• Dr. Kelsey Ashe

Background to a Creative Life

Updated: Apr 30




Arbourescent graphic forms, landscape and pattern have entranced me for as long as I can remember. I still recall the design and colour on the tiles in my grandmother’s home when I was a small child. I remember tracing the patterns and grids in my mind, seeing how they repeated and merged into each other. Growing up in remote coastal far North-West Tasmania in the 1970s and 80s, I was surrounded by pristine bush, beaches and wildlife. I grew up in the Tarkine, near Arthur River in Tasmania, where a tourist signpost reads ‘The Edge of the World’. The heritage listed Tarkine Rainforest is the largest area of Gondwanan cool temperate rainforest left intact in Australia.

My free-range childhood instilled in me a sense of spiritual awe, connection and belonging to the Australian landscape, an impression which has never left me and still remains a strong source of creative inspiration in my creative work today, usually providing that rush of impetus to start drawing. The landscape was a place to roam solo from a very young age. I walked in nature, collecting, dreaming. Spying on platypus in the river. Rock-pooling in sheltered lagoons. Swimming with my clothes on. I was acutely aware of the spirit of the bush and spoke with it. I intrinsically sensed my belonging to it.

North-West Tasmania holds the brutal scars of a genocidal regime to destroy the First Nation population and I sensed that too. Certain places filled me with such unrest I would run and run, filled with some kind of energy I couldn’t understand. A need to flee and hide. Windy days stirred my soul. I saw the children in the bush and I drew them. My childhood drawings and paintings were visions of the shy ghosts I saw in my roaming.

Pouring over my parents’ travel albums, images of Fijian huts and Japanese pagodas sparked my imagination early on for distant exotic dream-lands; the complete opposite of my rural, Eurocentric, Catholic Convent School, white skinned world, decorated with reproductions from the Heidelberg School and statues of Mother Mary. Polynesian myths, Celtic Gods and Goddesses were all real to me….by the time I was 10 I had written my own grimoire, carefully researched and illustrated and made altars to the gods in the forest.

My mother and both grandmothers were artists and craftspeople. My grandfather was a furniture maker. I grew up with the last remnants of a pioneering era of resourcefulness around me, using everyday items and raw materials to craft things that were both useful and beautiful. During the 1970s and 80s the crafts movement in Australia grew considerably and my mother was constantly making things such as giant macramé wall hangings, pottery on the wheel, sculptural vessels and drawings. Some of these treasured handmade, irreplaceable items are still with me today. My parents also designed and built three remarkable homes from the natural resources of stone and wood, illuminating for me the idea of thinking of design in practical and aesthetic terms, and considering light, texture, scale and materiality.

I recognise that from an early age I was dually drawn to the decorative exotic and to the romantic idealisation of the Australian bush and a bespoke design sensibility. The cultural yearning and exploration of an identity rooted in landscape and spirit would become my touchstone for exploration across a range of mediums…. ✠

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