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b. 1994

Shelby Dawn Smith is an artist who grew up in small town Northwestern Ontario, and currently conducts her practice in Kenora, Ontario.  She graduated with honours from the Bachelor of Fine Arts program at the University of Ottawa in 2015.   It wasn’t until the final years of her BFA that she began exploring abstraction, after discovering the art of other abstractionists, like Fiona Rae and Cy Twombly.  


Shelby’s expressive mixed-media paintings explore the complexities of emotion through visual elements, such as colour and texture, and attempt to find a balance between harmony and tension.  Her debut solo show, Different Every Time, took place in the spring of 2016 at Studio Sixty-Six and showcased her experimental and process-based style.  In the spring of 2019, Shelby was announced as the Programmer for Kenora’s new Art Centre.


My artistic practice centres on the idea that visual cues, such as colour and texture, can evoke emotional and even visceral reactions in viewers.  In many ways, I believe that art is more effective than words in its ability to stimulate empathy in the viewer.  For me, painting serves as both an emotional release and an escape from reality.
Colour psychology — how colour influences human behaviour — is of keen interest to me.  Research has shown that certain colours can cause us to eat more or less, to feel at ease or stressed, and may even remind us of a particulate memory.  There are calming cool tones, energetic warm hues, playful pastels, and moodier muted colours.  In my work, I combine colours in various ways in order to express the mixture of often conflicting emotions that I feel.
I view painting as a conversation between visual elements in a delicate balancing act of tension and harmony.  In my work, I incorporate various contrasting elements, or binaries.  Examples of these binaries include hard/soft, fast/slow, geometric/organic, textured/smooth, saturated/unsaturated, and planned/accidental.  When combined, these contrasts create a push-pull dynamic that aims to simultaneously attract and unsettle the viewer.
I choose to work in mixed-media, as it allows me to play with a more complete range of colours, textures, and mark-making techniques.  I am fascinated with observing how different mediums react when mixed  — for example, how spray paint droplets seem to blossom and grow when applied on top of wet acrylic paint, or how charcoal bleeds across the surface when exposed to water.  This sense of inquisitive playfulness defines my artistic style.
When I begin a painting, it is rare that I have a specific outcome in mind.  Rather than trying to recreate an image from my mind, I prefer to take an intuitive or reactionist approach.  Each mark that I make is a response to the previous — a call and an answer.  I believe that this approach allows me to tap into my own inner-psyche and share it with the viewer.  I would compare my process to solving a puzzle without a reference image: it is only when the puzzle is nearly finished that the image becomes clear.
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