Visit artist's studios and venues in Peterborough and the surrounding areas

Jacki Cairns Interview 3 – Ali Hawley-Smith


This, my third interview, is the first one I have conducted with someone I have never met before.  Saying that, once I had had a look at Ali’s work on the PAOS website I immediately felt a connection, as her work is clearly from the heart and not the head.  Although our outcomes are quite different, the way we approach our practice is very similar.


Anyone who chooses to visit Ali’s home during the open studios is in for a visual treat. Even without the artwork, her home and its picturesque setting over-looking the River Welland (in Deeping St. James) is a sight to behold.  The paintings, which will be dotted around, provide splashes of colour, literally, in a multitude of colour combinations and styles.


Ali’s warmth and enthusiasm for what she does is refreshing and I am confident that she will do very well indeed.   I feel very blessed to have met Ali so early on in her artistic journey and am looking forward to watching her continue to flourish.  Since recording the interview, I am very pleased to announce that Ali has been added to the list of artists who are allowed to sell their art via the Art in the Heart Marketplace website.




JC: Why have you decided to join PAOS this year?


AHS: I wanted to gain exposure and reach a new audience.   I’ve only been painting for two years and my friends, family and work colleagues are the only ones who see my work.   Of course all my friends and family are very complimentary about what I do, but when it’s early on and you are emerging, you do lack a lot of self belief.  One friend in particular has said I need to get my work out there and it is starting to happen.


I only created a website in the last couple of months and I am ambushing Instagram at the moment with my art.   I just went to see a show at Black Cab Framing, at Deeping St. James and with a view to possibly exhibit there.   The lady there said, “Yes, possibly but not until after open studios, are you doing them?” …and that was the first time I had ever heard about it.  This was about two weeks before the PAOS sign up deadline, so I went ahead and applied.  Since then I have really got excited about it.


JC: Is it just painting you specialise in, or do you work with other materials?


AHS: At the moment it’s just painting, but I have worked with beads, mosaics and textiles in the past.   My focus now, is absolutely solely on painting which I just love.


JC: What drew you to painting?


AHS:  I have a history of depression, I was diagnosed two and half years ago with Chronic Fatigue Syndrome because they couldn’t find another label for my symptoms.  I also have an under active thyroid.  All these conditions have left me feeling depleted and I have turned to painting as a kind of therapy.


My creativity had been supressed and I was wanting to do something, but I couldn’t work out what.  So, one day I just started painting on pebbles and that’s really where it started.  Then I painted mandalas, and started putting them onto canvas.  It went from very tight work, drawing detailed mandalas to then this free abstract.  I think that is a reflection of me, and how I am growing and how I am being more accepting of myself.  The freedom abstract has given me, I think is me becoming who I am supposed to be.  I think that is where I am staying, but never say never.


JC: Did you go to art school?


AHS: No, I was always good at art at school but never went on to pursue it, until now.  I have always been creative in a making sense.


JC:  Have you had any memorable responses to your work?


AHS:  I have had a lot of gasps and  ‘wows’ and  two people who I don’t know have approached me about doing commissions for them.  They have come with a colour scheme and a vague idea and have given me the creative freedom to do it my way.  Their responses were, “You absolutely did what I asked, and beyond.”


JC:  Will you be doing demonstrations during the PAOS weekend?


AHS:   At the moment, I think I will just let people come in and look at my work.  I’d love to be demonstrating, but the way I work is so messy I don’t think it would work to be honest.   I would be covered in paint and in the zone and I can’t see how I could juggle that with meeting and greeting people.  Maybe one day I will find a way around that.


JC: Where do you get your inspiration from?


AHS:   Lots of places, I am quite spiritual.  I love the east, I love Asia and North Africa.  I love the colours and the warmth of the people.  When I went to Egypt I was very drawn to their warmth; when I went to Morocco I was very drawn to the colours.  Meditation and music also brings out a lot for me.   What I am listening to is usually reflected in my work.   I am very spiritual, so that comes out in my work along with my love of all things ethnic.


JC:  What was the last exhibition you went to?


AHS:  I went to see Tony Nero’s exhibition at the Stamford Arts Centre.   He has got such a vast range of work, it is amazing.   Some artists, you just know what they do because they have stuck to a certain style,  but his work was so vast it was incredible and surprising.


JC:  What if anything would you like to improve with your work?


AHS:  I think I just want to continue to grow and evolve with my work.   I don’t think I am where I am meant to be, I want to keep experimenting.   I like what I am doing, but I don’t feel that this is it.  I  think everybody can always improve, I am quite critical of myself and a perfectionist but incidentally with my art, I am not  such a perfectionist because it is now so abstract.   Maybe it’s a reflection of myself, an acceptance of what is laid out in front of you.


JC: What do you think is the best thing about your work?


AHS:  With my latest work I would say the vibrancy, colour, fluidity and it’s all very free and open.  I don’t set out to have a final piece, and I love the fact viewers can look at my paintings and see all sorts of things going on; figures dancing, Arabic handwriting,  flowers, for example.  One of the best bits for me is just seeing how people respond to the work and hearing what they see in front of them.



JC: Do you do research before you start a series of work?


AHS:  I have a lot of people I admire, and I am always looking at other artists’ work.  I love Emma Lindstrom, a Swedish abstract artist.   I also love Salvador Dali and Jackson Pollock.   I like the story behind Dali and Pollock, as they both came from a supressed, depressed place.


JC:  What would your dream project be?


AHS: Sounds corny I know, but I seriously would love to work with street kids in India running creative workshops.   In the past when I was working with beads and jewellery I did a couple of therapeutic workshops at a school working with special needs children.  I loved watching how the children reacted differently to the materials and how by simply playing with beads they opened up.   It was incredible to see how different conditions played out.  The children were so engulfed in all the colour,   it wasn’t so much about making anything, it was more about just this visual excitement and allowing the children to explore the materials.  I have wanted to live in India for a long time, so it would be great to tie all this together.


JC: Professionally what is your goal long term?


AHS:  In my ‘real life’ I am a personal assistant to a managing director.  I am very organised and very structured but I am not given the opportunity to be very creative that often.  I really would like to be an artist full time, I would love my passion to be my income and all encompassing.


PAINtings, Paul Kneen

13 Apr 2024 – 15 Jun 2024 Peterborough Museum & Art Gallery PAINtings, revolving around the theme of portraiture, adeptly More

Lisa Helin’s Beautiful Butterflies at Peterborough Museum

This spring Peterborough Museum and Art Gallery will be exhibiting the beautiful artwork from Lisa Helin in their Squires Coffee More

Reunions – Chris Porsz Photographic Exhibition

Legendary Peterborough photographer, Chris Porsz, showcases his recreated candid photographs snapped on the local streets of the city spanning over More

Re-Imagine the Future at Metal 19th March 2024

Join members of Babeworld for a workshop exploring fan fiction* as an empowering tool for transformation and re-imagining futures. More

Privacy | Website by Red Tomato and NGI