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Carly Ashdown

Artist Carly Ashdown cites as her inspirations a somewhat motley crew – fellow artist Jackson Pollock,... Read more
...the late and much-revered comedian Bill Hicks, and philosopher Alan Watts, whose work introduced Eastern philosophies such as Zen to a Western audience. The influence of the abstract expressionist Pollock can easily be seen in her work – deceptively ethereal portraits in acrylics often with a drip-and-spatter finish similar to Pollock’s trademark technique. The other two are a little less obvious to the casual observer – but not so to Carly.

“Watts was a philosopher who talked about consciousness and reality and the fact that it’s all made up,” she says. “Like his, my work is an exploration of human experience.

“And Bill Hicks was really a preacher who spoke to people, through comedy, of the heart and soul, of human essence – things beyond our daily thinking.

“They both speak to a part of me, and to all of us, which doesn’t get addressed very often, making us feel seen and understood.”

Her images have been, until recently, of women – proud, confident, sexy young females, often portrayed dancing, in moments of joyful abandon. Some have tattoos; others have text on the canvas around them. None of them seek to make eye contact with the viewer – in most the eyes are obscured by hair, a hood, a streak of colour, or the angle of the head.

“The text is often illegible, deliberately so, or can only be read by holding the painting up to a mirror,” says Carly. “They invite the viewer to look deeper, to understand that not everything is what it seems to be.

“As to the eyes: if you show the eyes, you fix the idea of the person – they are the lens through which we see and engage with the world, and through which it becomes a reflection of yourself. 

“My work is much deeper than it’s sometimes perceived to be. Yes, it’s pretty, edgy, funky – but that’s just the first layer.”

Artmarket visitors can look forward to seeing a new side to Carly’s work – she’s recently shifted her emphasis from dance to… motorbikes.

“A lot of my new work has men in, too. I’m currently working on a huge, huge canvas that will be coming to the Artmarket – it’s maybe four times bigger than anything I’ve done before – which portrays a couple with a motorbike.

“Motorbikes for me are a metaphor for freedom of spirit, a true and strong expression of the soul. In that sense, they’re similar to the dancers – but I need to move on, keep things fresh.

‘I can paint ballerinas without really thinking about it now, but it’s important to keep challenging yourself.

“I really owe it to my collectors that I keep taking risks – I have the privilege of seeing my work go into their homes and become part of their lives – and they pay me for it. So I feel a huge responsibility to stay in the front line and keep asking: what does the universe want to share with me?”

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