Photo: Graham Robertson.
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U of O alumna exhibits new work at Studio Sixty Six

Art is more than just pictures on a wall—it’s a medium of expression, and every artist has a unique way of expressing themselves and transforming their ideas into something tangible and meaningful.

However, art also communicates who the artists themselves are, and oftentimes the artists learn about themselves while creating a piece. For University of Ottawa visual arts alumna Shelby Dawn Smith, her latest exhibit Different Every Time was all about challenging herself as an artist and creating pieces which reflected her personal growth.

“I found myself after university kind of being stuck and being burned out and not really knowing what to do, so I gave myself this challenge of making paintings that were different,” says Smith.  

Smith says that the title accurately reflects the nature of the work—each piece incorporates different colours, different mediums, different actions, “different starts and different finishes.”

Due to the wide range of visuals in the paintings, and their lack of following a specific pattern or formula, Smith named the exhibit, Different Every Time. Most notably in the artwork, Smith points out, are the “binary scenarios”—some paintings are very quiet and soft, while others are louder and more vibrant.

“Soft, hard; fast, slow; bright, dark; geometric, organic—working with those different push-pull scenarios to try to create a conversation, almost, an argument, but to come to some kind of balance or harmony.”

This “conversation” reflects the changing nature of Smith’s work, and her overall growth as an artist. This transition can be seen upon comparing the defined brush strokes and gestures featured at her grad show, to the layering and fluidity she showcases in this exhibit.

“I think overall (these paintings) are more complicated, they’re more mature (in) design and more developed. There’s always an underlying naïveté with some of the paintings, but it’s more complicated,” she says.

Smith also reflects on how her upbringing in Northwestern Ontario influenced her work, especially those that resemble landscapes.

“It’s difficult in that area to be exposed to art and culture in the scale as somewhere like Ottawa. Mostly artists would have been landscape painters and that kind of thing.”

Smith also shared how she struggled to find her identity as an artist growing up in a small town, due to the lack of artistic influences.

“It was hard to find my own style at the time without anyone to base it off of so I struggled for a long time because of that (in) finding a style that would be mine.”

Combining the nostalgia of her childhood—the landscapes and scenery—with her own spontaneity, Smith was able to formulate her own identity as an artist and create pieces which reflect her vision.

“I get nostalgic for it sometimes, the landscapes, and I think that comes out a little bit, bringing me back to (a) childlike or young or free sense of painting. I try to let go when I paint—I don’t have a plan in mind for when I’m doing a painting, so I’ll do something and react to it and go with the flow.”

Smith’s work in Different Every Time showcases her journey of searching for a style to call her own, to creating art at the intersection of her small-town upbringing and passion for producing art that truly is different every time.  

Different Every Time runs until April 9 at Studio Sixty Six on Muriel Street. Admission is free.


  • Spring 2022: Desiree Nikfardjam Fall 2021: Zofka Svec 2020-2021: Aisling Murphy 2019-2020: Ryan Pepper 2018-2019: Iain Sellers 2017-2018: Ryan Pepper