Artist Profile: Ashley Mary - Minneapolis
Hi Ashley! Tell us a little bit about yourself.
I'm born and raised in Minnesota and spent most of my childhood between three suburbs within the city of Minneapolis. Long story short, I didn't really study any art until I got to college. I went to a small liberal arts school and per liberal arts you just dabble. You become a master of dabbling. I ended up taking just a small handful of art classes, one of them being painting, and actually didn't really love my painting class to be honest. It was a little too structured for me. Wonderful things came out of it, but I just don't think I left that being like, oh, I want to be a painter.
I really ended up finding the tools that felt most comfortable to me in a printmaking class that I took my senior year. I kind of went rogue as most seniors do and ended up backhandedly falling into collage work with a very strong vintage ephemera lean to it. If you go back into the archives of my work or if you've been following me since the beginning, you know, 10 years ago, my work was very vintagey and I would cut out these little pieces and paint them and put them on paintings. Then slowly over the last 10 years it kind of morphed into more abstract work. I was a religion major in school and I graduated and worked at a church for five years and then left that to go back to school for graphic design at a school in Minneapolis called Minneapolis College of Art and Design and folks call it MCAD around here.
When I graduated college while I was working at the church, I started to sell the little collages I was making and was really excited about it. I started to say yes to any opportunity, any ask. So it'd be like, can you make this for my cousin's wedding or blah blah, blah. And I would. I got myself a website and I started to do little art fairs and would just say yes to whatever kind of came my way. So was living two lives, working at this church and doing art.
I graduated from MCAD with a post BACC certificate in graphic design and after that started working at an agency as a freelancer and started dabbling in product design. About three years ago, I left doing work for an agency and transitioned to having my own studio. And even though it was as a freelancer, that was definitely taking up the majority of my hours. I had worked from my house until then and got a studio two years ago. And now I'm doing full time painting, product design, and murals. Once in awhile I do client work, absolutely. Whether that's branding or art direction or web stuff.
I went back to MCAD recently to kind of round out my degree into a Master's because the difference was close enough. So in December I'll be graduating from there with a Master's in graphic and web design.
Do you think that going back to school helped transition your artwork into what it looks like today?
Totally, I think there's a combination of that just naturally happening because I'm a creature of change. So I think that every year my work evolves into something new and I'm not really intentionally thinking about it, it just happens. But I do think there has been this huge shift into my work feeling really graphic even though it's painted. I would say a lot of that is influenced by both my lean towards graphic design, but also my lean towards collage.
So I've come full circle with collage, meaning I still use those tools and that format and those materials, but I'm not interacting with my vintage ephemera the same way. So I might open my old Life Magazine and instead of cutting out the girl in her bathing suit, I'm cutting out the random pattern on the side that just has a really interesting type and I'm thinking about it more abstractly, but I'm still using it. So yes, I do think graphic design kind of fused with the collage has become this really important language for the way I think about paintings.
What are the different aspects of your work?
Painting, which for me looks like I'm either creating my own body of work that you can come see in my studio or a shop carries commissioned work. I also do murals. I started doing those last September and that has become a big offering and a really, really exciting platform for me. I think that's where I feel the most energized right now.
I do a little bit of illustration and then another huge part of my own brand is doing the product design. I currently have my first line of stationery that just launched with Design Loop I'm really excited about. My product design looks one of two ways: I'm either creating a product under my own brand name Ashley Mary or I'm collaborating to put my artwork on another's brand's product like what I did with the Minuty wine or Manduka Mat.
So how do you navigate those collaborations?
It has been a really interesting question for me lately because I think opportunities are arising more lately and I think part of that is because it's a bit of a trend in the industry. People want to work with one another and I am finally bringing some other people into my court to help me make some of those decisions.
But with a lot of them I just go off a gut. I ask myself is this a brand I would buy or want to be associated with anyways? I start there and if it's not a brand that I was familiar with beforehand, then just asking is this something I would normally be a part of? So far everything has felt really genuine. I have worked with even really tiny brands to collaborate just because I think it's a fun opportunity.
So I think there's no set of rules for how to figure out when I do and don't do something. I just start from the gut first and then kind of go from there. Making really authentic decisions is important for my brand because it is my name at the end of the day. I don't have a nice broad studio name, you know, it truly is my personal mark.
And I make the wrong decision all the time too and that's okay. I try not to be too hard on myself. I think practicing grace in this environment is key to not losing yourself.
