The following is an interview I did with Toronto artist, illustrator, comic artist, and all-round art renaissance lady, Fiona Smyth for the latest issue of the Toronto Zine Library Resource Zine...
Over the years, you have done comic strips for free newspapers, murals and public works, illustration, and have shown your work in commercial galleries. How do you balance all the aspects of your (diverse!) practice, specifically the "work for love" with the "work for money?" Do you view each part of your practice as separate, or as one whole?
It's not a conscious effort to balance the different work. There is a sliding scale budget wise for "who is asking for what". Hopefully moneyed gigs keep everything else afloat. I apply for art grants every year. Also in the last couple of years I've been teaching at OCAD and selling paint at Home Depot. Regular money that isn't reliant on my art and personal expression has been hugely liberating. I would say everything informs the work in the end, all my experiences.
Do you consider yourself engaged in "zine culture?" I know you have contributed to at least a few zines...what was the extent of your involvement with zines and zine-making in the past? Have you done any self-publishing recently?
I do feel engaged even if I don't have a table at Canzine every year. I used to do zines to go with my art shows as early as 1986 and I just did one for my last solo show The Virtuous at Spin Gallery (with a screen printed cover by Michael Comeau) in 2007. In the past I contributed to Babble, Trash Compactor, Fabulous Babes, The Social Drinker, Heavy Girl Press, Maow Maow. More recently, I’ve contributed to Paper Rodeo, Regal Beast, Milk and Wodka, and Elevator.
What sorts of things inspire your work?
Film (Zhang Yimou, Hayao Miyazaki), comics (Idiotland, Kramer's Ergot, Rudy), comediennes (Sarah Silverman, Amy Sedaris) and travel, when I can afford it. And so much more, like crappily painted store signage and thrift store "art".
If I had to describe the girls/women you draw in one word, it would probably be POWERFUL. Is it (or was it ever) your intention to depict "empowered" women?
It's definitely my intention but it was born out of a subconscious compulsion. I realized over the years I was trying to empower myself and these images of women and girls were all aspects of myself. The work is really autobiographical and definitely feminist.
What are your thoughts on the idea of art-making (or zine-making for that matter) as a tool for self-empowerment? Or the empowerment of others?
Art-making is empowering all-round. And the fact that you can create a zine with little money and send it out and across the world is huge. It's great that the work can be out in the world and not languishing in an art gallery.
Do you consider your work for an adult audience exclusively? I ask because your drawings (and paintings) are so bold, inviting, and often playful. I could see children really responding to your work despite your interest in adult themes and sometimes racy subject matter...
Yes, my work is for an adult audience but its funny because a lot of illustration work I've done has been kid and tween age stuff. I guess my cartooniness and bright colours lend it to that material. More recent artwork has been a lot darker in colour and content, there's no question it's for adults. (In some of the more violent work, Child-like figures are imperiled).
Who are some of your favourite artists, local and otherwise?
I have huge ever-changing lists. Here is a teeny list (and I know I'm leaving folks out, sorry): Allyson Mitchell, Shary Boyle, Julie Voyce, Maurice Vellekoop, Michael Comeau, Marc Bell and the Psychedoolic crew, Vesna Mostovac, Lorenz Peter, GB Jones…these are all past and current zinesters. Ed Pien, Fastwurms, Casey McGlynn, Sandra Meigs. Farther away: Kara Walker, Jim Drain, Raymond Pettibon, Matthew Barney, Taiyo Matsumoto, Chiho Aoshima.
For more on Fiona, check out her website.