Jun 6, 2018 – Artist Features

Speaking in Shapes: An interview with Ashley Mary

by Russ White, for MPLSART.COM

Mixed media artist Ashley Mary, who has a studio in the Northrup King Building, talks about her painting, her product design, and how she juggles it all at once.

Installation of the artists’ work from a spring show at The Hive Salon. Photo by MPLSART.COM.

Russ White: You have clearly developed your own voice as a painter and designer—anyone familiar with your work would recognize an Ashley Mary painting from across the room. Your style is almost more like a visual language, where the recurring elements are like letters or notes phrased differently every time. How long did it take you to develop this personal style, and what do your shapes, strokes, and colors mean to you?

Ashley Mary: I first heard someone reference my art style as a language last year, and it had never occurred to me before that. Sometime in 2014, I got back into paper collage when I was at MCAD studying graphic design (post-bach program) and this is where I really discovered my fluency (so to speak) with more organic shapes made from paper. It was easier for me to create a composition with scissors and paper than anything else. And out of that process came these symbols that I then kept coming back to again and again. Over time, little patterns have emerged as well like dots and graphs.

I personally feel like my work is slightly ever changing. Each year feels like a new season for my art, and yes I see clear themes amidst them all but I also see leaps of differences because I’m spending so much time with it I suppose. It’s interesting to hear your perspective, I like it. The shapes I use are all a part of a universal language. I have not invented something here. I am simply arranging things we are all already familiar with. Symbols we associate our every day world with. The simple, minimal shapes I use I believe are evocative of our first understandings of space and dimension as kids. We meet the world in shapes. Our experiences are shapes. Our language is shapes. And so what I love about composing these shapes in different ways is that it ultimately feels familiar. It’s cozy. And how they nestle together is literally cozy, too. But I also try to bring a lot of energy to my work. That’s an important element for me. The strokes, the colors I use… it’s all an energy meant to evoke your own emotional reaction. I don’t title my work because I don’t want to tell anyone how to feel about it. Titles are evocative, and I want you to decide what kind of energy you take from me, not my title. My hope though is that there’s a lightness happening. A bounce.

Untitled, Acrylic on wood panel, 40 x 30”, 2017

RW: In what ways do you push yourself to keep growing as an artist?

AM: I’m always trying new methods for how I come to my compositions. I collage way more before I start painting than I ever did before. I am coming up with little processes that intrigue me. I’m trying more things on paper lately. I’m playing with scale more. I’m a creature of change, I get bored easily, so growth is inevitable.

RW: I hear a lot of artists lament that there aren’t enough serious art collectors here in the Twin Cities, or that the ones who do live here don’t buy enough local art. Do you have any advice for working artists on establishing those relationships and making those sales?

AM: I think I’m still learning how to establish these relationships. I have no tricks really. I try to show my work as much as possible on social media and update my site regularly so that the content is there. But send me any tricks if you have them! I’d love to make more sales locally!

Photo by Max Spooner

RW: From your painting practice to designing cell phone cases and yoga mats to a recent installation with ‘Sota Pop during the Super Bowl to managing your social media feeds (with a pretty crazy amount of followers), it sounds like you have a lot of irons in the fire at any given moment. How do you balance your time between the fun, creative stuff and all the admin work that comes with running a small business? Walk us through a typical day, if there is such a thing.

AM: Well first and foremost, I don’t balance it very well. Balls get dropped, and that’s on me. Essentially I’m realizing my own limitations (a very hard fact for me to swallow), and it’s time to delegate some of the things I’m not a great fit for (like admin work). Every single day looks different for me. I wake up early, head to my studio, and make a list of everything I need to get done for the week. Then for the week I usually split my time 50/50 between working on paintings for clients and sitting at the computer doing graphic design for my own products or clients. Sprinkle in meetings most days, studio visits, shipping artwork, tackling emails. This week my meetings are focused on some murals I have coming up and products I have launching next summer. I thrive in the busy so it does take a lot for me to be overwhelmed, but I definitely am not great at all my tasks like photography, project management, and production design. Hoping to work towards some more balance this spring and also hoping to just paint more. That’s my aim. That’s my happy place.

Photo by Max Spooner

RW: You’re a Minnesota native, an MCAD alum, and you have a studio at the Northrup King Building. What do you think are the defining features of the Minneapolis art scene, and why did you want to set up shop here instead of anywhere else?

AM: Mmm, I will first acknowledge I am in my own creative community bubble and can’t speak for the art scene of Minneapolis as a whole. And honestly most of my community is made of up mostly female makers, artist, and designers. Lucky me! I see such encouragement, support, togetherness, and collaboration in this realm. Like the FeMNist market with The Coven, Still Kickin, and Nora Borealis. Or the Black Magik Woman show that Connie Mrotek puts on annually. People want to be a part of each other’s creative visions, and it’s pretty special.

I am MN born and raised! So I’m here a bit by default. HA! BUT I will say I haven’t left yet because you can’t beat the people. There’s a richness in my creative relationships here you can’t just repeat anywhere and overnight. Connections like this take a lot of years and shared experiences to cultivate. I don’t take any of that for granted. And I don’t just mean friends. I am fortunate enough to have gotten to work with so many talented makers, agencies, small businesses, freelancers, photographers… when you create something with another person, that exchange is intimate and it bonds you, and it can turn into more opportunities down the road. Minnesota is worth investing in. Now I might move one day to stretch and grow and all that good stuff that can only happen when you leave your comfort zone, but I imagine I won’t be gone for long. This is home.

RW: What’s next on the horizon?

AM: More product design! I love imagining how my paintings can translate onto surfaces, so I would love to keep exploring that. I’m really interested in doing more murals and have a few planned but would love to invest more of my time there in spaces. I might move in the next year for a season. For now, I just would really love to paint today. One day at a time.

Photo by Max Spooner

Ashley Mary recently finished a mural at Cliché and in the Northrup King Building next to her studio (#247). She will also have a new stationery line coming out at the end of August with Design Loop. To view (and buy) more of the artist’s work, visit her website at ashleymary.com.

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