Painting A Taste Of Home: The SNACKS Of Ashley Smallwood
“I only started painting the snacks last year when I had no money for Christmas gifts” says Ashley, “I painted my family and my friends their favourite snack, and soon everybody wanted one!”
Ashley is a Newfoundlander who has been living in Toronto for eight years. Some say it takes time away to develop a true appreciation for one’s home. However, memories such as childhood snack-runs from Nan’s to the store for Pop Eye’s Candy Cigarettes (“and the rest in bologna”) don’t always result in artistic ventures worthy of demand.
The snack paintings are driven by nostalgia, and thematically encapsulate the cultural recognizability of Pop Art, only on a more intimate scale – your favourite snack food painted on a plain white backdrop, isolated in it’s packaging. It’s an idea which revels in simplicity to create those relatable plucks of the sentimental heartstrings, or acts as a comfort food for homesickness.
“Pop Art is exactly what it is,” says Ashley, “They’re just watercolour paintings of snacks.”
Whether it be hometown junk food heroes of Caramel Logs and Hawkins Cheezies, or the heartwarming depiction of Carnation Milk, your grandparents favourite Tetley additive, Ashley brushes with particular Warholian hints of the iconic Campbells Soup Cans. People couldn’t fight the hunger to hang one of their own.
“Everybody was so stoked on it that they were like, “Oh, you should do this, or you should do this”, and once everyone I told requested their favourite snacks I ended up with like fifty originals of all the snack foods.”
When I spoke to Ashley on the phone she was pulling the graveyard shift to package two hundred prints, in addition to ten large-scale snack painting originals. Each print is carefully hand-stamped and sleeved in plastic, the originals wrapped, tied and ready for shipment. The do it yourself ethos of the operation gives it a handcrafted charm with a whole lot of personality. Even though managing the increasing workload has become a full-time juggling act – the same set of hands that are painting the pieces are also taking orders on an individual basis before stamping, wrapping and shipping the prints and paintings.
“I need to get my webstore up and running, and I’m doing everything myself so it’s taking a lot longer” says Ashley, “The web store will be the biggest help because right now I’m just getting e-mails saying, ‘Paint me this! Here’s my address!’ and then I send them a hand wrapped painting of a bag of chips in the mail.”
Back in the spring Ashley considered snack paintings to be “somewhere between a hobby and a day job,” but in light of recent activity the endeavor has grown to a full time gig that consumes most of Ashley’s time and lands her in the studio “flat out painting”.
The recent emergence of appreciation for Ashley’s work is without a doubt the result of a great concept, fine artistic quality and hard work ethic, but a tweet from Rick Mercer helped to turn heads and put her name on other Canadian tongues.
“I asked him what his favorite snack was and he said Caramel Log. Then I painted it for him and like a crazy person, I brought it to his work,” Ashley says. “They tweeted about it, and everybody loves Rick, so now everybody wants a caramel log of their own.”
Though Ashley is the first to admit that the initial upsurge of attention and influx of requests are coming from Newfoundlanders, and Newfoundlanders living abroad, the snacks are finding themselves in homes all across the board.
“I’d say that it’s mainly Newfoundlanders, but that’s definitely not just it.” Says Ashley,” “I’m involved in the vintage and antique flea market area up here (in Toronto), so I sell them around those markets. A big one is called the Junction Flea, it’s the biggest and first Toronto flea market. I sell them there as well, but it’s still mostly Newfoundlanders at this point.”
Since I spoke with Ashley last week her work has become available at two Toronto shops – Crywolf on Ossington and SMASH! on Dundas West. The prints will continue being available at the fingertips of St. John’s residents as they perch on the shelves at Fogtown Barber & Shop, a relationship that is set to produce a collaboration for Fogtown Brand’s next seasonal clothing line.
“I’m doing a collab with Chris Evans at Fogtown, that’s going to be coming out in the spring and summer.” Ashley says of the post-Holiday season. “Besides that I got a couple of originals going out, one for George Strombolopolous – he wanted a Joe Louis.”
Ashley has other artistic endeavors she’d like to pursue, but for now she’s “flat out on the snacks” more so then ever as she rides out the Holiday rush, which is by the far the busiest she’s been since the projects conception.
“Christmas has been deadly. I mean, I sent the first order to Fogtown, and they’re almost sold out. That was only a week ago.”
Though Ashley wont be back in St. John’s for the Holidays, a piece of her could prove more pervasive than Saint Nick himself. With her work proving popular as a gift idea, the snack paintings are finding their way under many trees on Christmas morning, and spreading quickly onto kitchen walls across the country.