by Leah Draffen, photos by Candra George
FOUND DANCING, PAINTING AND BEDAZZLING, the term pop artist encapsulates who Ashley Longshore is—pops of color, pops of huge personality, pops of fearlessness and, of course, pops of Veuve Clicquot. A glance into the windows of her Magazine Street gallery makes your knees weak. There’s so much beauty and life to take in: natural light, glossy pink floors and walls lined with Ashley’s canvases and bedazzled cut outs of hearts, butterflies and luna moths.
My first time viewing one of her paintings is a memory I’ve never been able to forget. We were shooting a breathtaking design home in the Lakefront area, and there she was. The stunning Audrey Hepburn under the foyer staircase. Jeweled to perfection, she made a simple sitting area gleam with interest and color. I kept returning to the foyer to see her while the photo shoot continued.
Is it too much to say, “love at first sight”? I followed Ashley on Instagram a few hours later. Instagram is an intimate look into someone’s life. Ashley has made it a diary, tell-all and cheer-me-up for her followers. “My paintings are just a portion of my thoughts. The thing that makes an artist great is the artist as a person. This [the paintings surrounding her] is just a little bit of who I am. When we think back to well-known artists throughout history, we know a lot about their lives, which is why social media is so exciting.”
Not only has Ashley used Instagram as a way to connect with her collectors, fans and friends, she has also made it into a successful business platform. “It’s important to know your business, and it’s important to be able to talk about your work. Galleries don’t tell you who your clients are, and you’re really giving them all the power. Let’s say that gallery closes; you don’t know who bought your artwork. I know my clients. The best client is already a client,” says Ashley. “This is very intimate—for someone to live with my thoughts. I want to know who you are. My collectors are my best friends. We have an understanding. They get me and I get them. That’s really important and a rare combination.” Ashley hopes to reshape the way that artists have sold their work in the past. “I’m not saying I have a bull’s eye on galleries. There are a lot of really great galleries out there, but 50 percent commission is way too much. I just want to empower other artists.”
Power and empowerment are two ideas often crossed in many of Ashley’s series, while empowerment alone is frequently the main theme of her Instagram feed. Her posts make you laugh. They make you cheer. They make you determined. “A lot of times when I make posts about ‘getting out there and grabbing life,’ it’s a pep talk to myself,” Ashley smiles. “I’m not scared. You have to love yourself more than loathe yourself. I feel like women need to embrace that a lot more. That’s why I try to put these little messages, these thoughts that I have, out there. It’s amazing how relatable they are.”
Speaking of women, one of Ashley’s many series is The Audreys. The beautifully elaborate silhouette of Audrey Hepburn is accompanied by whatever has inspired Ashley that day. Birds, butterflies, koi fish and detailed floral headdresses can be seen atop Audrey’s head. The background often varies from solid colors to related scenes to silver or gold leaf, like our cover of Audrey with blue birds and Japanese magnolias. “Audrey Hepburn was a philanthropic and beautiful woman, who to me is just a vessel representing something that I think every woman would want to be,” Ashley explains. “Whoever you are, I think it translates. Beauty is universal.” Other women who often appear on Ashley’s canvas are Frida Kahlo, Kate Moss, Anna Wintour and, of course, Wonder Woman.
“I paint and surround myself with these women because I feel like this becomes my world where I feel safe. They become my team. In the same way people decorate their home to feel comfortable and surround themselves with things that are relatable, being able to paint my thoughts and make them tangible brings me peace. I feel stronger. I feel braver when I’m in here. This is my spot.”
Ashley’s gallery and studio have been open over seven years, but she has been painting for more than 20. “When I first started, I thought that galleries were the only way I could sell. I guess it takes someone like me to say, ‘wait, we don’t have to do it that old way.’ I had to do it this way, because I honestly can’t tell you how many galleries told me I wasn’t marketable. Not that it’s important, but it feels nice.” Her gallery is filled with finished and in-progress works, but few stay for very long before going to live in their new homes nationally and internationally. Ninety percent of Ashley’s paintings leave New Orleans.
Many ask Ashley, “Why not New York?” She says: “New Orleans accepts the wildness and celebrates the arts like no other. I feel safe putting my thoughts on canvas here. I’ve been here for 13 years and love that you can absorb yourself into whatever chaos you want and the city embraces it. I also like that you can have a throw down on Monday night just ’cause. A calm night never ends up being a calm night. It’s like getting caught in a riptide, which is great if you know how to swim.”
And, oh, can Ashley swim—thanks to her fearlessness, positivity and successful mentors. “My work is my own exploration of being a woman in America. Of the new America we’re living in, with all of its opportunity. I explore status and greed with my Trophy series—but also the roles my mother had and how liberated I’m feeling by being an entrepreneur. When I wake up in the morning, I don’t think ‘Oh, I’m a woman. I have something to prove.’ I just feel like this being that has opportunity. So, although my work is very feminine in so many ways, my main focus is to be a badass and to be free. And to me, being free is making my own money. If there’s something I want, I work for it; if I have an idea, I paint it; if I’m having a thought, I say it. Being in that moment and being very present, that’s where I want to live.”
Ashley embraces the advice and opinion of her mentors, including Wendy Wurtzburger, former Anthropologie Global co-president and chief merchandising and design officer and now an independent entrepreneur; Fran Hauser, former president of Digital at Time Inc. and now partner at Rothenberg Ventures; and Nataly Kogan, founder of Happier. “These women are mothers running hundred-million-dollar companies. That layer of incredible wife and mother is what I respect more than anything. It shows that you can get out there and do what you want. I promise you one thing, real successful women are engaging, gracious and a pleasure to be around. When you’re around them you ask yourself, ‘how can I learn from this woman?’”
Many female collectors, friends and fans ask the same of Ashley and how she has found success in what she loves. She says: “I have worked my ass off. I’ve worked 14 hours a day. I’ve cried myself to sleep. My ribs have hurt from sobbing and snot bubbles. You know, it’s funny how it all happens, because it happens how it should—especially when you work for it and nobody gives it to you. If you really understand your business, understand who your client is and understand yourself (which I do more than ever as I become an older woman). When those three things come together, it’s a very powerful combination.”
The combination of artist, businesswoman, fashion collaborator, furniture designer and now writer is quite the example of a badass woman. Ashley’s book You Don’t Look Fat, You Look Crazy, published by Regan Arts, released in February with 160 pages of art and Ashley’s story so far. Also in the works are three global collaborations that are set to launch in 2018 and 2019. Through whatever medium—canvas, Instagram or paper—Ashley remains humble in her successes.
“Being able to sell my thoughts. It’s very empowering. I feel very grateful and joyous. Every time throughout my entire career that someone has believed in me enough to pay me money for my thoughts, they have become a part of where I am right now. And I do not forget that. It’s a dream.”
See Ashley in action at Art for Art’s Sake on October 7 from 5-9pm. 4537 Magazine Street, New Orleans. 504-333-6951. ashleylongshore.com.