While interning in New Orleans this summer, a friend of mine urged me to check out an artist named Ashley Longshore. Initially, I didn’t know who she was, but after my first visit to her studio in early June, I – much like everyone else – fell in love with her work.
One afternoon, I visited her studio (for the 10th time) and ran into President of Operations Kate Grace Bauer, who had recognized me from before. After a few email exchanges, I had the pleasure of interviewing the incredibly talented, down-to-earth Ashley Longshore in her studio. Over great conversation and a hearty taco, Longshore tells all.
Q: Where did you grow up, and how long did you live there?
Ashley: I grew up in Montgomery, Alabama. I left there when I was 15 years old, and I went to boarding school in Atlanta. I went to Brenau Academy.
Q: Did you attend a university or college? If so, where? And how was that college experience for you?
Ashley: Yes! University of Montana in Missoula, Montana, and I studied English literature. It was amazing! I should have smoked more weed and fucked more boys.
Q: When and how did you get started in art, and what barriers did you have to overcome? Were there a lot of people discouraging you?
Ashley: My dad was really worried about me being able to financially take care of myself. But I took his credit card one day, and I went bought a paint kit, and I started painting and I realized I just lost myself in it. It was so meditative. It became my shield to the world. So, it was really up to me to figure out how can I make a living out of this? How can I make this business? And at the time, I knew about so many successful male artists that were making a lot of money and I thought, “Well, why can’t that be me?” So, at that time too – you’re gonna laugh – like, the internet happened and then emailing happened. So there was this huge explosion of being able to use technology to reach people.
Q: When did you graduate from college, and what was post-grad life like trying to turn your passion into something you could live off of and sustain?
Ashley: I graduated college in like 2000. I drug out my college for 7 years. I took some semesters off to paint, to ride horseback, do all kinds of stuff. Yeah, and afterwards it was really, really, really hard. I mean, I was broke as hell. But you know, the hotter the fire, the stronger the steel. And I knew I could figure it out. I just knew it was a numbers game, and I knew I had to get really organized and it would work if I didn’t give up.
Q: What did being featured in Bergdorf Goodman mean to you as well as for your career?
Ashley: Well, I mean, look. You hope for great things; you never know how they’re going to manifest. You work hard, and you’re ready for opportunity, and you never know what could happen. And when that buyer contacted me, I just knew I was ready to work as hard as I could. She initially only wanted a few paintings, and then I convinced her to give me the entire space. And then, they ended up giving me six windows down 5th Avenue, and I knew that I could take that and leverage it for my team, for me, and that my current client base would be really, really excited. I mean, it validates the current buyer, right? When I came around that corner and saw my artwork in those windows, it dropped me. It was just so much energy and hard work for my team and for me, and that was a huge a moment–a HUGE moment.
Q: Did it move you to tears?
Ashley: Oh, I was sobbing like a baby. If you can make it in New York, you can make it anywhere. And I think I’ve made it in New York.
Q: What advice do you have for college students who are thinking of going into a creative industry?
Ashley: Be ready! Be ready and just know that like, your 20s are hard. Like, for example, you. You may have an idea of what you want to do. In your 20s, you’re gonna try a bunch of different things and you’re gonna figure out exactly where you want to be in the field that you’re interested in. Your 30s? You’re gonna get really, really good at what you’re doing. And then in your 40s, you’re gonna start making a bunch of money. Maybe you start making money in your 30s! But your 20s? Your 20s are not easy. 20s are not easy. What you have in your 20s is youth and beauty. You know what I mean? And the struggle is what makes it all worth it.
Q: What advice would you give to your 19-year-old self?
Ashley: To my 19-year-old self? Quit smoking so much weed and fucking so much! No, what advice would I give my 19-year old self? Probably to not let other people’s opinions weigh on my heart so heavily. I think that you have to find yourself, and you have to find your voice and you have to find that time when you love yourself. And once you have that self-love, you can love other people – even when they’re crazy. And people – I put this on my Instagram this morning – people who are driven by fear and insecurity say and do crazy things. That has nothing to do with me, you know? When I was 19 years old, I was really sensitive. Things hurt me, you know? I didn’t know who I was yet, so I would probably say that.
