As an Aunspaugh Fellow now finishing out the year and preparing to accept the invitation to study in one of several graduate programs around the country, Ashley Williams is one of the University of Virginia’s art department’s bright rising stars. She is particularly known for her fascinating, sensitive representations of evolving creatures– part animal, part plant and part mineral — which are not just visualizations in oil on mylar, but carry with them elaborate back stories into struggles for existence, the delicate balance such creatures must negotiate amid environmental encumbrances, and the questions concerning their future survival.
Williams analyzes the many complex aspects of her beasts’ defense and reproductive systems as well as the locations where they have reportedly been discovered after milenniums in concealment. Here is a little of her own story.
D.M. First, many may wonder, how does UVA’s Aunspaugh Fifth Year Fellowship work? Did you apply for it or was it awarded to you? It seems it has provided wonderful opportunities to develop and pursue your research into these rarified northern beasts.
A.W. The Aunspaugh Fellowship is a post bac program at UVA. Fellows work as art department assistants in return for studio space and a stipend. I applied for the award during my final year as an undergraduate. The experience is kind of like a residency. It is an opportunity to concentrate on making things for a year.
D.M. Who would you point to as some of the artists who have influenced you and the development of your work to date?
A.W. Recently, I’ve been more influenced by Gastropods and Cephalopods than artists, but I love Wangechi Mutu, William Kentridge and Andy Goldworthy. Some of my favorite artists are sculptors – I’ve been looking at a lot of Tara Donavan and Cai Guo Qiang’s work. I’m also influenced by seedpods, root structures, details of microscopic organisms and writers like Italo Calvino, Donald Bartheleme and Jorges Borges.
D.M. Before you discovered the curious hyperborean fauna that you have recently begun to document in your paintings what themes did you work with?
A.W. I have always been a figure painter of sorts. My earlier paintings were more focused on the human body. During my second year in college, I made a series of rather strange, Venus of Willendorf-type drawings that doubled as maps. I’m interested in the relationship between landscape and body. I’ve always been interested in weighty forms too: the struggle to contain, the body as container and the way our bodies might look if they really reflected all of the information that we ingest. The other theme that has carried through my work is a need for connection. I find that I ultimately have to be able to communicate with my painting. I like starting with an uncomfortable or unsettling shape that I form into something more articulate or understandable. I feel very protective of the things that I make. My paintings also protect me.
For more about Ashley Williams, please see aerofauna.com
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