This is a transcript from my interview with artist Ashley Longshore. You can listen to the interview here.
I’m very happy to be talking to Ashley longshore today. Normally I introduce the people I’m chatting with but today I’m going to let one Ashley’s fans do it. I came across this quote on tumblr from a 19 year old male fan from New Orleans and here’s what he wrote.
“Ashley Longshore look her up. My friend and I met her yesterday. She’s my new best friend. And she’s an artist. And she didn’t go to art school. And she makes more $$$ than your parents. She’s got a studio right on Magazine Street. And she wears bunny ears. Best part, she’s got an arrowhead ring the size of my head.”
Ashley: I remember that . . .
John: Do you?
Ashley: I do remember that.
John: Well I don’t even know what an arrowhead ring is but I thought it really, sort of, summed you up.
Ashley: Well I’m a firm believer in go big or go home. I tend to wear huge ginormous rings on all my fingers, actually to the point that I told my sister, “Oh, my wrist hurts from painting so much,” and she said, “That’s not from painting that’s from all jewellery you wear.” I must have been a gypsy in another life.
John: Okay, well let’s dive in at the deep end. Why do you think that art exists Ashley?
Ashley: Why does art exist? There isn’t a world where art couldn’t exist, I mean, when we made the leap from being an australia pithecus into being a human being, we instantly used our brains in a different way than animals did, and I think that’s in expressing our own individuality in the world that we’re living in.
So even if you look at primates and how they establish themselves in their own environments, the way human beings have done that is by defining ourselves through our cars, our houses, our individual expression. So I think even people that think that they’re not artistic, they . . . you know everybody has something artistic about them. 100%.
There isn’t a world where art couldn’t exist . . .
Ashley: We have to have it or we would go crazy. We have to define ourselves in some way. Even if that just means doodling while you’re on a conference call in your cubicle. Everyone has art. We have to have art.
John: Yeah, because it’s a funny thing isn’t it, it’s not obviously practical when you think of all the other thing we’ve invented, but yet we’ve been doing it forever really.
Ashley: We’ve been doing it forever, I mean look at those little fertility statues, and look at Egyptian art, look at whether people were creating art because it was for a God that they believed in, or if it was a drawing of a buffalo on a cave wall because that’s what they were hunting, because they needed it to survive, and it just so happened that they went and saw the biggest buffalo they’d ever seen in their lives, to the point that they needed to draw it around the campfire to show everyone that wasn’t there how grand this buffalo was. What are they doing, they’re using their mind and their creativity to express something great that they believe in. That’s what’s so awesome.
That’s what I tell a lot of these young artists that contact me, “Oh I’ve never been to art school.”
“You don’t have to. It doesn’t matter whether you know exactly how to express what you’re seeing in your mind, you just do it. Thereby you have this amazing individual expression that people can respond to or not, but it is a foot print in our history. It’s important!”
John: Yes. I agree.
Ashley: Okay good, I’m glad we are on the same page John.
John: Now you’re very commercially successful. When you have the idea or the feeling for a new painting, when that starts to come up for you, how influenced are you by whether you think it’s going to sell or not? For example, your art is very bright, it’s very colourful, it’s very cheerful. If something starts to come up for you, and you want to paint it, but its very dark, and you know it might not sell, do you paint it anyway and put it in the attic, or do you go ahead paint it and let the market decide?
. . . you can take your creativity and mold it into business opportunities . . .
Ashley: No, no, no. First of all I’m not really a dark person, but what I would say is I definitely have different collections of work that I paint. I’m inspired by trophy wives, and American greed, and I can tell you that when I’m painting a painting of hundred dollar bills that say, “How to win friends and secure major poontang,” I can tell you that a lot of my interior designers are going to be reticent to put something like that in a home. Now the beautiful thing is that I have marketed myself to lots of hedge fund guys, billionaires and they are instantly drawn to that sort of thing.
Ashley: Do I think about am I going to sell it or not? No. Do I think of who my market is when I have an idea and it comes out I say, this is for my hedge fund guys, or this is for my trophy wives, or this is for my interior designers. I think when you are an artist and you realise you can take your creativity and then also mold it into business opportunities that are marketable across a wide range of buyers you don’t worry about selling it or not. You worry more about the group that you are going to market and target to. And they always sell eventually, I mean art is about falling in love. So really its a numbers game. The more people I can get to see my art the bigger my odds are that I’m going to sell it.
John: Right. You were just talking about your collectors there. A lot of them are wealthy people. The hedgies and the billionaires as you call them. There is a common idea that deep down wealthy people aren’t really happy. Have you found that to be true?
Ashley: Oh my god. I have to tell you I find that a lot of my wealthy clients, who have made their own money, tend to be more joyous people, maybe than some of my clientele who have inherited family money.