How do you deal with comparison and work that is similar to yours?
First off, I pretty much don't deal with it. That was my first attempt at dealing with it [a story that Ashley posted on Instagram a few weeks back]. I've been internal with those thoughts for way longer than anybody ever saw those posts. I've seen elements of my work around forever, okay not forever, but I've been seeing them long enough. It's really hard to claim something when it's abstract. There is no ground there for me to claim those things. So I don't.
People send me stuff all the time that looks like mine. I think they think they're doing me a favor, but I get messages all the time. I don't even know how to respond to those things because you're like, yes it does and I'm kind of sad, but what am I supposed to do with that? And that kind of happened that morning actually - one of my best friends, her and I have an ongoing swapping of images of work that look like mine, she messaged me and was like, oh my God, this might be the worst one I've seen yet, this person like truly copy and pasted. That is not even inspired at that point. That's aggressive. I think it was somebody local. I didn't deep dive and I don't follow those people.
I didn't invent this process. I didn't invent these shapes. I didn't invent these colors. So where's the line? When I posted that I truly don't have answers, I guess I don't and I don't think anybody does, but I do think it's worth asking. Where is the line? What if somebody took that painting [a painting in her studio] and literally just copied it? Do I have the right then to say that that's my work? I don't know. What if they changed it to red? Is that all you have to do to change something? I guess I kind of need somebody to literally tell me yes or no.
So I think it's tricky and I want to hold it loosely because the devil's advocates on the other side of the playground are going, well you didn't invent that and shapes are trendy right now, so better get used to seeing them everywhere. And I totally agree with everything they say. I hear both sides. I think where if I have anxiety around it, my humanness is that I work really hard and long to make this a business so that I don't have to be stuck in a job that I don't love because for me, that would be a soul crusher. So I work really hard to set up a system for myself where I can have a living doing something that brings me joy and hopefully that's just a good life cycle. Then I can bring joy to other people. I'm going to go kind of meta here - I think in the larger spectrum of life, if we can all move towards doing things that bring us joy, whether that's with our careers, whether that's with what we do in our free time or the kinds of relationships we invest in, if we can all move towards things that help us be more content and joyful individuals, the world will be lighter and maybe a little easier.
It's like I'm having a conversation with two versions of myself always and I see both sides and if I have anxiety, it comes from the fear of losing out on an opportunity which is a really normal fear. And maybe you could argue that's something I need to work on - how can you not be so scared to lose something? You don't get to have everything, hold your grip loosely, and I do believe that. I don't think anything's black and white, I think there's things I need to work on with my sense of value and identity so that those things don't feel so weighty.
It took me years to write that rant and then just feel gross, like you kind of feel sick to your stomach the moment you hit send and you're like, oh fuck, that's going to be up for 24 hours and I'm just going to hear about it for the next day. And actually everybody ended up being really, really sweet. I maybe had two people that gently and politely brought in another point of view and I think we had a healthy back and forth and I do try to make it a point that anybody who responds to me in those kinds of conversations knows that their opinion is welcome.
We're in this day and age where everybody's work can easily start to look like one another's and having individuality is hard. We're just all so visual, so I can't expect to claim anything in this environment and if that's my objective then I'm probably going to be sorely hurt pretty quickly. So onward. Make the next new thing. And thankfully I am a creature that naturally does that. It's all about staying ahead of the curve and using it as an opportunity to find what is going to inspire me next.
How does the Minneapolis community support you and how does that influence your work or your mindset?
I don't know if the Minneapolis community influences my work at all. I think my influences are outside of this physical space. But they definitely are my heart and soul. So much of my work comes from this city and this community. They're my biggest advocates, they're my biggest celebrators, they're obviously the ones who are showing up on a first Thursday to my studio, they're the ones filling my space when we have big studio sales, they're a lot of my clients, and they're the ones who are telling my story and celebrating it well.
The Northrup King Building specifically is a really magical space. There's over 150 artists in here and so many people within my little parameters here are all female owned businesses, which is just so cool. And honestly most of the people I work with are female, which I think is pretty incredible, like all my partners, anyone on my team, everybody in this room, and so much of my community are female makers and I just really delight in that.
Minneapolis is full of a lot of graphic designers and artists in general, which is amazing and people are wanting to collaborate and share their different trades. In a few weeks I'm doing a shoot where I'm bringing in my girlfriend who is a really talented designer and art director, my other friend who's a great stylist and photographer, another girlfriend who owns a great vintage shop and we're going to do a fun photo shoot. We all get to come to the table and say, here's what I know I'm good at, here's what I love and here's my eye. I feel really fortunate to be in a lot of work opportunities where we're all bringing what we do best to the table, but then creating one cohesive opportunity together.
