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Artist Alex Smyth on Being a “Sore Thumb” and Creating a More Colourful Community

“Colourful” and “wonky” are the words that illustrator and ceramist, Alex Guch uses to describe the kind of art she loves. That endearing combination is also exactly what draws us to the artist herself. From her illustrations to Instagram stories of random summer clothes she’s sewn out of scrap materials, her practice is all about having fun – and it shows.

She extends that creative spirit into the community with her Playground Pop-Up series. The one-day-long art market, curated by Guch, features emerging artists and makers, and encourages newcomers to get their work out into the world in a low barrier setting. The underlying sentiment that “it’s all well and good if you have no idea what you’re doing, as long as it’s a good time,” is something I think we could all use a little more of these days. We recently asked her to tell us about her own practice, inspirations, and the importance of communal art spaces.

From valentines to ceramics, your art practice seems like it’s constantly shifting. Is there one medium that you always go back to and, if so, why?

Everything I’m making revolves around illustration, so I always come back to sketching and drawing, and building off of that into other mediums, like ceramics. I guess it just feels like the basis and starting off point for other projects, even if it’s a scribbly concept drawing that wouldn’t make sense to anyone else.

For me it’s important to be open to new mediums and change as well, since I’m not a seasoned artist with years and years of experience. I feel like translating your work and experience across multiple mediums is a good way to find your style and voice. How I draw with pen and paper can be so different than what I do digitally, or how I illustrate on ceramic pieces. It feels like I’m always finding out something new about myself or what I like making through that.

“Letting yourself be an amateur and make things for fun is a freeing experience that I think is valuable to hold on to.”

A very common thread in your work seems to be a childlike playfulness. What draws you to that or inspires that within your work?

The idea of play is really important to me in my approach to making things. I think there’s always a lot of talk about “the inner child”, etc., but I really do feel like I make work that I love when I can enter a state of not thinking, just playing. I cherish those memories of being a kid and spending hours doodling or sculpting something, and it’s sad that it can be hard to maintain that as we get older, with obligations to work, relationships, and lots of overthinking.

I try to not take anything that I make too seriously, and I think having a self-taught background contributes to that as well. Letting yourself be an amateur and make things for fun is a freeing experience that I think is valuable to hold on to. Even my Instagram handle/brand name Guch World is a testament to that idea. “Guch” is a family nickname I’ve had since I was little.

You curated the Playground Pop-Up series, bringing together a ton of artists to display and sell their works. What was the motivation behind that and how did you choose which artists were featured?

I started Playground to foster a fun and inclusive space for emerging artists/makers to sell their work in a low-pressure and friendly environment. I had started selling my work at some pop-up markets last summer and often felt a bit out of place. Most of the markets featured small businesses selling neutral-toned and modern home items, and my bright, chaotic table of prints and ceramics felt like a sore thumb. Also, the fees were typically over $100 for a single-day market, which can be scary if you’re new to selling things or unsure if you’ll break even. I also don’t really see myself as a fine artist trying to get gallery exhibitions, so I was feeling like there was almost no middle ground between these very beige homeware markets and the fine art world. After meeting other artists and crafters like myself, I realized I could just make my own pop-up market devoted to the colourful, wonky, DIY work that I loved seeing from other artists.

I made the market fee very low and included a sliding scale to encourage artists to share their work without the fear of having to make back large market fees. I opened a simple Google form application where artists could apply, and though our venue could only fit 12 or so artists, I was surprised at how many applications came in! I would love to have a giant venue where I could include everyone, but I tried to give people a spot who had never done a market before, or were newer to sharing their work.

What is the importance of curating these communal spaces alongside other artists?

I think creativity doesn’t happen in a vacuum, and meeting other artists and talking about ideas and thoughts is such an important part (at least for me) of a creative process. A lot of art-making can be kind of solitary as well, so having other folks to reach out to or hang out with is really nice. These community spaces also just contribute so much to the overall creative community of the city, and makes it feel so much more vibrant and culturally rich.

What would you say to young artists out there who want to start their own pop-up art collectives?

I’d say just go for it! It’s easy to feel overwhelmed by the logistical aspects of planning. Start small and have an art sale in the park, start a drawing club with a group of friends, or reach out to local businesses who might be interested in hosting your event.

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Follow Alex on Instagram and go check out her goods at the next Playground Pop-Up art market, March 19th at Tightrope Improv Theatre. For more information on the Playground Pop-Up follow them here.

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