Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Self-Conscious: Malorie Shmyr Builds Body Confidence through New Art Exhibit

I wish that I could live inside of Malorie Shmyr’s head. On the outside, the freckled-cheeked brunette is a poised, conservatively-dressed young woman – but on the inside, I imagine her mind is fluttering with Alice-in-Wonderland-esque visions ready to be released onto the world. The creative director has barely touched her latte, and is instead caught up in revealing where her inspiration comes from.

“At the risk of sounding odd, I will reveal what happens,” Malorie says about her visions – A.K.A her soon-to-become masterpieces. “Sometimes I tell people and they’re like, ‘what?’ but this is really how it goes.”

A professionally trained fine artist, Malorie learned how to see objects not for what they are but as the shapes that make them up. She tells me about how a simple item like a table will inspire a whole concept for a photo shoot, including the wardrobe, the makeup, the set, the props, the lighting and the story.

“I’ll be walking down the street and – it’ll be totally instant – the whole idea for a photo shoot will come to me,” says Malorie. “I’ll see one object and – boom – I’ll have a story about this woman and what she’s wearing and what her hair looks like and why.”

Malorie grew up in Spruce Grove, but always felt like an Edmontonian because her studio was located downtown. After graduating from the Academy of Art University in San Francisco, her experience led her back to Edmonton, and for the past two years she’s been building a career as a creative director – each time getting that “boom” before she comes up with another concept.

I watch as the artist lets her latte sit cold. I think to myself that it’s rare to see someone become so invigorated by talking about their work, and as I’m about to learn, Malorie is indeed one of those excitable people who truly lives for their passion. Unlike many artists who find themselves humbled within the status-quo of a corporate society, the 26-year-old is unapologetic as an entrepreneur.

“Some people say, ‘why don’t you get a different job, you’ve been doing this forever and you’re struggling,’” says Malorie. “And I always say, ‘no – why would I do that? I’m almost there; I can feel it.’ I feel like lots of people stop when they’re almost there,” she says. “You can be extremely talented, but if you don’t put in the work then how can you expect to reach the goals you set for yourself?”

Four years after graduating university, Malorie’s hard work is starting to pay off. “I graduated in 2009 and I have been working every day. Except for two trips that I went on, I haven’t taken a day off,” says Malorie. “It’s been non-stop, and only now am I making money. It takes forever. But I knew that I’d never give up.”

Coming from an education in 3D modeling in video games and film, Malorie first opted for what she thought was a more realistic goal and originally overlooked her dream. “I thought, if I do video games, it seems like there must be more job opportunities in that. So I didn’t listen to my intuition of wanting to do film, and I did that,” says Malorie. “I ended up never even getting a job in any video game – even though I tried a ton.”

Ironically, Malorie’s first job was in film, where she did 3D modelling for A War Reporter. “That just goes to show,” she says, “always do what your passion is, not what you think you should do.”

The artist has published out-of-this-world-type spreads in Australia’s Fashionising Magazine (Explotion and Catching Dreams), the U.K’s The Like Magazine (How The Light Gets In) and has made the cover with a full editorial spread in the U.K’s MagPie Darling (Fragile Fierceness). But Malorie’s most powerful project is one that is closest to home: A project titled Self Conscious, inspired by her own struggles with self-image growing up.

Self-Conscious has been evolving for the last two years, and is by far the most time-consuming feat the artist has carried out so far. Working on everything from creating the concept to gathering and interviewing the models to photographing and sketching them for the final paintings, Malorie’s drive comes from her vision of creating a better world where women no longer feel insecure about their bodies.

“I used to be extremely self-conscious about the way I looked in junior high and high school – I would cry about it,” says Malorie. “I hated my stomach, and I didn’t have any boobs – I still don’t, really. I hated my nose. And I have dark circles under my eyes; I always do. I kind of started working through it.”

Looking back on her high school photos one day, Malorie felt like an outsider gazing at a totally different person.

“I thought, ‘that person is really pretty. She doesn’t have anything wrong with her stomach, her nose, or under her eyes and her boobs look totally proportionate to her body’ – so why did I feel like that back then?” says Malorie. “If I’m looking at myself like this, then maybe other people were looking at me the same way.”

Malorie wondered if other women felt as self-conscious about their bodies as she had. With nude women being her favourite subject, she set out to create a reality where women broke free of their insecurities. She chose to paint her models like ivory statues, sending the message that women are perfect works of art. She also used bold colours to represent self-consciousness and birch wood panelling as canvases to correlate wood grains with body type. Finally, she decided to paint the women without faces to allow the viewer to relate to the models’ bodies as their own. In a world where we rarely see nude women outside of porn, Malorie’s goal was to emphasize reality. She even went as far as observing men’s reactions towards her paintings to ensure they weren’t seen in a sexualized way.

For a better understanding of her exhibit, the artist and I make the quick hop across the street from Starbucks to her studio. Once inside the enthusiastically-air-conditioned brick building, Malorie jumps into showing me the world she’s been creating for two years.

The exhibit includes twelve pieces, fifteen models and six sections portraying women with diverse body types in ages ranging from twenty to sixty years old. The artist notes that she wished she could have included women older than sixty, but that they were difficult to find. One section is made up of 5 paintings that revolve around the models’ perceptions of themselves. They portray the turmoil that comes from being entangled inside a self-conscious mind, tied up and blind-folded by the bold colours that run throughout the series. Another section includes three pieces revealing the realistic portraits of women’s area of insecurities, while two sections include large-scale paintings of seven women who have been both been trapped inside their poor self-image and, for the idealism of the exhibit, what it would look like if they broke free of the pain and fear that engulfed them. Malorie explains that she modeled this concept after her own struggles, as what really helped her push through her body image issues was talking to the models in her exhibit.

“It doesn’t take over my life like it used to,” says Malorie as we sit down on the studio couch for a heartfelt chat.” Sometimes it’ll creep up, and I don’t like it, but it’s not as bad as before when I used to cry about it.”

Malorie hopes her exhibit sparks a discussion with groups of women. She makes a point to emphasize that women too often speak on surface level. She wants women to banish the politeness of telling their self-conscious friends they look great, and instead ask what they’re insecure about and why.

As I leave Malorie’s studio, the message of her exhibit begins to sink in. Not only do I have a more realistic perception of the female form, but I actually feel less self-conscious after speaking with her.

“I wish I could show every woman how beautiful they are and what amazing paintings they would be. Discovering that everybody is self-conscious was a revelation,” says Malorie. “If I would have known this girl – and I think she was the most beautiful girl in school – was self-conscious in high school, it would have made me realize that if she is, she shouldn’t be – I am, I shouldn’t be.

Malorie’s Self-Conscious exhibit will be out this fall. The artist’s hope is to tour to as many places as possible, showing her exhibit to as many women as possible.

“I’ve been on the search to find someone who’s not self-conscious – and I’m still looking,” she says.

For more information on Malorie Shmyr and her incredible work, visit her website at

Published in Edmonton Woman's September/October issue.

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