At The Glossary, we believe in women working together and helping one another. Why do you think it is important for women to support each other?
We can't sit around and wait for somebody else to do it. We're obviously behind the curve on so many opportunities being lost. Let's take control of our own destiny and not wait for somebody else to provide the opportunities. Honestly, I'm not even really thinking about somebody's gender when I reach out to work with them, the females in my town are just making cool shit and I want to be a part of what they're doing. I do work with men when they have cool shit too, but the female population is saturated here of ladies making and doing. It's good female energy.
What creative women do you find inspiring?
Louisa is a great example. She frickin hustles her ass off and is a sweet, close friend of mine. We met in this industry and now we are a hallway apart from each other. A recent lady, I'm really jonesing on is Lisa Luck. She did a custom portrait of me and she does these five minute portraits that are so gorgeous. She often times does little pop-ups where she will paint somebody in five minutes and the portraits turn out just stunning. She's collaborating with some textile designers to make lines of clothing with her little drawings on them.
Then another local lady whose products I am really drawn to is Erin Smith. She does these noodley abstract lamps. I'm also really always jazzed about all the local, vintage female owned shops around town. Everybody and their mom and Minneapolis knows I love Tandem Vintage. I always wear something from her. She's somebody who I met over Instagram and then we did a photo shoot and were like, okay, you need to stay in my life forever. And now she's actually more just my friend who keeps me in mind when she shops, WIN! And then obviously, the gals in my studio, We all three do such different things, which is really energizing. Beth's photography and creative direction is amazing and it's really fun to watch Laura thrive.
What are you trying to learn right now?
It's not an exciting answer, but I am trying to figure out how to run my business and I don't know how to run a business. I just know how to paint things. So I'm trying to figure out how to invite some people into those conversations that can help me make my decisions a little bit better and I'm learning a lot about the social media industry.
For me, Instagram is a tool. I decide what I'm going to post the day of most days, but I don't plan it. I think in some respects that's been helpful for me, but there is just some lost opportunity there in terms of all the things I can do with my business that I'm not taking advantage of because I don't have the capacity. It's like I have these blinders up so I am excited to learn more about that and see where I can end up in a year from now if I start to be more intentional about what I'm doing instead of just scrambling about where my next dollar is coming from.
And then a new thing that I'm learning, I just started taking lessons like two weeks ago, is skateboarding, which is really fun. I've got a skateboard always in the back of my trunk and I try to go push around on a little path that's a mile away from my studio. I'm really interested in skateboard culture right now. I think it has a lot of themes in common with my own art. It's youthful, playful, kind of beautifully messy. It's high energy and it's also graphic. Like my art, it's so textured and perfectly imperfect, you know? And I kind of would use those words with skater culture. So I'm really drawn to that energy right now. I feel like more people are coming into my life that are a part of those worlds and it's making me pay attention to it and I want to see what that means for my playfulness, but also my business.
What do you want people to feel from your artwork?
I hope people feel a sense of lightness, playfulness, energy, but if somebody gets something else from it, I hope anybody's just present to whatever they need to feel. It's the emotion I'm trying to bring to the table, a sense of youthfulness and playfulness and tapping into that purity that we have when we're little, when we don't need things to be perfect. We're just drawn to their shape or drawn to their color. It's what I'm trying to capture in an abstract art form where you want to look at it or spend time with it or want to touch it or lick it. That kid goofiness really, really energizes me. If I could bottle up one thing and be that way forever, it would be that, that kind of lightness that a little kid has.
What are some of your favorite places in Minneapolis?
I'm a big runner and lately I've been running in Theo Wirth Park, which is this really huge park in Minneapolis. Some people know about it and some people don't, but it's massive and a lot of mornings I'll go running through there and there's always some random animal Narnia situation coming at me and it's just so sweet and secretive and yummy.
Last week I went to my favorite ice cream places, Milkjam in uptown. A new discovery for me is Southside Vintage. Susan, who owns the shop is the most personable, you feel like you're walking away with a friend. She has an eye for color, so everything in her shop is vibrant and colorful.
There is actually a new taco place right behind me called Centro that's awesome. I just went there last week for the first time and they have yummy chips and guac, great drinks, little cheap tacos you can grab.