It turns out Zhar smith is actually Heather Smith, and Heather Smith is a steampunk artist who goes by the name @buddhalady.
I first came across her piece Technical Dreamer, it made me think of lost treasures living beneath the sea, there was something mystical about it. It took me away from my computer, suddenly I wasn't sitting in my room but instead floating under the sea discovering Heather's hidden treasures. I wanted to find out more about Heather and her art.
What or who influenced your artist journey?
I can remember the very first time I picked up a paintbrush; I was a little girl visiting my grandmother's house. she was and still is one of the most talented oil painters I know. She always had an entire room full of paints, brushes, canvases, you name it she had it. Every visit drew excitement, I was allowed to help myself to anything in her studio, I could use whatever I wanted to create whatever my imagination deemed to be creatable. She never attributed any rules to art she simply encouraged me to try.She adored antiques and would often let me accompany her on shopping trips. She taught me the value of things, knowledge I still use to this day when flipping furniture or painting it crazy colours. I never lose sight of the value, I enjoy taking old, unique things and turning them into something magical, breathing new life into something that was once forgotten.
I’ve always had a knack for mixing colours and styles, my 5-foot, Native American, Jim Morrison loving hippy Aunt taught me all I needed to know, from photography, floral arrangements, sewing and bead-work. Her most important lesson was teaching me to be myself no matter how different or weird. The women in my life, my aunt and Grandma are the reason I found a special place, my art. It’s where I go to get lost, it is my sanctuary, it has helped me overcome the struggles of life.
How did you get into mixed media art?
Mixed media was a style I discovered by accident, I didn’t even know it belonged to a category. Sometimes I feel as though mixed media art was meant for me all along, it compliments my quirkiness and allows me to maintain my obsession with making things outside the box. Until I created my first mixed media piece I had no idea I was an artist, I simply enjoyed painting and being surrounded by colour. It began after I lost a good friend of mine to cancer and ended up inheriting some of their jewellery. I had no idea what I was going to do with it all. One day I sat down, I attached a key chain to a box, I added some gears and paint. It took 12 hours to complete but once finished I had made my own key to immortality box. From that day on I discovered that as long as I am creating mixed media art I am free.
"To know yourself inside and out is something I find to be extremely important in any path you take in life and I have always known that I was a little off the wall and full of rainbow paint."
How has your art helped you?
Art saved me! I have been struggling with mental illness my whole life, I’ve been through multiple traumas that most would deem life altering. As a child, through to my teenage years I was subject to horrid abuse, divorce, rape, violence, homelessness, drug addiction and motherhood. I somehow managed to stitch myself back together, I turned to art and started to change to my life around.
At the age of 23 I met a man who would change me forever. I met Mike just as I became a single mother to two boys. I was adjusting to life as a single mother, experiencing a lot of grief, having lost two of my best friends to suicide, my grandfather and friends of my mother in-law. I was in a place I didn’t think I could escape from. Sadly I ended up in a relationship with a very abusive man, he became my worst enemy and changed the person I was forever! A few years ago, I’d had enough, I couldn’t take anymore.
The final straw came when he stabbed me in front of my boys. I called the police, he was arrested and I was driven away in an ambulance. I started my journey, the journey of self healing but it was going to be a lot harder than I imagined. To my shock horror my assault had made the news, already struggling to move from the couch due to being in severe pain I was now forced to move towns. My reputation had been obliterated and I lost my job. Once moved I decided to enrol in college, with the love and support from Mike who pushed me to keep going, to become the person he always knew I was. Mike was one of those people you meet who changes the way you feel about yourself. He loved my art and always felt like I should be pursuing it as well as accepting and loving who I was.
Sadly Mike passed away suddenly, I remember hitting the floor thinking there's no way I'm going to recover now there's no way I can get up but I did. I decided not to grieve for him with sadness and alcohol, I decided it was time to paint.
I used to call Mike Buddah, even creating a unique spelling for him. I always thought it fit him since he was wise and calm, we both agreed Buddhism was a way of life that we both found appealing. I created the email address buddahlady because I always felt that I was his lady. He use to chuckle at the fact that it was our little secret, he loved that I was his Buddah Lady. Mike was a huge part if not the best part of my story. We are weaved together forever. He changed me, and like he always said he was nervous but full of butterflies. He gave me wings and I'm so glad to share with you his part in my story. He was the love of my life. But he wasn't the end of the story, who knows right? That's what is so exciting it's like wonderland you never know who you might meet after that epic tea-party. When I began to paint again it was only fitting that I stayed true to the person I wanted to be, free from all the abuse and trauma, I became the Buddah Lady. Some call it disassociation, some say it has become an obsession but, I say I am alive and I am living my life surrounded by colour and Imagination! I've done everything I can to not die on the inside, I have survived what people cannot imagine you could survive and art has been my saviour.
It is about taking things from the past and giving them New Life,it is about being a creator.
Tell us about being self taught.
I never studied art at a college or took a class, I am self-taught through self-awareness and reading a lot of books. I began to create things by looking at pictures and taking the time to dissect what others had done. It seems like it just comes naturally, I don't need to really even think, I just create. My boyfriend, Chris, is a contractor plumber, we've been friends for over 10 years. He knew Mike and lost his wife, a dear friend of mine to cancer, who happens to be the one with all the extra Jewellery that started my mixed media craziness. He taught me how to use a hammer, a screwdriver, how to glue things, how to stick and stain, how to sand but most importantly he taught me how push myself beyond what I ever thought possible! He has been my muse and my ultimate supporter since Mike passed.
He has taught me so much, he encourages me to do things myself and never tell myself that I can't. My boys have allowed me to keep an imagination, I love making magic possible and I love making people smile it is the best part of this whole journey but when it comes down to it I am still that little girl with a wild imagination I just have a lot more paint now.
Who introduced you to Steampunk art?
Steampunk comes from my love of Alice in Wonderland, I have dated two plumbers Mike and Chris, I've been surrounded by pipes, washers and gears for some time. I decided to start using them in my art because it seemed like something I could recycle. I suppose I did not realise I was creating Steampunk art. The one thing I can tell you about steampunk is that steampunk is all about invention and creating something new or useful things out of something old and worn. It is about taking things from the past and giving them New Life,it is about being a creator.
We have interviewed quite a few artists but Heather's interview will probably stay with me for life. Unconsciously Heather is a steampunk artist because just like steampunk she has not only reinvented herself but has proven to be a strong, stable woman, just like her work! She is her art and her art is her. I admire how she turned her pain into champagne, being able to dig deep within and turn herself around is commendable. I will forever be thankful to Heather because she shared a part of her life most people would never want to share with strangers but by telling us her story we hope it has helped others. We want you to realise you're just as strong as Heather and art is your accompanying tool. Whenever we are trapped in the dark just remember paint will always bring colour to the darkness, it is our light.
Thank you Heather!