Art Tag: Fashion with an edge

By Andrea Stokes – 

In last issue’s instalment of “Art Tag,” artist Patti Normand tagged Kitchissippi artist, Alison Smith-Welsh as one of her favourite artists and next to profile.

Alison Smith-Welsh in her Hintonburg home studio. Photo by Andrea Stokes
Alison Smith-Welsh in her Hintonburg home studio. Photo by Andrea Stokes

I met up with Alison in her very colourful and art- filled Hintonburg home, where she is lucky enough to have an attic studio to make all of her work. Alison’s love of colour and pattern is evident and in abundance in the home she shares with her husband, James.

Over coffee and donuts, we sat down to talk about how she came to do the work she does, and what her trajectory has been.

Alison grew up with a mother who was a painter, and a father who, in addition to being a photographer, was also a window display artist at the old Caplan’s store in Ottawa. Alison used to collect vintage clothes, and dress and style her friends, and then take photos of them and develop them in the home darkroom. She contends that she was always a maker and a collector.

Following in her father’s footsteps, and taking a cue from her own interest in fashion styling, she attended Sheridan College’s  Visual Presentation program within the School of Fashion. After graduating she spent 15 years creating window displays for The Bay, Robinson’s, Eaton’s, and Holt Renfrew.

Although she enjoyed the work she began to feel an itch to push the boundaries and a desire to experiment with different materials and props. There were limitations within the retail fashion industry that she felt she had to reach beyond.

Alison enrolled in the Museum Studies program at Algonquin and learned about building museum exhibits and displays. She currently works full time at the Canadian Museum of History.

Her early sculptures using found objects caught the eye of Don Monet of Cube Gallery and she began exhibiting at Cube.

As a lover of colour,  texture and pattern, who is compelled by instinct to collect and re-form, Alison began using flattened out metals, often found in a spring thaw. (Many artists are like magpies in regards to shiny objects, but Alison may have ownership on this!)

Much of Alison’s current work alludes to her history in the fashion industry. Her work involves a kind of re-working of a fetishized object – like a woman’s corset, or pair of shoes – making it slick and shiny and beautiful, but it always has a dark and uncomfortable edge to it. An object of Alison’s making looks so attractive, so compelling, but has no practical use. Upon closer examination it will get more and more uncomfortable to digest. Alison also constructs objects with a nod to nostalgia and a presumed innocence.

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Alison is presently building up her collection of sculptures with an eye towards larger scale solo exhibitions. She is compiling a body of work that can have more impact when exhibited all together.

When asked to choose the next artist to tag, Alison chose painter and printmaker, Stephen Frew. Alison says she is a huge fan of Stephen’s use of colour, form, and line work.

“If I ever saw something like his lines, or colour choices in a piece of metal, I would just want it so badly,” says Alison.

It’s interesting how one artist working in such a different medium can fire the synapses of another. Stay tuned for Stephen’s profile in the next issue of KT.

In the meantime, check out Alison’s incredible sculptures at

Art Tag is a special series by local artist Andrea Stokes. Each artist she profiles for KT “tags” their favourite artist to be profiled in the next issue. Find the others in this series right here


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