This Toronto artist can't stop painting junk food
I found my first snack painting in Smash, a salvaged furniture store in the Junction: a print of a bag of Miss Vickie’s Sea Salt and Malt Vinegar chips. On a smaller scale, it resonated with me just as much as Infinity Mirrors or Anthropocene at the AGO. I had to have it.
I still do, to this day. Art related to food captures a special part of our imaginations: Andy Warhol’s paintings of Campbell’s tomato soup, for example. Perhaps this is why Ashley Smallwood’s snack paintings are blowing up.
Cheezies, cans of Crush, Doritos: these are the snacks we grew up on, and it often takes just a glimpse of a logo to bring back memories, and Smallwood capitalizes on this.
“A few months into it I had a little collection of classic snacks going and they seemed to make people happy,” she says. “If I can paint a bag of Cheezies and it makes someone smile, then my job is done.”
Starting out painting mostly to make Christmas gifts for friends and family, the first snacks Smallwood chose to depict were staples from her Newfoundland childhood like mustard pickles, hard bread and pineapple Crush.
All paintings are done in watercolour, mostly on birch panels right here in Toronto in what Smallwood calls her “one-human snack factory.”
She’s been painting snacks for about five years now, has painted hundreds of custom paintings and has about 100 classic snack designs in rotation that are available at stores throughout town at Crywolf, Community 54 and The Future of Frances Watson, as some stores in St. John’s and of course, online.
She also does pet portraits, saying “If snacks and dogs could make me happy, then I was sure I wasn’t alone. Custom paintings, whether of snacks or pets, are the ultimate because you can choose every aspect of it and end up with a piece that you truly love and feel connected to.”
Smallwood does every single painting herself, so orders take anywhere from three to six months to arrive.
“My goal is to make you feel like a kid again,” she says. “I want people to remember their favourite childhood snack and to ultimately feel that sense of nostalgia for the good old days when picking your favourite treat from the corner store was your biggest dilemma.
“People might not be able to relate to an abstract or uptight piece of art, but people get snacks!”
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