Art, it’s ALIVE!

A studio visit with Megan Smallwood

By Eva Buttacavoli

Photo: Megan Smallwood, Griffin


My first and only physical encounter with one of Louise Bourgeois’s gargantuan, dare-to-walk-underneath-her “mama-spiders” (Maman, 1997), made me consider just how some artists can defy logic and the rules of nature and transform our daydreams and nightmares right there into our daily lives. Never particularly drawn to books and film exploring utopian or dystopian worlds nor drawn to the virtual worlds of computer games, I remember standing surrounded by her eight, 30-foot high bronze spider legs and grasping, for a split second, being inside some unreal world. Then getting out quick.


Thus began my curiosity in artists who seek to portray the vision held in their mind’s eye—altered states of consciousness, the hallucinatory, the sublime. And more specifically, what did any of that have to do with my hours of fascination with my dad’s acid rock album covers of the ’70s.

After noticing Megan Smallwood’s fantasy landscape murals around town I reached out to her on Facebook. When I learned she has work all over the place—painting, drawing, printing, welding and ceramics, all within this theme, I wanted to learn more. I spent some time one morning at Decoy Art Studio in Beavercreek, where she teaches and creates her ceramic work, and got to know one of the most visionary young artists and compassionate art teachers in the area.

Smallwood was born and raised in the rolling hills of Brown County, Ohio, on the edge of the Appalachian plateau. She grew up in farm country, out in the woods, as she says, “a beautiful part of the world to start one’s life.” As a biology major at Southern State Community College in Sardinia, Ohio, she took a ceramics class and ended up with an A in Art. A brief year at Northern Kentucky University exposed her to a bigger world and she eventually moved to Dayton and received her BFA in Sculpture from WSU. She says one of her most pivotal experiences in becoming an artist was working with Wright State faculty and administration to build a series of large-scale installations on campus. Installations and larger scale work have since become a passion for her and as she explores her media, it is always with a goal of large-scale in mind.

Tell me about your typical art-making day

Megan Smallwood: I am one of those artists who has the privilege of working in my field. At Decoy I am spending my day teaching, making demos for classes, working on projects and dreaming up new plans for classes. When I work on projects I turn up the volume; music, happy sounds to fill my ears and keep me focused. Sometimes I will dance around while I sculpt, other times I sit on the ground/floor to work on details. When I paint I use the energy of a show, live bands, lots of fans and folks like to watch. It’s a great motivator to work while people watch. I get a lot of good ideas that way. But the serious work, when I’m finishing pieces, getting down to the nitty-gritty, this-has-gotta-be-brilliant, final stuff happens when I am alone or with a select few.

How do you choose what to make?

MS: What should be made often comes from interacting with existing spaces or from a dreamscape. I am also inspired by handling different materials and seeing their potential. From there it is just a matter of interacting with the owner or organizer of a space and making it happen or getting together the materials to create with. Inspiration also comes from others, when they ask me to envision something for them and bring it to life collaboratively.

What are your favorite materials to work with?

MS: I really enjoy clay, paint and I would like to continue working in metal. Plaster is a fun way to jazz things up. Fabric is a great one too. I really like to experiment with whatever materials I can get my hands on. It’s really not fair to all the materials I have not tried yet, to rule them out.

How many years have you been an artist?

MS: Officially, that is, once I decided “Hey, Im’a be an artist now!” … About 10 years. But I have always created things.

Where are you drawing your visual references from?

MS: In painting that is easy; I am inspired by fantasy artists. One big influence is Roger Dean (English artist best known for his work on posters and album covers for English rock bands Yes and Asia). But as far as sculptures that is a lot harder to nail down. There is long list of artists that I appreciate but not one particular one to point at and say “I’m like that guy” or “My work reflects so and so.” One local artist who inspires me is Jon Barlow Hudson (Yellow Springs). That is one cool dude and his work is beautiful!

What is your teaching philosophy?

MS: “Life is Art and Art is Alive.” Why is life art? Look around you. Right now, wherever you are as you read this you are surrounded by beautiful things. Some of them have been shaped and made with intention by the hands and mind of another human being, some have occurred from the unconscious influence of other humans and some is the beauty of nature, adapting and surviving. Everything has a beauty. It only waits to be appreciated.

Do you prefer to work with music or in silence?

MS: Music, people, noise. “Turn up the volume, I’m using power tools here!”

What do you collect?

MS: The artwork work of my friends and local artists—usually fantasy related, film posters, stickers (art stickers are awesome and more people should make them), tools, random objects that strike my fancy (from bottles to broken bits of metal or old furniture, anything I can create with), screen printed T-shirts—which are an art form in their own right and that I also enjoy creating.

Tell me about the vision you have for your artistic self

MS: My vision is large-scale sculptures and installations. I am focused on creating something that really engages the viewer on all levels, physically, emotionally, sensory, “immersive art.” I want to continue to create works of art that alter the environment and thereby the viewer. I want to make things so big you can climb on them, walk in, around, under them, interact with them, become friends with them. That’s where I feel I am putting out the “soul” of my work.

What are your upcoming shows and/or projects?

MS: You can view my mural, “The Dayton Dream: From Founding to Future” any time at 410 Nassau St. in Dayton. I am always showing new works at Decoy Art Studio in Beavercreek.

For more information, please visit, follow Megan.Smallwood.Art on Instagram, or megandooleysmallwood on Facebook.



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