Ashley: And maybe my views are skewed because for me the greatest thing my father ever gave me was to be able to make my own money, to be able to take care of myself, to figure out this art business and how to sell something. Listen I don’t think that money makes you happy but I also have never seen anybody standing on the side of the road begging with the sign that said, “Will work for money,” with a smile on their face. So I mean we gotta have something, you’ve gotta be able to pay your bills. I mean its all relative, I mean there was a point in my career where I thought having a thousand dollars in the bank made me rich. And you know it’s a cycle. You know what is rich? Somebody that has a 100 million dollars thinks having a million dollars is poor.
You know, it’s . . . you know . . . shit. Who knows?
Ashley: I know they’re happy when they’re buying art, and all I know is they always got a smile across their face, and I do too, when I get their credit card and that’s what matters in the end. They’re happy and I’m happy, you know?
John: Yeah. Who are your art heroes?
. . . artists like myself, who have the balls to self represent and to eliminate galleries, and to keep 100% of their profit margins.
Ashley: My art heroes are. . . you know, I’m drawn to lots of artists, I love Alice Neel, I love Elizabeth Pyton, I love Vanessa Beecroft, I think she’s an amazing performance artist. I love Francesco Clemente. I love Picasso, I think he’s great. I love Jeff Koons. What I’m really drawn to right now, with the shift in the art world, with all this technology that we have, are artists like myself, who have the balls to self represent and to eliminate galleries, and to keep 100% of their profit margins. I respect artists that see themselves as not only as creative beings but also their worth financially in that them being able to use all these free technological resources to put themselves out there and keep their money. Not giving up 50%. I respect artists that have the balls to do that.
John: Right. Yeah, because a lot of artists, they sell their work for a couple of hundred dollars, at most, in coffee shops, or restaurants, or at art markets, and they are usually delighted to sell anything. Do you think that they’re selling themselves short and that’s like our modern day version of the notion of the “starving artist”?
Ashley: Yes. Yes I do. I think these artists first of all need to understand that there’s a new business model. Because of technology, because of social media, because of the way people are finding information. People are no longer dependent on gallery walks.
. . . if you love an artist, go directly to the artist.
There was a time, I mean I’m in my late thirties, when the only way people could see art, 15, 20 years ago, was to go to gallery openings. There was no way to go out and source artists unless you were traveling all over the world. Now you can get on social media, you can get on the internet, you can google articles, you can find all these resources to go find the people that you love. What I would pray, and what I try to coach my buyers is if you love an artist go directly to the artist. Don’t go to these galleries. Do you know that galleries take 50%? Do you know some galleries take 60%?
John: Yes, it’s outrageous.
Ashley: To me, galleries are dinosaurs. I also try to tell artists if you don’t want to do all this marketing, you have to negotiate with these galleries with some business sense. Meaning if you are going to take 50% from me, how are you promoting my work? How are you promoting me? How are you advertising my name? How are you getting my name out there? Because if there is a press or PR element, and they are paying to keep the lights on, and they are also taking 50%. . . There has to be some balance there. It can’t just be, you’re taking 10 pieces of my inventory and I’m sitting in my studio, hoping to God that some gallery is selling the work. That is an antiquated sales model. That is not how the art world should work, any-fucking-more.
John: Did you always think like that or have you grown into that perspective? Did you always have your eye on the more lucrative markets and think it terms of markets?
Ashley: Yes. Yes. And I’ll tell you why. Because at the beginning of my career, I had galleries telling me that I wasn’t marketable. So part of my whole thing right now, it’s not just revenge, but it’s a matter of survival. In that I’m an American woman. I’ve got loads of opportunity. My daddy didn’t write me a cheque. I didn’t have shit. I did all of this on my own and I figured it out and utilised all of my resources so that I could build a good foundation for my business.
I kept in touch with all of my collectors. I started making email constant contact lists, years, and years, and years ago, because I knew the best buyer I have is already a buyer, and if I haven’t sold anything I can email people that already love my work. It was a matter of necessity. I’m not one of these people, and successful people, artists included, I’m not the kind of people just to sit back and hope. Nobody’s going to knock on your door but if you use things like Instragram, Facebook, Youtube, you put it out in the world, and don’t be scared now, put it out there, don’t be scared now, you will get something back from it. You will.
. . . .the best buyer I have is already a buyer
John: Okay, brilliant! I know that you are a big fan of Frida Kahlo. Now as you know Frida had a very hard life with the medical stuff and relationship stuff. I think if Frida was alive now and she had an Instragram account I think it would be pretty dark. You on the other hand, you look like you are having a ball. If I wanted to cheer myself up, I think I would just go and look at your Instragram feed because it’s so uplifting.
Ashley: Thank you.
