The study of ecopsychology includes concepts like webstrings (the interconnectedness of all things) and attraction. The latter concept suggests that every decision we make is the result of our attraction to something, our being compelled or called toward something, and I believe that is certainly one of the reasons I love visual art. I am called toward or attracted to a variety of elements, such as composition and content (story, ideas, imagination), as well as to the emotional impact of a piece, the emotions it elicits in me. I am also enchanted by colors, by the ways artists are able to combine or juxtapose colors that also gives rise to feelings, to memories, to thoughts.
With regards to the work of Canadian artist, Jenn Ashton, which is primarily acrylic and ink on canvas, what resonates with me most is the incredible combination of vibrant color and asymmetrical patterns (like “City Elephant”), and the often whimsical, playful quality of the subjects (like “Elton”). There’s beauty, there’s delight, there’s a wonderful juxtaposition of shapes and colors and each of these captivates and inspires me.
I recently reached out to Jenn for a brief interview and would like to share her responses below, as well as a small sampling of her wonderful work in the hopes that you might visit her website and explore. If you’re anything like me, you’ll experience a sense of joy doing so.
Other Cool Birds: Young Adult author, Jacqueline Woodson says that writers tend to focus on the time in our lives we’re still working through. Is there an element of truth to Woodson’s claim as it relates to Visual Artists (or to your work)? If so, how?
Jenn Ashton: That’s a very difficult question to answer because I have no idea what is inspiring my work to become what it is, I can’t really recognize it’s historical significance. I would say that, along with my writing, my painting is coming from all of me and includes my subconscious; my past and the present moment, everything that has shaped me and brought me to where I am today.
Other Cool Birds: I see that you have “only recently dabbled into the world of paint.” How long have you been interested in art?
Jenn Ashton: Since I was very small, I have been aware of and interested in everything around me, including art. I have always been a creative person, and liked to do and make interesting things, but as far as painting and visual art, I was always just an onlooker.
Other Cool Birds: What sort of background do you have?
Jenn Ashton: My artistic background consists of one course of Computational Arts through SUNY and a 6 week e-course with Tracy Verdugo. The computational art course was computer based visual art and it wasn’t until I took the e-course in Feb 2015 that I was properly introduced to painting. Before that I remember loving art in elementary school, (until in a sketching class my teacher said I had a pointy chin, then I lost interest).
Other Cool Birds: When I first encountered your art, I thought of Tracy’s paintings and the way both of you use color so well. I had no idea of the actual connection.
What are you painting or creating art for (as in, what is the deep-down driving force behind your choice to paint in the first place)? Is there something about the act of being creative that speaks to you or resonates with you most?
Jenn Ashton: I’ll answer the second part of that question first; for me I feel that painting and creating is just another way of communicating. It’s as simple as that. I could be having a verbal conversation with you, or I could be painting a picture for you to look at. To me it feels the same.
So, to answer the first part then, I am creating because it is just a part of me and my communication process. I am not painting for any reason, it is just another form of dialogue between me and other people.
Other Cool Birds: What is it about the process that you like most? Least?
Jenn Ashton: I find I really enjoy learning more about this language and about trying out new techniques and supplies. Thanks to Youtube and Amazon Prime (lol), I have the world of art at my fingertips!
I try not to dislike any part of this experience, but I would say if I had to choose one thing that sort of makes me drag my feet it is the administrative part of it. I wasn’t expecting to have a full-on Art Business, but that is what this has surprisingly turned into, sort of overnight. It has really been a case of sink or swim and I have been sort of dog paddling around, not knowing anything about art or the art world. I have been busy enough to hire an assistant and have also written a book for emerging artists, to help them navigate the waters. It’s a new world out there even for this ancient profession and the jump from canvas to the digital world is a big, dark leap.
Other Cool Birds: What sort of subjects do you prefer painting/illustrating/exploring and why?
Jenn Ashton: The way I paint is very ‘intuitive’. I know that word gets chucked around a lot these days, but it is still accurate. I have never started out with something in my mind to paint. If I went up to my canvas and said “Today I’ll paint a horse”, I am sure it would be laughable. Instead when I go to my canvas it is just to play with colour and contrast and whatever I feel like doing in the moment. I think that’s the best part of this whole experience, I never know what I’m going to end up with, so it’s sort of like Christmas morning and my Birthday every day, it doesn’t get much better than that!
If you look at my body of work over the past two years, which is over 500 paintings, you will see birds, bulls and other animals. I have no idea why they keep showing up, it’s not planned.
Other Cool Birds: What is your relationship with color?
Jenn Ashton: My relationship with colour is also unplanned. Sometimes my colour choices are made out of necessity (just using what I have), and sometimes I don’t use colour at all, like when I discovered black ink on newsprint. People seem to respond to my bright colours though, they are pretty joyful, and I guess that’s just part of me showing up on the canvas.
Other Cool Birds: What is one thing about art you think people might not understand?
Jenn Ashton: Once thing I run into a lot is people saying things like; “I could never do that, I can’t paint, I’m not artistic…” etc etc… I think the part they don’t understand is that everybody has this creativity inside them, they just need to get past that fear of beginning, and then the fear of judgement and on and on haha. We’ve made this world into a winner/loser sort of place, where everybody is judged. I think Judging somebody’s art is like laughing at their accent, or the way they walk, it’s just unacceptable. Art is just another way of having a conversation, everybody has the ability – nobody’s art is better or worse than your own.
Other Cool Birds: If you could work on any art project (illustrating a book, developing a personal idea, doing some time-travel and working on an historical piece with an artist you admire or a contemporary collaboration) what might it be and why?
Jenn Ashton: I am super-fortunate in that I have been able to work on anything I like (well, but for the time travel bit!). The only ‘project’ I have planned for myself, is to work towards getting gallery representation so I can do more painting and less business.
Other Cool Birds: How does your art reflect your personality?
Jenn Ashton: I think because my painting is a part of me it reflects my personality pretty accurately. I am a pretty happy and joyful person and try very hard to live in the present moment.
Other Cool Birds: How does your painting compliment, contrast with, or connect to your writing?
Jenn Ashton: I feel about writing the same way I feel about painting, it is a part of me, and a part that has been active since before I could actually write. My writing connects with my paintings in that sometimes when I am painting, once I see what the painting will be, a poem or verse will pop out, or a funny title. It’s all connected somewhere in my brain.
Other Cool Birds: What technique/media did you use to create “Chris’s Yin & Yang Birds”?
Jenn Ashton: This piece, like most of my work, is acrylic and ink on canvas. I usually begin by just making marks and adding colours and layers until I begin to see what it is I am painting. Once I recognize it, I finish it off quite quickly, usually by blocking out around the shape and then doing some shading.
While I could only put a handful of images that attracted me in this post, below are another ten that I felt compelled to share. However, I encourage everyone to take some time and explore Jenn’s website. You can also follow her on Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter.