Ashley Hamilton [Interview]






MHM: Can you walk us through your process?
ASHLEY: My process really starts when I walk around the streets. I mentally collect text, images, signs and symbols written on walls, bathroom stalls, or scribbled on the ground. When I approach a painting, I immediately break the white ground by using these visual memories, and often pour out my emotional state on the base layer through text or obsessive mark-making (a release for my anxiety). I then cover most of it up, and repeat this process over and over - lately I’ve been peeling most of my paintings - so after it has multiple layers, I go back and peel through the layers, exposing some of the underpainting(s). It may be important to note I am ALWAYS working on about 50 paintings at one time – it’s just how my brain works and keeps me dancing in the studio.

My process is also a playful one - if I feel like it needs a “moment” of orange, I will add it. If I feel the painting needs to calm down, I will paint it white and only leave small fragments of the former paintings. Basically, I both fight and play with my work, and in the end it comes together through layers, covering up and peeling back.

MHM: How does your photography of “marks of humanity” inspire your work?
ASHLEY: My “marks of humanity” posts are basically a visual influence resource for me. I can only strive to create layered texture like it naturally forms on city street walls. Sometimes I use these images quite literally by mimicking them - like creating a falling down or covered up sign - but mostly they are a side project that feels like another offshoot of my practice. 

From “Marks of Humanity”

From “Marks of Humanity”

MHM: What are your main influences and inspirations? 

-Grungy street walls with multiple posters torn down and pasted back up
-City scribblings + graffiti - but more so those that have been covered up to produce interesting shapes over the writing
-Covered up signs, falling down signs, Ambiguous signs or ones that don’t make sense 

MHM: How has temporarily living on a sailboat changed your work? Tell us about some of your travels!
ASHLEY: Prior to boat life (and van life), I solely made large-scale paintings and installations. Living in a van (and then a sailboat) forced (and challenged) me to change my practice - I felt lost for a while and then I started making huge series of small work that I saw as “fragments” of the larger work. Even though I’m not currently living on my sailboat, that time has taught me I can create anywhere and any size works. It also taught me that even when I’m not physically painting, I’m always collecting (whether it be objects, ideas, or memories). 

MHM: Would you say you are earth, water, fire or air?

MHM: You work in a few different mediums, do you have a preferred method of making?
ASHLEY: This is a harder question than I imagined. I love collecting weird objects (usually used in installations) and I love getting my hands dirty. I’d say I have an incredible drive to physically use paint and spread it on a construct, so it may be my preferred method of making… but if I always had space to make installation work, I may prefer that over everything because I am potentially able to use all of my mediums in an installation - painting, video, sculpture, performance...

MHM: Why do you create?
ASHLEY: I have an INNATE drive to make work - and if I don’t, I honestly feel like I will die. 

MHM: Why do you choose to work with repetition compulsion?
ASHLEY: I don’t feel like this is something I choose - It’s literally a compulsion. I can’t tell you how many times I tell myself “I’m not going to make obsessive marks on this painting” and a few hours later the painting is covered. I have an extremely addictive personality, so when I started researching repetition compulsion (re: Lacan and Freud), everything just made sense. I talk about the idea of repetition compulsion often because it’s a part of my daily struggle. 

I have to laugh at myself sometimes – I’ve done multiple gallery installation works where I cover the walls in those obsessive "tick marks,” and after I do about 20 marks I look around the gallery walls and I always shake my head at myself - because once I start I can’t stop. My brain won’t let me. It’s part of my anxiety and obsessive disorders. So I just laugh and cry and spend the next 20 hours filling up the walls in tick marks. ha. 

MHM: How does painting affect your mind?
ASHLEY: Painting is a release for me. It’s also a relief. I’m constantly holding onto so much energy that I can then pour onto something else - it calms me down and gives me space to breathe.

MHM: Do you have a favorite song or type if music you paint to?
ASHLEY: I most often paint in silence because there’s already so many sounds going on in my head. I must look pretty manic in my studio… but if I listen to music it’ll be some strange Bjork or John Cage song or old school Hip Hop if I’m in a super fast-paced mood. 

MHM: How do you experience displacement? Is this a feeling you are trying to replicate or a particular experience?

ASHLEY: Loaded question, ha! I think about displacement from a psychological perspective - how an intense feeling or emotion gets transferred from its original object to another one. I don’t try to replicate this, I think I just experience it in multiple areas of my life and it comes out through the emotional part of my work.

MHM: How does your interest in street art influence the layered and chiseled process in your work? How did you arrive at this process? 
It influences me aesthetically - I use the same type of idea of a street wall - the constant layering, writing, and covering up. I don’t recall exactly how I arrived at this process, but I do remember the first paintings to come from it and it just felt “right” to me.

MHM: What are your feelings towards the defacing, deteriorating, and concealment of elements in both your surroundings and in your current work?
AH: I’m attracted to grunge and deterioration. I feel like it shows history and character - all of a sudden, an ordinary wall has a story to tell. A wooden block with rusty nails all over it lying on the street also has a story to tell. What is so often overlooked by other people holds all of my interest - I wonder about the stories of who made these marks on the walls and think about their innate drive to “make their mark” in the same way cave people did 30,000 years ago. I feel like when grungy objects hold my interest on the streets, I am giving them a new life through my fascination. That, and I also take them home and keep them in my studio. ;) As far as concealing goes, It also holds my interest in that there’s always a wonder about what’s underneath…. 

MHM: Since these pieces contain and discuss so much about compulsion, trauma, and healing, how do you consider the emotional implications of ‘baring it all’ in a creative capacity? Do you find that these representations of your intimate experience provide catharsis, or is there also an element of anxiety that remains attached to them? 
AH: I used to be an open book in my work - As my life calmed down, so has my traumatic work. Even in my paintings now, which have very little writing in them (but still are a release for my anxiety), I often feel exposed and vulnerable showing them. It IS cathartic, but yes, there’s certainly still remaining anxiety realized that they can be seen.

Ashley 6.JPG

When you refer to the application of white as a form of erasure, is the revealing of various colored elements beneath an act of preserving these moments in a ‘safer’ space? 
I’ve never really thought about it like that, but that’s spot on. I mainly just thought of the preserved moments as my favorites - and erasing anything too emotional or traumatic. So, yes, they are in a safer place being surrounded by white.

Did the transition from large scale to smaller scale paintings influence your sense of play and exploration at all? If so, how did the new confinement change your perspective? 
Yes. I let go of a lot of expectations, and allowed the small works to be purely play. They still are. I think of them as fragments, so they can be whatever they want to be - a big glob of color, an obsessive snippet, a layered white painting, or anything.

What is a perfect day to you?
Coffee, paint, paint, paint, paint, eat, paint, paint, paint, paint

What's next in the studio? Where do you see your practice going?
I just moved into a new studio after a few years without one - My practice is a little all over the place as I settle in, but I foresee new large works and definitely some super textured small works. Other than that, stay tuned…. I never know what’s going to happen in the studio.



Mineral House