin? Regardless of the combination of good and bad, this unique ratio is what makes you who you are, a real person living an actual life.


Molly, oil on panel, 30 x 20 inches. Image courtesy of Aleah Chapin

Now think about the images you encounter every day. Is there a real person to be found? Photoshop and excessive retouching are so embedded in the culture that refusing such post-production is considered news. With one touch of the Healing Brush, imperfect pixels seamlessly dissolve. What’s left makes this unattainable image seem effortless: it beckons alluringly, whispering “I woke up like this.” (No shade, Queen Bey.) In reality, the subject most likely awoke with puffy eyes crawling to the coffee pot like the rest of us.


And We Were Birds, oil on canvas, 94 x 76 inches. Image courtesy of Aleah Chapin

Painter Aleah Chapin’s work is a powerful response to our Photoshop-saturated culture and the effect of seeing a real larger than life woman in the flesh is quite arresting. Growing up outside of Seattle, Washington, Chapin painted throughout her childhood and earned a BFA and MFA in the medium. As she pursued her degree, she embarked on her award-winning Aunties project. Pulling from her mother’s circle of friends, Chapin paints portraits of the women who molded her life. Her subjects are older and bear the battle scars of life: evidence of mastectomies, fading tattoos and sagging flesh abound. Yet instead of judging her subjects, Chapin celebrates their realness.


The Air Was Full, oil on linen, 84 x 58 inches. Image courtesy of Aleah Chapin

Not everyone believes Chapin’s portraits are beautiful. After winning the BP Portrait Award in 2012, critic Brian Sewell called her work “a grotesque medical record” that was “wrong on so many levels.” Sewell describes Chapin’s painting:

…this ancient crone stands life-size, full-frontal and stark naked, heavy breasts drooping low, skin stretched and sagging, looking as though, parboiled and with the lividity of death about her lower quarters, she has just escaped from a cannibal’s cooking-pot. This is the figurative realism of the new American academic painter — no sympathy gentles the stark observation of every detail, nor is desire roused; instead, this painting stimulates revulsion.


The Tempest, oil on canvas, 82 x 82 inches. Image courtesy of Aleah Chapin 

Yet desire is not the point. While nude women feature prominently in art history, most of these works were created by men and infused with this fallacy of the male gaze. Chapin views women’s bodies as “maps of their lives;” the attention to detail is critically important because each scar tells a story. While Mr. Sewell (not exactly a spring chicken himself) may not be up for an ideological wrestling match, Chapin forces her audience to grapple with their own preconceived notions about beauty and aging. As they cradle their pregnant bellies, hoist children into the air, and yolk their arms around each other’s shoulders, these women exude a tremendous aura of joy and love that transcends all generations.

Women on Walls

I’m a sucker for a good piece of street art, especially when it starts conversations about broader social issues. So when I stumbled upon the Women on Walls Festival, I naturally got excited.


All photos taken by Ala’ Mansour

Based in Cairo, Egypt, Women on Walls is a group dedicated to voicing feminist perspectives via street art. The collective was an integral part of 2011’s January 25th revolution and has since expanded their efforts outside of the country.


Co-founders Mia Grondahl and Angie Balata formed women on walls after publishing The Revolution’s Graffiti, a book documenting street art during Egypt’s revolution. They noticed that only a handful of women and women’s issues were represented in the myriad of images, so they set out to change the conversation.


Earlier this month, Women on Walls partnered with Amman’s Al Balad Theater to present the series “Stories from Fear to Freedom.” A group of men and women came together to paint at Gallery Ras Al Ain.


Participants hailed from Eygpt, Qatar, Jordan, Yemen, Palestine and Sweden. For one week, they were granted free reign over the gallery and possessed complete creative control over their pieces. Scroll through the group’s Flickr and you’ll see a wide range of styles, from stencils and portraits to more geometric abstract pieces.

So impressed with this crew; be sure to check out their website and stay posted on their latest work.

Lorraine Loots: “365 Postcards for Ants”

Back in 2010, I developed an unhealthy obsession with Jenny Slate’s web short, “Marcel the Shell with Shoes On.” There was something about Marcel’s jerky movements, miniature accessories, and high, squeaky voice that made me laugh until I cried. What is it about tiny things that is so incredibly endearing?

Lorraine Loots 1

Needless to say, I fell hard for Lorraine Loots’ “365 Postcards for Ants.” The Cape Town-based artist’s attention to detail is astounding.

Lorraine Loots 2

From seascapes and springboks to portraits of Madiba himself, Loots has created one tiny masterpiece per day since January 1, 2013. Now that’s dedication!

Lorraine Loots 3

Lorraine Loots 4

Lorraine Loots 5

To view Loots’ complete body of work, check out her Tumblr. Keep it up, Lorraine!

Dame of the Day: Georgia O’Keeffe

Georgia O'Keeffe

Today’s Dame of the Day is Georgia O’Keeffe (November 15, 1887 – March 6, 1986). Early in her career, O’Keeffe doubted she could ever stand out in the crowd and hesitated to pursue painting full-time. When she sent sketches to New York gallery owner Alfred Stieglitz, the seemingly benign decision catalyzed her career and led to their marriage. Ironically, her paintings of barren landscapes and magnified flowers developed her the unequivocal style, earning her the title of the Mother of American Modernism.

Dame of the Day: Margaret Kilgallen

Margaret Kilgallen

Today’s Dame of the Day is Margaret Kilgallen (October 28, 1967 – June 26, 2001). As a founding member of the Bay Area’s Mission School movement, Kilgallen’s work contains traces of the folk art and freight train tags that inspired her. When presented with the choice of losing her pregnancy or receiving treatment for breast cancer, Kilgallen opted to give birth to her daughter, Asha. The documentary Beautiful Losers contains some of the last footage of Kilgallen prior to her death.

Dame of the Day: Frida Kahlo

Frida Kahlo

Today’s Dame of the Day is Frida Kahlo de Rivera (July 6, 1907 – July 13, 1954). After a difficult childhood plagued by illness, Kahlo embraced her solitude and began painting self-portraits. Influenced by the bright colors and and symbolism of traditional Mexican culture, Kahlo’s work boldly explored the feminine form. From surviving a bus accident to weathering her tumultuous relationship with husband and fellow painter Diego Rivera, Kahlo exhibited both strength and vulnerability in both her own life and her vast body of work.