Ashleigh Sumner in her studio Ashleigh Sumner in her studio


This week In The Studio, TAG Fine Arts speaks to Ashleigh Sumner! She talks to us about her background in film and theatre, how downtown LA influenced her art, and how art can be a form of therapy. You can find more of her work here!


When did you first start working with TAG Fine Arts?

I first had the pleasure of working with Mark Jason a few years ago. Mark decided to transition over to collaborating with Hobby Limon and offered to continue representing me under the TAG Fine Arts banner. It’s been a great opportunity continuing to work with Mark and developing a relationship with Hobby and the rest of the TAG Fine Arts staff.


What is your background?

I’ve always painted from a very young age but my formal training is in theatre arts, specifically acting. This pursuit led to a move from the East Coast to Los Angeles in my early twenties. From there, I continued to work in theatre, some television and indie film but around 2008, I started to be visually inspired by the urban environment of Downtown LA and the street art movement. It’s at this point I began working out of a studio in the Arts District of Downtown, Los Angeles and eventually it became clear I wanted fully commit to making paintings as a full-time artist.

I’ve used found street flyers in my mixed media collage work but a few years ago, I began experimenting with a printmaking process with the use of over-sized silkscreens. My neighbour, Patricia Mitchell, was a master printer. She had assisted Rauschenberg at one point and she taught me the basics of silkscreen work. I’ve now recently moved to Oakland and have a new urban environment to draw from in both Oakland and San Francisco. My major influences are Rauschenberg, Mark Bradford, Warhol, Basquiat, Barbara Kruger and Jose Parla.


What inspired you to create?

I never decided to be an artist. I think people are born artists. However, I did decide to pursue being a working artist. That was a very intentional decision. I’m inspired by my environment to create and I’ve lived in major urban environments as an adult. Whether it’s the rhythm of a city, the challenges of a city, the people, the streets…I find a lot of inspiration in the heartbeat of an urban area.


Define what art means to you.

To me, art is a raw, authentic, at times emotional reflection of ourselves. It’s a personal lens of how we see ourselves in society and outside of society as well. Sometimes art serves as a mirror to humanity. Sometimes art serves as a hammer to that mirror.


What is your workspace like?

My studio is in industrial East Oakland at Norton Factory Studios. A hundred years ago, Norton Factory was a factory space where Model T Fords were assembled. Now it’s an artist studio space. My space has concrete floors (that still smell like motor oil), high ceilings with industrial wooden beams. It’s great. It’s my favourite studio space to date.


Ashleigh Sumner at work Ashleigh Sumner at work


Do you have any routine you follow when you’re creating?

I always work with music.


What is your favourite work of art?

That’s a tough question. If I had to choose one piece, it’s Barbara Kruger’s Untitled (Your Body Is A Battleground). I love the simplicity yet the sheer power of that piece. I also love the scale of the painting. I make a point to see that piece whenever I’m visiting The Broad in LA. It’s really something to be in the presence of that work. It’s bold and it’s a battle cry.


If you could have dinner with any artist, past or present, who would it be and why?

Agnes Martin. I think we’d have a lot in common.


How important are current and socio-historical events to your works?

Socio-political events definitely drive my work, in either subtle or not so subtle ways. A little bit of political rage is always present in my work somewhere. That’s probably why I’m naturally drawn to street art and Barbara Kruger’s work. There’s a political charge to them that I love.


Ashleigh Sumner - Gentrification Nation III - courtesy of TAG Fine Arts Ashleigh Sumner - Gentrification Nation III - courtesy of TAG Fine Arts


Do you think social media has impacted your career?

That’s a good question. It certainly has given me access to the artist community at large. I’m seeing artists’ work globally that I normally might not have been exposed to and vice versa. I think it’s been a vehicle for my collectors to view my process and work as it’s being created and it’s certainly been a great tool for exposure. However, as far as sales go for me, nothing compares to seeing a piece in person and having a gallerist be that bridge from the artist to collector. My work is very layered and finished in resin so you often can’t get a sense of the depth of the work on an iPhone screen via Instagram. That said, I think patrons and art admirers love seeing how the work is created and social media has been instrumental in sharing my process in a way that a regular website doesn’t.


Do you create your best work independently or when within a community?

I’ve always been a lone wolf. I work alone. My studio is located in a building with other artists (which is nice) but my work is always created in solitude. Not to say, I won’t be open to collaborating with the right artist at the right time.


What advice would you give to upcoming artists?

Fail your way to success. Failure is just as much a part of the process to success as your moments of winning. Just keep working. Keep creating work all the time so your creative muscles stay in shape. Stay inspired and fed creatively whether is through other artists work, travel, visits to the museum, a concert, music, theatre or film. But the main thing is to keep creative. As Warhol said, “Don’t think about making art, just get it done. Let everyone else decide if it’s good or bad, whether they love it or hate it. While they are deciding, make even more art.”


Do you love what you do?

I love what I do. Why? It saves me a fortune in therapy bills. Ha. On a serious note, creating art fills me with purpose. I have such peace when I’m creating art. It’s something I live. I can’t turn my brain off from it. I see art everywhere, in the graffiti by the train tracks or the street performer in San Francisco. I find all of it inspiring and I think inspiration is a form of love.


How would you describe your style?

Urban Contemporary.


Ashleigh Sumner's works are comprised of complex layers of mixed media Ashleigh Sumner's works are comprised of complex layers of mixed media


What themes do you reflect on in your work?

I’ve reflected on pop culture, celebrity and political themes in my work but am maybe looking to evolve into something different.


Do you collect art yourself?

I do! That’s the best part of being an artist is you get to be exposed to other artists. I have a nice collection so far but am looking forward to expanding.


What inspires you to create?

The thing that inspires me the most to create is joy! Painting brings me joy. I feel complete peace when I’m in the studio.


 What artwork of yours would you like to be remembered for?

I don’t think I’ve made that piece yet.


What is your quote to live by?

“It’s only crazy until you do it.”


What are you working on at the moment?

I’m working on a sketchbook series of sorts on distressed cardboard. It’s a departure from my usual pieces on wood finished in resin. The cardboard work is rough and raw and quickly made almost like a sketch. I’m enjoying the freedom of the material. While I’m not leaving pop art in the rearview mirror, I would like to start using my original photographs. I’d like to start photographing the working class of Oakland – a 180 from the celebrity art I’ve done in the past.


This article was written by Helena Cardow. If you enjoyed reading it, share with friends on Facebook and Twitter, and don't forget to follow TAG Fine Arts on Instagram!