September 5th, 2018
Jesse Gussow
If you are anything like me, the surreal can bring you solace and peace. There is something inherently beautiful about dreams; the unlimited possibilities within and yet you can tell you are dreaming because something is always a little off, or in some cases, straight up doesn’t make sense. The artworks by Ashley Foxx tap into the surreal and put it right on canvas. Her work touches on great themes too, such as the natural world. Her works of animals are just gorgeous, simply by using line work to make the shape of a woodland creature, much like how I feel your mind would create an animal for your dreams. Truly fantastic work! 


Where are you from?

Southern California; born and raised in Anaheim. I spent my childhood exploring Disneyland and catching waves. I relocated to Texas in my early teens, did a lot of moving back and forth, and ultimately settled in Central Texas. San Antonio and Austin are amazing.


How did you get interested in art?

Good question. I remember going everywhere with a little sketchpad in hand as young as 5 or 6. I would draw anything I could think of — animals, dinosaurs, cartoon characters, but I’d also sketch the most mundane things like apples and coffee mugs. I was terrible at it until I started drawing things in a more abstract way. I guess that was the beginning of my journey into a more surreal art style. There isn’t a singular event I can look at and say “this is where it all began,” but I do know that when I was about 18 it evolved into this sort of primal urge to create. It got to the point where I’d be furiously spray painting and sketching pieces on my lunch breaks, and that’s what kept me going through the rest of the work day. 


If you weren’t an artist what job would you have?

I started working when I was 15 so I’ve done it all: food-service, makeup artist, secretary, model, barista, and everything in between. My resume is very randomized. My favorite job was a 3 year stint as a gallery curator. Hanging exhibits, organizing art walks, hosting gallery receptions, brainstorming new themes. It was exhausting but I loved it. I’d come home at the end of a big event thoroughly wiped out, but inspired. I think no matter what career path I could explore, it would still involve me coming home and painting. There’s a quote about choosing a career path that goes something along the lines of “choose a job that you would still love doing, even if you weren’t being paid for it.” I’m certain I butchered it, but that sums up my relationship with art.


How would you describe your artwork?

Pop surrealism or Lowbrow, whichever term you prefer. I love the term lowbrow, since it’s a deliberate subversion of highbrow or fine art. I appreciate and respect the technique and talent involved in the work of modern fine artists, but I prefer a different method for my own self-expression. I like my art to make a statement. There’s a lot of playfulness in my work, and a dash of sarcasm. I like to make things that at first glance appear to be simply whimsical, but when you take a closer look, there's a commentary on issues that are important to me, or a deeper story going on behind each piece.


What inspires your work?

Sometimes I paint from my subconscious. I’ve kept a dream journal for years and lucid dream frequently, so that makes for some pretty interesting pieces. They are literally dreamscapes. Topical issues that are important to me such as mental health awareness and gay rights will always be a major focus for me. Classic influences are Dali, Erte, and Picasso, as well as Dadaism and Surrealism in general. More contemporary influences include Tara McPherson, Gary Baseman, Travis Lampe and Camille Rose Garcia.

As an Orange County kid in the '90s I loved all things Disney, so that golden age of animation has had a huge effect on my work. When Don Bluth broke off from Disney to do his own thing, I became obsessed with his films as well. Land Before Time, All Dogs go to Heaven, Thumbelina; his films enthralled me. The mysterious story lines, offbeat and occasionally creepy characters coupled with his gorgeous color palette. I love it so much.


How long does a piece take from start to finish? How many pieces do you work on at a time?

Short answer: Anywhere between 2 and 40 hours. The amount of time a piece takes varies greatly depending on the size, medium used, and project I’m working on. If it’s a commissioned piece, it generally takes longer because I want to be sure I’m giving my client exactly what they want. Sometimes someone will want a custom version of something I’ve already made and those tend to be quicker, and other times I’ve been asked to make something entirely new which is always a lot of fun. I like to check in by sending progress photos as I go along to make sure they like what they see before I continue. It’s so cool to make someone’s vision come to life and I’ve had the pleasure of collaborating with some really great people. I’ve even befriended a few of my clients after the work was finished. I love that about art. It can create a bond or connection between complete strangers.

I like to have a lot of irons in the fire. Currently I have 4 works in progress. Usually I’ll work on one main piece until I find myself hyper-analyzing. That’s when I know I’ve hit a wall, and I’ll switch to one of my other canvasses. Either that, or I’ll just get an idea for something entirely new and temporarily abandon my other projects.


What is the biggest challenge you’ve had to overcome with your artwork?

I’ve learned that waiting for inspiration to strike is a big waste of precious time. Inspirational moments—when they happen—are amazing and should be chased and captured. But as a full-time artist, only waiting for those moments to strike means losing a lot of valuable working time. I’ve learned to carve out the time to sit down and work whether I’m inspired or not, because it is a job and requires a lot of hard work. Forcing myself to put in the effort usually leads to a sudden brainstorm after a period of time, so it’s a cycle of motivation, a lack thereof, and persistence until the next burst of inspiration. Basically I’ve learned to push myself and just keep going.


What the most positive thing you’d use a time machine for? What’s the most negative?

