Artistic License: Vicky Smith - The Gloss Magazine

Artistic License: Vicky Smith

In her new exhibition The Cold Bark Against My Back at the Olivier Cornet Gallery, the Galway-based artist and teacher is inspired by mass media stories and her work reflects on feminist themes …

How do you define your artworks?

I am a multidisciplinary process-based artist and I work across a variety of mediums. This is key to my practice and has been since I graduated from Crawford College of Art and Design. A quote from Louise Bourgeois always resonates: “An artist’s words are always to be taken cautiously… The artist who discusses the so-called meaning of his work is usually describing a literary side-issue. The core of his original impulse is to be found, if at all, in the work itself. Just the same, the artist must say how he feels…I want to explain why I did the piece; I don’t see why artists should say anything because the work should speak for itself. So, whatever the artist says is like an apology, it is not necessary…”.

I tend not to bracket myself into one medium because I enjoy experimenting with multiple mediums and approaches as it keeps my work fresh and intriguing for me. However, in saying this, painting is very important and whether I am painting, drawing in my sketchbook, creating a series of etchings or editing video collages or building experimental sculptures, painting informs the practice throughout.

Could you explain the significance of the title of your new exhibition?

I had a lightbulb moment; the title came to me like a line from a poem that resonates with my personal experiences and emotions regarding the work. When I read it aloud, I knew it was the one. “The Cold Bark Against My Back” contextualises the paintings and sculptures for me. In the paintings, female figures are lying on felled tree trunks in forests or reimagined landscapes. Nature is a safe haven, a refuge, something to hold onto in difficult times and provides an inner strength and has a grounding effect. The experimental sculptures symbolise the creative and domestic roles of women. The cold bark can also be the voice of the inner critic, the ambition to continue to make work, the judgements we receive on repeat over and over, and the desire and drive to make work that can’t be silenced or quenched.

What was your starting point for this exhibition, which seems particularly apt for Women’s History Month.…

The starting point for this new body of work is my fascination with stories of women in the news media concerning love, loss, moving on, murder, resilience, survival and willpower. One sculpture displays a photograph of Svetlana Tikhanovskaya, a housewife who started a revolution from Belarus who fled into exile and the actress Emma Corrin star of The Crown who played Princess Diana posing in outlandish costumes for a photoshoot. British and American actresses, noughties supermodels and portraits of writers Elizabeth Bowen, Edna O’Brien and Sylvia Plath are incorporated into cement, fabric, plaster and photomontages. They are displayed alongside portrait paintings of women who were murdered in Ireland and survivors of the Utoya Island massacre, a young snowboarder from the GB squad who tragically died, as well as a portrait of Esther Freud, daughter of the iconic painter Lucian Freud. I am intrigued by their stories because they resonate. Women’s stories interconnect like the branches of a tree or a woven tapestry or the thread count in a blanket. I was initially drawn to the crisis in each story and how it is unpacked, as if each woman is unfolding clothes from a suitcase after a journey from girlhood to womanhood and beyond.

You created these artworks over two years and they are informed by personal experiences too …

The works in the exhibition are informed by my experience of being a mother while trying to make work; the longing to go to new places outside the home, and life events as well as more recurring collective feminist themes. My work is centred around the feelings conjured by two years in which I existed as a body predominantly in a domestic space. I research body awareness in domestic spaces, feelings of interiority and how these reflect a visceral understanding of the human body, the female psyche, and my relationship to the domestic space and nature as a means of understanding the figure as a subject matter.

Through the process of painting, making, sketching ideas, and writing down thoughts, I reflect on motherhood, the landscape, interior domestic spaces and being a woman to understand and make sense of the universe, in particular the position of women. The repurposed landscapes taken from photographs my grandfather took of the West of Ireland delineate a new kingdom, inspired by Sylvia Plath’s short story Mary Ventura and the Ninth Kingdom, written not long after she had left home, which Plath described as “the story of a teenage girl who passes through the temptation of the material world, grows aware of her own idealism and power to help others, and discovers the City of God.” This symbolic tale of leaving home, your mother and family as you make your way out into the real world is a learning story, one that grapples with our recurring change in motion. Some artists write, paint or make work to figure out these experiences and emotions and what kind of artist or being they want to be.

How and where do you work – in a studio or at home?

My art practice experiments with painting, printmaking, film, photography, assemblage sculptures and installation. In this exhibition I have painted female portraits and self-portraits on canvas and female figures in an imagined landscape which revisits my grandfather’s archive of photographs and slides depicting notable places in Ireland including Maam Valley, Lake Inagh, Galway Cathedral, Inish Turk, Lakes of Killarney, Lough Corrib, Leenane, Adare, Doolin, the road to Clifden, Kylemore Abbey, and Maam Bridge. I appropriate news photographs depicting portraits of women, meshing them into paint, photomontages, readymade sculptures, annotated sketchbook drawings, and collages. I collect the stories and portraits of these women that resonate with me and paste them into my sketchbook recording their name and the part of their story I find intriguing. I draw my ideas for sculptures and painting plans in my sketchbook and drawings. I use a variety of different mediums such as acrylic paint, oil paint, oil bars, graphite, watercolours, pencils as well as plaster, cement, found objects, bandages, metal, plastic, thread and fabric. I work with photography and film to create video collages that have a layered painterly quality to them as well as installation.

I work predominantly in my studio outside the home at Engage Art Studios, Lower Salthill, Galway. It is a professional visual arts organisation of over 30 members. The morning light in my studio is fantastic and is such an uplifting space to be in. I also teach and coordinate art workshops for adults, young people and children in the project space adjacent to my studio.

Need to Know: Vicky Smith’s exhibition, “The Cold Bark Against My Back” is at The Olivier Cornet Gallery, 3 Great Denmark Street, Dublin 1 and can be viewed in the gallery’s online virtual 3D space;


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