Q: What’s a typical day like for you?
Ashley: Mayhem. Beautiful, sparkly, glitter-covered mayhem. I wake up pretty early. I wake up at like 6:30 in the morning, and I answer emails. A lot of times I’ll take a bubble bath. I’ll send my team an email. Then, I get here to my studio. My president of operations will email me my list of what the day is – meetings, conference calls, clients coming in, shit I have to do. They give me a homework folder, so I have to go over press things, answer emails, and that sort of thing that are in the thing before I even get here. Then, I get here. I paint. Right now, we’re in the middle of taking these incredible photographs for a portrait series that I’m doing for the month of August. So, I come in here and play. We get things done. We sparkle, we bedazzle, we glitter. We talk to clients. About 5:00, I go home. I may jump in my pool and watch Wheel of Fortune. I like Jeopardy a lot. I try not to watch the news because it’s depressing as fuck. And then, Michael makes dinner. We have the little TV trays, and we sit in my den and watch a movie, eat dinner. Then I’ll take another bubble bath and go the fuck to bed.
Q: Who is Michael?
Ashley: He’s my love; he’s my sweet pea.
Q: What does your creative process consist of, and on average, how long does it take you to complete a portrait? Let’s say “Frida Kahlo” over there.
Ashley: I mean, I could paint her in one day, but then the bedazzle and everything else, you know, takes a hot minute. I’ve been painting for 24 years so when I see an image in my mind, I can paint it really quickly. I don’t sketch. I just paint. So, I do that. Sometimes, I work directly with Nina, my graphic designer, and I’ll have an idea and we’ll mock things up. We’ll take images and put them together, and I’ll see if I like it. I use technology to protect my time, which is my most precious commodity.
Q: [Your president of operations] mentioned that you were in Asheville, North Carolina, and you were kind of on an art sabbatical. Could you explain what that is?
Ashley: Yeah, so it is a creative sabbatical! It’s a time for me to be grounded, it’s a time for me to reflect, and a time for me to really be creative uninterrupted. That being said, you know, once the ball gets rolling, you don’t want to block it. So I’m still answering emails and talking to my team, but it’s really a time for me to just be able to have some solitude.
Q: Out of all of the amazing, iconic people you’ve painted — from Anna Wintour to Audrey Hepburn, then Lil’ Wayne to Abraham Lincoln — who has been your favorite person to paint and why? Ashley: I mean, they all are my favorite. For me, it’s like, you know when you go to a nice restaurant and you have a nine-course dinner or whatever? It’s that altogether. It’s the whole experience. Because they’re all little thoughts, you know. They’re just thoughts. They’re all beautiful and great, and they all go together. And I also like paintings that say “fuck.” It’s a great word.
Q: Why did you set up your studio in New Orleans versus New York or Los Angeles?
Ashley: Oh, I love New Orleans. I love the energy here. This is a city that celebrates creativity. It celebrates art. I mean, come on. This is a place where you lose yourself in a riptide of wildness. I love that. Also, you know, there isn’t that “peacock” thing here, where there’s valet parking and everybody is in Chanel. There’s this rawness and edginess here that allows creative people to just be who they are. There isn’t another city in the United States that I would live in. I definitely could not live in New York City. Hell no.
Q: On the door of your studio, you have a sign that says, “If you are racist, sexist, homophobic, or an asshole…don’t come in.” In light of recent events in this nation, do you believe artists and creators have a responsibility to speak out on social issues?