Oh, man. I feel like the most obvious response would be to stop Hitler’s rise to power, or warn people about 9/11, mass shootings or natural disasters. Keeping the butterfly effect in mind, I wonder how humanity would change if some of these major catastrophes were averted? It’s also interesting to imagine how I would look screaming warnings at people in different eras. Would anyone listen? I’d like to think I could just have a re-do if something turned out wrong or if I screwed up the fabric of time in a major way. I mean, it’s my time machine. I’d also probably use it to chat with famous musicians and artists. I imagine in-between saving lives I’d take a break to have a cup of coffee with Salvador Dali and his ocelot. I’d also buy stock in Apple.

As for the negatives, I could see myself being really petty and getting the last word in a conversation, not dating certain people, or going on a huge shopping spree in Beverly Hills at the luxury boutiques on Rodeo Drive and rewinding time before I had to pay. That makes me sound so very untrustworthy. I was most likely a super-villain in a past life.


What does your work say about you?

It’s hard to define my work in words, even though I put so much of myself into it. I like to think that it says I’m passionate, sarcastic, and like to have fun. I care deeply about the issues that matter to me, but I don’t take things so seriously that I can’t find humor in them. I put my flaws on display in a way that looks pleasing from the outside in hopes that others can see themselves in my pieces. 

I remember a particular piece I made last year, called “The Wanderer.” It was just a sweet little deer walking along a pastel woodland scene. But when I painted it, I was channeling a lot of loneliness and depression. The colors were vivid, there was no hidden symbolism, there was absolutely nothing outright that said “this is a piece is about depression.” But the person that purchased it told me that their daughter, who had struggled with depression for several years, really identified with the piece and wanted it. I thought that was so cool that this girl picked up on the vibes I put into the piece, and that it resonated with her so much that she saw herself in it. That’s my goal: to get people to identify themselves in my art, see something that resonates with them on a subconscious level, or even just makes them feel happy.


How have you grown as an artist since you first started to now?

I’ve grown less fearful and more knowledgeable. My first public art show was in 2009 and I was terrified of putting my work out there to be seen by the world. I spent a fortune ordering expensive high-gloss 1/2” thick prints of each piece, and had my first showing with absolutely no original art for sale. I have no idea what I was thinking. The next time around was much more successful. My art is very personal to me, so it can still be intimidating, especially as I exhibit at bigger venues, but I’ve learned that it’s okay to be vulnerable and put myself out there. Sometimes I’ll post a completely underdeveloped sketch or a really old piece on Instagram  just to get over the anxiety of being such a perfectionist. 

I’ve also refined my technique and developed a style of my own over the years. There’s variation between my ink and acrylic paintings versus my mixed media pieces, but my definitive style can be seen throughout my work, whereas years ago it felt very random. I’m totally self taught so it just took years of practice to get to that point. I also picked up a lot of pro-tips from working as a gallery curator, so those were extremely fun and formative years in developing my style.


What’s the hardest thing to draw?

Limbs. And hands. I circumvent this in a way by using the rubber hose technique  that was popular in early Disney and Felix the Cat cartoons, which goes well with my aesthetic anyway. [Ed. note: The rubber hose technique was initially used in early American animation. It used simple, flowing curves without hinged wrists, elbows, or knees.]


Do you listen to music when you are working? If so, what’s your favourite type of music to get you in the zone?

Oh, absolutely. It varies depending on the project. I’ll either listen to music or put a movie on that I’ve seen a million times that inspires me artistically. For music, Pink Floyd, Fever Ray, CocoRosie, Tom Waits and any project by Conor Oberst or Jack White are my go-to’s. For films, Fantastic Planet, The Wall, Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, Fight Club, and any eerie kids movie like Secret of Nimh or The Brave Little Toaster. I loved those whimsically creepy movies as a kid and I think that’s pretty evident in some of my pieces.


Do you have a special name for the pieces you create?

Not particularly. I do have recurring characters like Anxiety Bat that I’ve named, and if I’m working on a bunch of similarly themed works I’ll name the series. One of my favorite series was called “Time: She Creeps.” It was comprised of these mixed media, multi-limbed creatures with clocks for faces. The point was to represent time as a living, breathing creature with the power to propel us forward or consume us completely. My current series is called "Take 'em Like Candy.” It’s a playfully dark peek at the world of prescription drugs, inspired by doctors who over-prescribe, refuse necessary medication, and all the gray areas in between. The purpose is to raise awareness and shatter taboos surrounding mental health disorders.


What are your hopes and dreams for the future?

I’d love to be featured in Hi-Fructose or Juxtapoz magazine one day. The first time I ran across those, my entire world opened up. Being able to put a name to an art style and seeing other artists who created “weird” art in a published magazine? It was like I found my tribe. Those magazines really shaped me as an artist and it would feel like such a full-circle moment to be featured in one of their issues. Speaking big picture, having an exhibit at MoMA would be the ultimate fantasy. It feels like such a stretch to say that aloud, but having my work featured in any large, exclusive gallery would be so incredible. In the meantime, I just want to create as much as possible, gain more exposure beyond my local setting, and make an impact with my work. If one of my pieces causes someone to smile, laugh, or feel validated or not alone, then I’m happy.


Do you prefer Oreo or Fudgee-O cookies?

I had to Google Fudgee-O’s. It’s one of those foods like Vegemite where I’m vaguely aware of its existence, but have no clue what it is. They look good, but if I’m gonna indulge in junk food I’d have to go with BBQ-flavored potato chips. Nom.

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