'Margins 2020' Barrett Art Centre, New York. Artist Interview with Kelsey Ashe, Australia.
Curator: Anthony Elms, Chief Curator, Institute of Contemporary Art (ICA) at the University of Pennsylvania and Curator of the Whitney Biennial, 2014.
Kelsey Ashe, 2019. L to R: 'Ama Swim', 'The Weight of these Pearls', Pearls Dream, Digital Printed Film Stills on Archival Art Rag Paper.
What kind of work do you make and what kind of materials do you use? What’s your process?
I am an inter-disciplinary Artist. I would say I am a representational artist, in that I depict landscapes, figures and animals, however I strongly align myself with contemporary forms of Romanticism, Exoticism and Surrealism - reaching for the sublime, the hidden or the esoteric. There is always a consideration of space in my work though - an influence from my long study of Japanese Aesthetics. I illustrate, print, paint and make objects but always document my work via photography and this has often become the final work, somehow transcending or merging all the other processes together. Most recently I've investigated film and performance, creating a whole world - where once again, the film stills, becoming photos or visual art objects - express the work via a series of images. I rely on my sub-conscious and my dreams to guide a lot of my work, it seems to be the most creative space for me and I'm continually amused by the visions I see in my inner world that spring forth. An idea takes form over months and years and develops in different directions. It can be developed through writing, both creatively and academicly, via sketching and very importantly through practice led in-studio research. There is a testing process I have to go through and this is very important to me. I enjoy this part a lot and often whole bodies of work can be made as off-shoots of a main project as I investigate the themes. I often ask myself how I want the work to 'feel' and how I can achieve this. Meditation of different kinds is also a key part of my process, a way of 'seeing' or slipping back into the sub-conscious world with the benefit of my woken body. I draw a lot.
What is most exciting about your creative process? Most challenging?
The thing that excites me the most is the possibility for development of cross-disciplinary work. For pushing things further than I have before, rethinking processes, enlarging, magnifying, scaling up or mixing up the platform I'm working within. How can I make something happen? I get very excited by ideas and seeing them come to life. For example, I made a short film, but imagined it projected onto the sails of a moving boat sailing across the water, the wind in the audiences hair, the stars above. It was challenging, but I made it happen (with a great team) - well almost....The boat was stationary, but the film did light up the ships sails and the stars were out! I'm excited to think how my drawings, characters, and animations might find new ways of being expressed. I'm also motivated by travel. Long months in the studio must be interspersed with on-site immersion. Landscape, ocean, nature, cities, galleries - I love the stimulation of being transported into another realm. Most recently in Mexico, I stayed in a magnificent old Spanish Hotel built in the 1920s on my own and was able to completely forget about the real world of domesticity and the humdrum of reality back in Australia. I find these escapes to be like rapid-fire inspiration periods and key to the creative process.
What inspires you to make your work/what have you been looking at/reading/listening to lately?
Other artists of course inspire me and I love to see new contemporary work, although my romantic and dreamy soul loves modern art, so I've had some very moving moments standing in front of art of 19th and 20th Century. I could spend all day in national galleries. I am inspired by what I call 'the search' - the striving to go beyond, to reach for the sublime, to know the secrets of the divine. I want to gulp down whole mythic structures and understand them, embody them. Anything that has mystery, the un-knowable, the spiritual, surreal, hidden and un-illuminated. The 'dark' for me represents this unknowable, unfathomable, esoteric longing - so my work has always had a darkness - which (coming back to challenges) this is one I have to work with - as it is not necessarily a morbid darkness I'm interested in - in fact it is a search for light - a breakthrough, a passage through the night. Dark and light and its interplay. Nature without a doubt inspires. The ocean, the mountains, fresh air, the lush temperate rainforest of my home in Tasmania - these are safe mechanisms to have me rushing to the studio to create work. I consume vast amounts of visuals and literature, but I'm currently reading a PhD on Exoticism and Surrealism and Peggy Guggenheims Biography. I listen to Classical music while in the studio almost exclusively unless I'm hyperactive and need to dance and sing!
How has your practice been impacted by the current health crisis and quarantine? Have you made any work about it yet?
Like many artists - I'm hermetic - close to home, close to my books and studio, needing that outlet of creativity. I had planned to start on a new film, but with that possibility out, I started photographing my shell collection and the empty historic streets of Fremantle - finding a strange beauty in there lack of life, then combining the two. In my little speck of the universe I inhabit I have found plenty to fuel my 'Imaginary Territories' as I like to call them - the suburban streets, my home, its all a cosmic micro-point in time and I'm privileged to be able to keep working. I think the COVID era has influenced my work. I've kind of thrown the rule book out the door of late and being more intuitive and less attached to the outcomes - so the works I've made in the last few weeks (a few paintings) almost surprise me - like - Where did that come from?