In 2022, Dowd-Smyth was awarded £5,000 toward a studio space and support at Glasgow Sculpture Studios to a graduate with a particular interest in sculpture. This fellowship marks the latest of the wide-ranging residencies and bursaries that ACS is proud to offer in partnership with universities across the United Kingdom.
Read on to find out more about Dowd-Smyth's sculptural practice with a D.I.Y. approach.
Q. How would you define your work in three words?
That’s a tough question! Maybe D.I.Y?
Q. What medium do you mainly work with and why?
I mostly work in sculpture. I have always found such a joy in materials, and making 3D things. In 3D making I find opportunities by using what you find around you, which allows for unexpected interventions into my ideas.
I use a lot of plaster, and I think this because I have the most fun working with this material. I always say that if I don’t enjoy making something, how can I expect someone to enjoy looking at it.
Recently I’ve been making sculptures with plaster that at a glance, look like ceramic. I love momentarily tricking the viewer into thinking that they are looking at something of a traditionally higher material status, like when you see a really good knock-off designer bag.
Q. Where do you find the most inspiration for your work?
It sounds cliché, but I find inspiration everywhere, from rubbish TV, to poems, to conversations in a pub, to music. But I think the crux of it is I find inspiration in people, in their stories and memories. What really gets me going is those moments where you don’t really know whether to laugh or cry.
I’m very focused at the moment on monuments, and how we choose to memorialise and remember people, particularly forgotten womxn. I hold a strong resistance to the euro/phallocentric ideal of monuments, and I place significance on more personal forms of remembering. I take great inspiration from Metis, who is a forgotten Greek Goddess (Zeus’ first wife). Her story is rarely told and her intelligence is often attributed to Zeus. Metis lends her name to a concept too, which champions cunning and wisdom. It is the ‘practical equivalent of wit’, and it lends itself to ideas of triumph and resilience against all odds. The concept of metis has influenced my practice and approach to making endlessly.
Q. Can you remember the first work of art that you created? What was it and why was it so memorable?
It was a drawing of a stick-person on a pebble, I think I was about 3. A grown up varnished the stone after I drew on it to ensure the poster paint stayed. I remember it for its physical weight, the fact I could hold it and it was heavy and I liked this. Thinking about it, I bet this has a lot to do with why I make sculptures now.
Portrait of the artist with ‘Queen of the Land’, 2022
© Rosie Dowd-Smyth
Q. What does it mean to you to win the ACS Glasgow Sculpture Studios Fellowship 2022?
We all say that we don’t need validation as artists, but it does help! I feel supported and championed by Glasgow Sculpture Studios and ACS, which is a great feeling. To have this kind of support means so much in these trying times.
Q. As the winner of the ACS Glasgow Sculpture Studios Fellowship 2022, you will receive a studio space for a year. How do you envisage your work developing in the studio space?
My work has had a DIY approach by necessity for some time now. I have not had sufficient access to facilities or a functional studio! I want to ask what would my practice be if a DIY approach was by choice rather than necessity. At GSS I have the most brilliant workshops and technicians at my disposal, and I want to see how these facilities will alter my studio practice!
In terms of ideas, I will start with ideas that I didn’t fully realise while studying for my masters. I’ll be looking at ideas of memory and monuments, whilst maintaining an undercurrent of hope and resilience. The fellowship allows me the time to experiment and fully investigate these ideas and give them the respect they deserve.
Q. Why do you think it is important for emerging artists to be supported by opportunities like the ACS Glasgow Sculpture Studios Fellowship?
Funded opportunities are so hard to come by, and the prices of studios, just like everything else, is on the rise. What all emerging artists need is time and a safe space to experiment, and we can’t do that if we can’t afford to dedicate time to our practices. It’s such a scary time for everyone at the moment, and creativity can feel futile when our lives are this precarious. Opportunities like this offer some hope and solidity.
‘Searchin”, 2021 © Rosie Dowd-Smyth
Q. Can you describe for us the process and ideas behind your sculptures, such as ‘Searchin’’?
‘Searchin’’ comprises of 48 sculptures of Guinness cans scattered across the floor. I made this work in lockdown, and I’d have a can of Guinness after working in my home studio (living room). I covered one of the cans that I’d drunk in plaster, engraved and painted the Guinness branding back onto it, and then varnished it. There was a real charm to the childish mark-making in contrast to the varnish finished which made it reminiscent of a glazed ceramic sculpture. At this point I knew I liked the object, but I didn’t understand its importance, so the only thing to do was make a lot of them (obsessive repetition is an ongoing theme in my practice).
Through making so many, I came to realise that they were about contemplating myself, and my heritage. More specifically, they were about obsessing over finding out more about my history without a guide. My late mother was Irish, and I have little connection to her, so I used this work to contemplate my family connections, only using tools I have at my disposal, in this case, empty cans and popular iconography. I called the work ‘Searchin’’ after a love song by The Coasters (many of my titles are lifted from songs). This title was also used by Bas Jan Ader in a photography series, not long before his fateful trip across the sea, where he never made it back to his homeland.
The making often comes prior to the concept in my practice, and I wouldn’t have it any other way. My brain only ticks over when my hands are busy.
Q. What do you have coming up over the next year?
Over the next year, what I’m most excited about are the studio and facilities at GSS! I plan to give myself as much time as possible simply being there. I think by granting yourself time to sit and think in a creative space is one of the most valuable things.
I’m also participating in a group show that opens in Bonn, then moves to Hamburg and finally to Graz. It’s called ‘Ridiculously Yours: Art, Enthusiasm and Awkwardness‘. I’m honoured to be part of this show alongside many brilliant artists, one of which being Alfred Jarry, a playwright who has been indispensable to my practice and way of looking at art.