John: Do you think the, “suffering artist,” that kind of notion, do you think that’s just another version of the, “starving artist,” model?
Ashley: I think as much people are drawn to the dark. As much as being in that dark place is a very strong place to draw inspiration from. It is. I think because that pain that you feel is something that you can’t necessarily describe with words so you turn to some other art form. Whether it’s being a chef and beating the shit out of some eggs, or being a sculptor, or painter. I also think too that that place of happiness, and humour, and perversion, and fun, and mischievousness also captures a side of our youth, a side that people are craving very much.
I think this is what they means when they say artist objective and buyers are very subjective. But you know what, for me in my own instragram, you know I may be having a bad morning and I’ll post something to cheer myself up.
I’m craving things that make me belly laugh.
Ashley: I love my feed. I also feel that the world is in such a state right now that I’m just craving humour. I’m craving things that make me belly laugh. I just find things that just tickle me, and I put them right back out there, and people seem to respond really well to them.
John: Great. It seems like from the word go, you’ve done pretty much the opposite to what you were told to do, to what you were told to become, what you could do, or you couldn’t do. There are probably people that you grew up with who are living the life that you were told you were going to live.
Ashley: Thank god I’m not doing that!
John: As I see it, your spirit wasn’t going to be contained by any of that. I think everyone has the same kind of spirit inside them but for many people it’s kind of stuck. So let’s say someone is listening to this podcast and they are super inspired by you, but they’re stuck and they know it, and they don’t know how to get unstuck. What would you say to them to help them get free?
Ashley: Great love and great achievement come with great risk. There is no greater high in the world then putting yourself in an uncomfortable position and then absolutely making yourself shocked that you are successful or unsuccessful. I mean successful people fail more than they succeed and you can not be afraid of the failure. The thing you should be afraid of is laying in a bed dying when you are as old as hell going, “Damnit I never did what I thought I should. I hate myself for not taking the chances that I knew I should have taken.”
This ain’t a dress rehearsal. This is the show.
What people need to understand is that this is the one life. I say this all the time, this ain’t a dress rehearsal. This is the show. There is no reason in the world why anyone who is not willing to put in the work can’t go out there and kick ass at whatever they want to do. Especially being an artist, now with the internet, the world is so small. My google analytics blow up all over the world in countries I’ve never been to. Because the internet has brought us all together. It is the globlization of everything. All you have to do is take the step to put yourself out there. The only thing you need to do that is a phone. It’s just a phone. That’s your window into the world of opportunity if you are a visual artist.
The saddest thing in the world would be to never try but you can not be afraid to work. People think I’m just having fun and laughing all the time. I work my ass off. This career is my life and I don’t even know what to do with myself when I’m not painting. It is my joy, it is my release, it is my control. It’s my bread and butter. I live, breath and I die by it.
John: Very good. Do you think art school is worth it or not?
Ashley: I think it depends on what kind of artist you want to be. For me, I am much looser in what I’m doing. I think that if someone dreams to be a surrealist, or a realist or they want to be this amazing portrait artist with great technique, I mean somebody has to show you the steps, maybe, or find that artist you really love and study their work and then try it.
What, they didn’t fucking teach you that?
When I first started painting, I would do Picasso reproductions. I learned how to blend colour, how to do shapes, that was a great help. I think art schools certainly make you tough. I have issues with art school because I have all these kids graduating from Parsons and huge Ivy league art schools in the US and then they call me and go, “Hey how do I do this now? How do I have a career?” I’m thinking well let me tell you. . . what they didn’t fucking teach you that? You have a two hundred thousand dollar art degree and they didn’t teach you how to sell. They’re still teaching these kids to go to galleries. It’s just shocking. It’s absolutely shocking.
[Door bell rings.] Sorry John. Clients ringing the door bell.
I think that that’s a personal decision. For me, I right out of the gate, just started painting boldly, painting pop and I didn’t want anybody to tell me what I should and should not be painting because I’m hard headed like that. I think that all artists should do that. I think it’s bullshit to have some art teacher telling you, “oh no I don’t like that.” You know, “Screw that.” Like I said before, every single painting, every single drawing,every single sculpture, is your individual footprint and your own expression of your experience as a human being in this day and time and that is important regardless of what you think it looks like or what anybody else thinks.
John: Yeah, and from what you are saying as well, there’s a lot of online resources available, which show up the high cost of going to art college, I think it’s more expensive than becoming a lawyer, in America anyway. So they come out with this huge student debt and as you say no business skills to actually bring the student debt down.
At the end of the day what matters is, do you like this image, do you relate it, do you love it enough to hang it on your wall and let it live with you and be a part of your family.