Ashley: If you’re an asshole, you probably can come in, but the others aren’t negotiable! But yeah, that’s what artists do! Now, I’ll say this though: I’ve stood up for some things and have just taken an ass-whooping on social media. And I’m sensitive. I mean, getting attacked is a really…it hurts. Actually, Big Chief, you made that post about that bitch Sarah Huckabee that wouldn’t answer about the kids, and I reposted it. Boy, they just gutted me. They gutted me. It’s hard to take that…it’s important for me to express myself in my work and how I feel, and I’m still building up my shield. But right now, you know what? I just want to focus on what’s optimistic and what opportunities I do have. I really don’t want to go down the rabbit hole. I don’t.
Q: You’re also an author! You have your own book “‘You Don’t Look Fat, You Look Crazy’ : An Unapologetic Guide to Being Ambitchous”! What does the word “ambitchous” mean to you?
Ashley: It just means that you can stand up for yourself, and it means that you know what, damnit, maybe I am the biggest bitch in the room. If I have [to] stand up for myself and that makes me a bitch? Yeah, I’m as ambitchous as it gets. I think it’s a play on, you know, how society differentiates between a man being a good businessperson and a woman standing up for herself in business, you know, is considered a bitch. If that’s what it is, then yeah, I’m a fucking bitch.
Q: What’s your favorite fashion trend right now?
Ashley: I mean, oh my God. Look, you’re talking to somebody who just went to Dapper Dan’s studio in Harlem and got three tracksuits. I so love the hip-hop vibe, I love that things are….I love that really there are no rules right now in fashion. You could wear a suit, you could wear jeans and a t-shirt with accessories. I feel like there’s so much more opportunity now for women to express themselves in whatever way they want because we’re running companies and we make our own money. Maybe, I don’t want to wear fucking high heels to dinner. Maybe, I’m gonna wear these (*point to her high top sneakers*) tonight out with all my friends, and I’m gonna wear all this, and I’m going to yank out my black card and pick up dinner for my fucking 11 friends that are at the table with me. And it doesn’t matter what fucking shoes I have on. That’s what I like about fashion right now.
Q: How has fashion really played into your art and your inspiration besides the bedazzle?
Ashley: I’m a consumer. I’m a straight-up consumer, and look, these things define us whether you like it or not. I mean, if somebody walks in the door and they have on a Buddhist monk robe, I’m gonna go, “That’s a Buddhist monk robe.” If somebody walks in with flip flops, cut-off denim shorts, and a wife beater, I’m gonna think, “You might want to go to Bourbon Street.” Haha, I don’t know! The same way a bird has feathers, we have fashion.
Q: You’ve worked with so many “notable clientele” such as Blake Lively, Eli Manning, Salma Hayek. Who’s next?
Ashley: Well, I just had dinner with Sarah Jessica Parker and Kelly Ripa and Jane Krakowski the other night, and Peter Pilotto, who’s a huge fashion designer. I don’t know, anything could happen! But I’ll tell you this: my favorite clients are the clients that save their money up forever to buy a painting. It’s one thing to have all the money in the world just to be able to buy what you want – and I love that, too – but there’s something to be said when someone is saving their money for three years to buy one of my paintings. That’s a real honor.
Q: On average, how much do your paintings cost? Because these are precious works of art.
Ashley: They range from $6,000 all the way up to a piece right now that is $120,000. It’s a triptych.
Q: This isn’t a question on the list, but I always wonder, how do you keep up this positivity? Does it ever get tiring? Do you meditate daily?
Ashley: Well, wouldn’t it be worse if I was negative? If you let that air out of the balloon, it hits the ground. I don’t know. Funny you should ask that! Let me tell you something about me. I don’t take naps or anything, and this morning – of all mornings – I decided to meditate by myself for the first time. I’ve got a little app, it’s called “Calm.” It takes you through these cycles…*breathes deeply* Ahhhh, so I did that. Then I set a little timer, and I was like, “I’m gonna meditate for real for like five minutes.” So, I meditated for five minutes in my bathtub and I was like, “You know what? I’m going to go back to sleep.” And I never do this, but to calm my brain, I fell asleep, then my dog woke me up. My dog was driving me crazy, so then I woke up, and I was in a really bad mood. But there is so much happening now that I really do have to do something.