Like all insightful art, the work of Squamish's Alecia Childs can make you gasp, smile, laugh, and think — sometimes simultaneously.
The 33-year-old specializes in pop art and portraiture.
One of the born and raised local's pieces that sells well online depicts an imitation Campbell's soup can.
Only her 'soup' is called "Coronavirus Pandemic," followed by an expletive.
Some of her other work is similarly cheeky in a way that cuts to the heart of what many of us think, but perhaps don't say out loud.
The Squamish Chief interviewed Childs about her art, what cancer taught her and her next very personal project.
What follows is an edited version of that conversation.
When did you first notice that you were good at drawing or art?
I've always been drawing, painting, and doing creative projects. But it wasn't until I was a nail technician that I really got into nail art. And it got to the point where I won a couple of awards for my nail art. And then I was doing a tiny little portrait of Jean Dean on a nail, and I was like, What am I doing? Why am I not doing this like on a broader scope?
A nail can last for like, six to eight weeks if you're lucky.
And then I started painting on canvas at that point. And then, I had a cancer diagnosis in 2018. And it wasn't until after that that I re-evaluated my life and was like, OK, I think I want to be doing this full time and just putting my all into it.
We will definitely come back to that life-changing cancer diagnosis. When you were a kid, were you into drawing or was it later?
That was definitely one of my favourite hobbies. It wasn't one that I did all the time, though. I have ADHD, so I'm kind of all over the place in creative projects.
I'm still kind of like that to this day. I'm currently restoring a 1970 Volkswagen, and I have so many projects all over the place. But it was definitely like that when I was a kid. Anything creative that involved working with my hands, I was into it.
When you sit down to create something — not commissioned, but just that you get that you want to create — what inspires you?
I'm really drawn to pop art and pop culture in particular. And usually, when I'm watching something, or when I'm, like, looking at something very visually appealing, it usually hits a part of my brain that just gets really stuck on this idea that develops and goes from there. So yeah, usually, it's just being super obsessed with this one thing.
I love doing portraits of people that I really admire. And I'm going to be working on a series of women that I'm just so enamoured with. And I really love dogs or just quirky little pop culture references.
What's one of your favourite pieces that you've done? Do you have a favourite, or is that like picking kids?
I think it's like picking kids. Definitely, there are a couple of dog portraits that I'm absolutely in love with, like there's one of an Irish wolfhound that I love so much. It's really special to me because I painted it for a friend who had just lost her dog. It was just a little passion piece that I did out of love. But it definitely ignited this thing with pet portraits for me. It wasn't really something that I did up to that point. Later, I started working one day a week at the veterinary hospital and working with people doing pet euthanasia and sorting out what they wanted to do afterwards throughout the whole memorialization process. I like painting portraits for people whose dogs passed or some that are still living. It's just so nice to be creating something that is special.
Going back to you having cancer, what did going through that teach you about art or what it means to you?
It was one of the things I could do when I was sick.
I was so weak that I couldn't take my dog for a walk or anything like that. So I couldn't be active. And I really, like got back into it.
And that's when I really start thinking, 'What do I want to be doing after this? What do I love to do? And I really love[d] doing art when I was sick and I think I also developed quite a bit of skill while I was in that.
It was definitely hard going through it. But I came out of it with just passion for life. I still had a lot of physical and mental struggles afterwards, but it definitely put me on a different path. And that path I'm really grateful for.
Can you speak to the value of art to society or to our community?
I think art is really important. I think it connects people, even if it's not connecting people on the same idea. It's a driving force that is so interesting, and it can be really thought-provoking and beautiful.
That was one of the things I got really excited about when I came back to Squamish in 2017. After being away for a few years, there was at least some art and suddenly we were doing things like the art walk and the Squamish mural festival and things like that.
I am excited that the art scene is building, and I think that that's creating more of a community because, personally, I don't feel like I fit in too much with the outdoorsy crowd here, so when I go to like art events it's just like, ‘Oh, these are my people.’
It is a way to connect and fit into this place. It is just all these lovely weirdos that appreciate this town but aren't necessarily athletic or whatever.
You sell your work online; there have been issues with some artists having their work stolen and that kind of thing. Is there anything like that you wish the public knew about being an artist who sells her work?
Creating art is definitely a lot harder than people expect. There's more time and effort that goes into it.
When artists charge higher prices, it's not just because, ‘Oh, I think this is worth more.’ It's because you're really paying for those years where you've developed that skill.
Theft of small artists' work happens to so many where there's something that you've spent so much time doing — or you've had a really original unique idea — and then it just gets swept out from under you. And a lot of the time, it's taken by big companies, especially with fast fashion where they just slap your image on their thing. Luckily it hasn't happened to me yet.
What are you working on now?
I'm actually just starting a portrait for myself. I just lost one of my dogs a couple of weeks ago — he passed away. And so I'm doing my own pet portrait, and I'm thrilled about it. That's going to be a really fun project for me.
I am so sorry you lost your dog. Can you tell us a bit more about him?
Oh my God, he's the best — he was the best.
He was a French bulldog, Gromp. He was really unique, really silly. He just had the best sense of humour, just very quirky. There's a connection that I had with him that I'd never had with any other dog before. We always understood each other really well. And it was really weird — before I got my cancer diagnosis, I was having symptoms, but not enough to go to the doctor. Gromp was especially clingy and he would lay on my chest, which is not something that he was ever doing before.
And that's where the tumour was, in my chest and he was constantly in that area and comforting me.
And then, after I got the diagnosis, I thought, “Oh my God, that was it.”
More than anything, doing his portrait is just going to be so heartwarming and cathartic — to get this out and make a nice memory of him or a nice keepsake of him. So, I'm excited.
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