Artist and painter Ashley Dull was interviewed as part of being the featured artist for this issue of Stone Path Review. We first met Ashley at Tarnish and Gold Gallery where she was exhibiting along with Wendy Brown-Baez.
Her painting, The Light, drew us into the realistic landscapes that Ashley masterfully creates on canvas.
SPR – What age did you know you wanted to be an artist?
I cannot think of a specific age, I’ve always just “known”. My earliest memory, however, is from first grade when classmates started asking me to do their art projects for them – I already knew at that time that I loved to draw.
SPR – Have you had any formal training? Why or why not?
Yes, I did study and graduate with a double major in fine arts and health from Luther College in Decorah, IA. I was never pushed to go to college by my parents. I guess I wanted the experience and when I was 18 I had no idea of what to do next. I am very grateful for the opportunity, but I was not concerned with continuing education after my four-year degree. I was ready to create in my own ways.
SPR – What led you to nature based themes in your art, specifically trees and forests?
I suppose it all started while growing up on a small farm. I was constantly surrounded with endless beauty. There was a dirt road right behind our house. I remember taking walks and feeling so inspired all of the time. There were many more trees than buildings. I don’t remember a specific time feeling called to paint trees, I guess I always remember feeling such awe from them. In just recent years, light has become a fascination, and even more so, combining light with trees. Now, each painting represents so much more than what meets the eye.
SPR – Please respond to how you handle explaining your paintings vs. letting them speak for themselves.
Although I feel very called to share my vision, I struggle with how much to verbally share and say about the painting versus letting the beauty within the painting speak for itself and touch each viewer on an individual level.
This reminds me of a quote from Henri Matisse, “The only valid thing in art is the one thing that cannot be explained, to explain away the mystery of a great painting would do irreplaceable harm, for whenever you explain or define something you substitute the explanation or the definition for the image.”
SPR – Please tell us about some mentors you have worked with, and others who have influenced you in some way. It would seem that in retrospect, we realize even more so the people we have met and the impression they have left upon us.
I suppose my ultimate influence has been nature, but there are also many people who have helped me along the way.
My elementary/high school art teacher, Rose Schutte, encouraged me from the beginning and my college art professor, Doug Eckheart, critiqued my first painting and said, “you have something here”.
When I moved to the Twin Cities in 2007, I met a man named Jack McCauley. He helped me to land my very first gallery show in the Fall of 2007, just two years after graduating from college. Jack also introduced me to an artist, Pamela Sukhum, who has been my biggest influence as a professional artist. Working for her as an intern for over one year, I learned many valuable tools and encouragement for working in the fine art world.
A few years ago I met a dear friend, Jan Wikman. She introduced me to author Wayne Dyer. This was the start for a shift in my life path. Perhaps this was the same time in my life when I was going from ‘childhood thinking’ to viewing the broader world as a whole, an awakening, and the world was starting to make sense to me.
I became, and still am, very fascinated with what Dyer is saying, along with many other authors, teachers, and spiritual masters such as: Jesus, Saint Francis, Mother Theresa, Buddha, Napoleon Hill, and Deepok Chopra.
Finally, my parents have always told me that – “you can do it” (subconsciously, this has probably been a larger influence to me than I’m even aware of – thank you mom and dad!)
SPR – Looking beyond a person who influences and helps with direction and critique, do you have a higher calling that influences your art, and in turn, your life?
Yes, the spiritual world and its mysteries are a huge influence on me. I have become aware of and supremely fascinated with the idea of living at or at least striving to live at our highest potentials. I paint nature, and more specifically the light source, to represent this light that is within us all – our magnificent being. I passionately desire happiness for everyone, and I believe that if someone is aware of their own ability to be all they are capable of being, inner peace would happen –which would obviously lead to peace and love towards one another.
SPR – How did this idea transpire?
First and foremost definitely through my influences that I’ve already mentioned, but I grew up being taught and raised in the Christian religion. However, only in recent years have I been intrigued to learn about all religions, or better yet, becoming curious about people finding their own path, not necessarily through an organization or by way of a label, but by way of being.
I was always fascinated with the Bible and praying. So much so that I remember reading out of the Bible every night before bed during my childhood years, and feeling very connected to God. I continued feeling this way all through college and starting with my senior art show, I began hiding scripture references in my paintings. For example, Proverbs 23:7 would be hidden in the trees. I continued this tradition through the beginning years as a professional artist, up until only a few years ago, when I decided to do this only when I felt it was fitting, rather than as a ritual.
As I continued painting trees and light, the light was becoming more and more prominent. I don’t remember specifically when I realized what the light was symbolizing, but it truly makes sense to me now, and this is what I feel called to share. When I started my first painting with the light source (Fall 2007), it was at the time one of my dear friends was very sick in the hospital. I remember feeling very connected to the idea of healing.
Upon finishing it, I titled it “The Light”. I included my tradition of hiding a scripture, and chose John 8:12, which reads: “I am the light of the world, whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.” I now understand this verse to represent the light that is within us all, or at least that we all have access to, if we choose.
SPR – Do you ever worry about being stereotyped or cast as a certain type of painter, or become associated with specific themes?
Actually, while doing this tradition [hiding scripture references], I became aware that my art was being categorized as ‘religious art’. I didn’t particularly like this stereotype, as in my mind my art isn’t about organized religion, but I try not to let others’ opinions affect my own thoughts. I don’t take every word in the bible too literally, but rather, I am connected and curious about the hidden symbolic meaning behind scripture – to me, here is where I believe there to be deep wisdom and truths.
SPR – What other mediums outside of oil painting do you express your art with?
At this point, I’m not using anything else – there are way too many other paintings in my head to create before I’d be tempted to try another medium. I have, however, dabbled with watercolor, acrylic, and I loved pottery and weaving in high school and college.
SPR – What inspires you?
Everything good. Life. Love, happiness, joy, beauty, trees, light, our souls, the idea of our infinite selves. The idea of world peace. The idea of inner peace. But, I suppose the bad may also inspire me to create good.
SPR – Please expand upon “But, I suppose the bad may also inspire me to create good.”
Going back to the light and all the goodness that it represents – I passionately wish for everyone to experience this. When I see someone who may be sad, lacking peace, living in the dark, unhappy, or depressed, I get excited to paint more, to create more light and goodness, to help all those in need.
I just recently had a few paintings installed in my first hospital setting. It was a new mental health facility. Could nature paintings truly bring healing? Along with some wonderful teachers, therapists, counselors, and psychiatrists, I’d like to think yes!
SPR – What words of advice do you have for budding artists in any medium?
Anything is possible for those who just believe. I wholeheartedly believe this and wish this for everyone. But, you have to be willing to work hard and be persistent. Also, As Thoreau once said, “Live the life you’ve imagined”. Don’t be afraid to step out into the unknown – let your imagination soar, and live the artful life you’re here for. I’m doing just that – and as long as I can keep imagining where I want my art career to go, I know I’ll keep living it!