Ashley: The other thing is too, all of this pedigree, and all this bullshit, which is just pedigree and bullshit. “Where did you go to art school? Where did you get your fine arts degree? What museums have you shown in? What galleries are you in?” I feel like someone needs to reeducate these people about what it really is to be an artist. None of that matters. At the end of the day what matters is, do you like this image, do you relate it, do you love it enough to hang it on your wall and let it live with you and be a part of your family. That’s how I see art. But then there’s a whole other side of the art world where we have investing, and reselling, and Sotheby’s, and it’s fascinating, and the money flows like water, it flows like water in this business. It’s got layers like an onion that’s for sure. It will make you cry too.
John: The recent trip you were on in Jamaica with the school children. Was that because you happened to go and talk to the kids, or did you go there specifically for that?
Ashley: I’ve spent a lot of time in West Moreland parish and it’s such an incredible place to me. It’s a place where I go to unwind and I love Jamaica, I love Jamaicans, it is a beautiful country, the flowers, the people, the food. And I just feel like I’m at a point in my life as an artist where I wanted to meet those kids, I wanted to see their art department. I wanted to see what they were doing and I wanted to hear what their interests were. It was fascinating. They were so talented and their work, they love nature. Everything around them was very representative in their work.
I will tell you this that I learned, in Jamaica they are taught that being an artist is a very lowly thing. They are taught that being solitary and being a painter is something that they should be ashamed of.
I told them otherwise but that’s what their culture teaches them. I wouldn’t have known that had I not gone to their school. That’s the kind of the thing that they are teaching those kids, it’s kinda scary.
Global fucking domination!
John: Right. So what’s next for you, what have you got coming up?
Ashley: Global fucking domination! I have two huge collaborations and I can’t drop any names right now because I’ve had to sign contracts because there’ll be huge press rollouts. One is with a huge Japanese company and it will be a global collaboration. The other is with a company based in New York city, it’s going to be very high end, very cool collaboration. I’m also right now working on some of my new trophy wife pieces. I’m constantly travelling and reevaluating my own opinion of status and greed in the United State. Which is really very fascinating because we are country that’s very much defined by things, by our pedigree, by what street we live on, what car we drive, what bag we carry, how big our diamond is, and all those things obviously are bullshit but it’s fascinating to study people in their own environment. So I’m working on that. I actually just got a big new studio that I’m moving into that I’m very excited about.
John: Still in New Orleans?
Ashley: I’m still in New Orleans, I love it down here. It’s a city founded by pirates, whores, you can get into all the trouble you want to get into down here. We’ve got the movie industry is all over the place. People come down here to celebrate. We have a great tourist flow here and it’s a kick ass place to be.
Ashley: That’s what I’m doing.
John: So, last question and I ask this to everybody. What one thing would you pass on to future generations?
I want there to be more rich artists.
Ashley: I would like to be one of the artists that really changes the way my industry works. I would like to be one of the artists that empowers these artists, that eliminates the starving artists. That I could help teach these artists how to utilise the magic and the gift that they’ve been given, to take images from their minds, put them on a canvas, or sculpture, and than to sell them, and have that money, and to use that money to travel, and learn, and to continue to put their their views and opinions out there. My greatest achievement would be to help artists all over he world do that. I want there to be more rich artists. I love that lawyers, doctors, and hedge funds and businessmen and all these people have all this wealth, but I can only imagine how beautiful the world would be if we had all these creative people that were just being showered with money because the universe loved what they were doing so much. I want to help these artists figure out how to keep that money and repurpose it into being more creative. That would be my greatest legacy.
John: That’s brilliant. That’s a lovely vision. I think your well on the way with what your doing because what you are doing is inspiring. I find it inspiring anyway.
Ashley: Thank you!
John: I think a lot of other artists would.
Ashley: We should be drinking whiskey right now.
Ashley: Why not! Don’t say, “why,” John, say, “Why not!”
John: I thought there was some reason there, you know like. . .
Ashley: We should be celebrating, we’re artists and that you are doing a podcast and you can put this thing on the internet and anybody in the whole world can hear it. . .
John: That’s right, I’m in Ireland and you’re inNew Orleans, which is great.
John: How can people find out more about you?
Ashley: They can go to my website ashleylongshore.com, they can hop right on my Instagram and go for a wild ride with me and my handle is @ashleylongshoreart. They can call me up on the phone if they want. There’s a phone number on my website. I’ve got an artist I have to speak with this afternoon that wants my opinion about something. I want to make myself as accessible as possible because I think that will make it easier for my greatest achievement to happen. So that’s how you can follow me. You can also Google me dammit! Just Google me!
John: Alright, well thanks very much for giving me so much of your time. It’s been great to you talking to you and as I say you are a great inspiration.
Ashley: Thank you John. My pleasure.
John: Thanks Ashley. Bye.