Absolutely stunning paintings by Ashley Garrett today, and I'm thrilled to talk with her about the way that painting functions like something of an interpreter of the world around us, as she was influenced from an early age when she used to draw the animals on her parents' farm in rural Pennsylvania. Currently transitioning to a new studio space in upstate New York, she shares some wonderful thoughts on the significance of landscape in her practice.
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I'd love to know more about you! Where are you based right now?
Right now I'm based in New York City, and my husband, artist Brian Wood and I also have a place upstate where we just finished building a new studio. It's in East Chatham, which is about 30 minutes north of Hudson, close to the Massachusetts border and the Berkshires. We're in the process of getting settled in there so we can both make large scale work.
What first started you on the path to pursuing painting?
When I was a kid, I always made things - weird projects as well as paintings and drawings. One time I almost set the bathroom on fire trying to singe the edges of a large drawing. I'm from a farm in rural Pennsylvania, so I spent a lot of time drawing our animals when I was little. I drew them on everything. I liked making crafty things like weavings and embroidery and lanyards, little object-type things that you could hold or have in your lap. I liked the urge that makes one want to make something from nothing, and when I found out about Cubism, I was hooked on painting.
I feel like painting is very related to the physical world, so I always come back to the idea of painting as working with elemental materials to make something that shows an understanding of the earth, and is also made of the earth. I always felt like painting was a way of trying to understand something you can't verbalize or envision. I think my background on the farm, with a knowledge and experience of animals and the land, as well as a deeply-rooted respect for the ability of painting to become a kind of magic of the mind, got me firmly into painting as a means to communicate to others, and to understand more about the self, and more about the way the mind works with the world.
Your canvases are often abstracted but still maintain a resemblance or relationship to subject matter, such as landscape. Can you tell me a bit more about your work?
I do a whole range of things in my work, from small paintings that can be landscape spaces, or figurative, or object-like, to larger scale abstracted landscapes. They all maintain an attachment to some kind of actual physical object that I have or have had and knew well, and was attached to. The landscapes are spaces that I knew well and intimately, or have an attachment to them because I knew them only briefly. Most of my work comes from an impression of a powerful moment in my memory, and the curiosity in investigating its enduring importance in the narrative my mind takes. Occasionally a moving, emotional dream will work its way to become a painting.
The subject of landscape has always been, for me, such a intense attraction. It's both a space and a place, and also a subject. I'm interested in the way that paint (color and form, line, texture, etc. -- all the decisions that go into how the material goes down) can depict space along with form; absence with and next to presence, until it vibrates with the same feeling of being and energy. Landscape is a language that everyone can understand, and I'm interested in that -- from the huge, grand scale of a looming sunset with imposing horizon line, or a focus on the minute details on the branches of a tree, or the nuances of a rose petal; the elements present in landscape differentiate themselves because of and within the encompassing space of the whole. I'm interested in that play of elements as well as how deep space functions in painting.
I have bodies of work that reference specific forms, from ribbons to Christmas ornaments, that begin with their own narratives, but the paintings acquire surprising qualities and nuances.
What is your process like? Do you do any particular research?
I've been focused on landscapes that become open and spatial, but I usually begin with a specific memory and/or a feeling, and often the landscape space is associated around a person or a specific event. Then the painting itself unfolds and transforms, and it often sheds some of that history or gains something else to come into the present time.
My process is pretty fluid; it depends on each painting. Some, even large ones, I'm able to jump into the structure and space right away, while others start in one place and end up very changed and transformed. Each painting drives and determines its own process, my process is usually letting go of my assumptions and intentions towards that painting.
What is your studio space or workspace like?
I've learned through trial and error, and with the help of great suggestions by other artists, to keep the studio pretty organized. That way you have absolutely every tool and color at your fingertips. I find that it helps keep me in a state of focus on the painting, rather than having to dig for some material or tool.
Do you have a favorite tool or object in the studio that you couldn't live without?
Oh yes - I have favorite brushes that I crush on for a while. And favorite paint. I just broke my very favorite palette knife the other day. :(
What is the best advice you've ever received? Any advice you're glad you've not followed?
My absolute favorite advice is from a fellow young artist who said not to paint over everything that seems like a failure -- "paint over" meaning finishing it or changing it into a new painting. You might want to look at that semi-failed/unfinished painting at some point in the future, and it might be able to give you something it doesn't now;l maybe you can even see what it is trying to do, but isn't doing. When I heard this I thought it was really smart and forward-thinking advice.
The only advice that I'm glad I've not followed is to figure out one thing and keep making that. I'm interested in seeing bodies of work develop in surprising ways that sometimes seem incongruous with other work, but I think the threads might connect to ideas in future work. I find that kind of open-mindedness towards the work helpful and expansive.
What do you feel is the most challenging thing about pursuing art, either creatively or professionally?
I think being an artist asks a great deal of a person. The best work really puts itself out there, and that's a scary thing to do, even just to get it in your work before showing it to anyone.
How would you define "success?"
As much as I and everyone one I know would like success in terms of career, I am pretty convinced that success is what happens in the studio, between you and the work. Eventually you have to close the door and face your work. I want to make the absolute best work that I can, and pushing it to its best state of expression, that is my chief focus when it comes to success. And of course I would like to do well career-wise too!
What do you think you need most as an artist to feel as though you've achieved or can achieve this kind of success?
Time to work, experiencing the range of things that life has to offer and allowing that to have influence on the painting, and hopefully a few eyes who can see what I'm doing in the work.
What are you working on right now? Any exhibitions upcoming?
I'm in the process of transitioning to larger paintings in the new studio, and finishing up a few smaller and mid-sized paintings as well. I had a selection of ribbon paintings in a two-person show with Zach Seeger up at SRO Gallery in Crown Heights, Brooklyn, through February 19th. I also have a painting in the Openings show at the Church of St Paul the Apostle, and I'll be showing with Ess Ef Eff in Brooklyn in a group show about landscape in the spring.
Anything else you would like to add?
Thanks so much for featuring my work, and I enjoyed answering your questions. Also, Fuck Trump!
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