Happenings is thrilled to be interviewing one of our long time Carolina Art Crushes today, Ashley Lathe. Over the years, we’ve watched Ashley’s work grow and develop into a body of a diverse series of paintings – however each series has its own distinct identity as if the artist is striving with each subsequent work to improve upon the last. Its a lovely timeline of progression. We think that all of Ashley’s work is amazing, and we are particularly piqued by his constancy; Despite the change in the art work Ashley remains a humble, southern, friendly soul. Read his answers below and then be sure to head out to UNC Charlotte’s Projective Eye Gallery on Saturday for the opening reception of ICARUS: An exploration of the human urge to fly. Find more details from our “This Week” post.
HCLT: Describe yourself in three words.
AL: Yes, no, and maybe. Mostly maybe.
HACLT: Who or what inspires you artistically?
AL:“Who” is just about anyone that has a singular vision, particularly a vision with a little dirt under the fingernails: Howard Finster, Tom Waits, Eric Fischl, Vija Celmins, Jack Kerouac, Chris Ware, Philip Guston, Klaus Kinski, Anselm Keifer. This could turn into an exercise in stream-of-conscious, so I’ll stop there. Speaking as a painter, however, it’s all about Van Gogh. I don’t know if any of this reflects in my work, but these are some of the names that have kept me in the practice in one way or another.
HCLT: What do you think is the most valuable art experience in the Carolinas?
AL: There are two ways to think about that. If you want to be around art and experience art, there are a number of excellent resources regionally. For my money, however, you can’t beat the McColl Center for Art + Innovation. As an artist’s residency, it provides a direct experience with the best regional, national, and international artists and their work. That’s just the beginning of what they provide, and they continue to get better year after year. Charlotte is fortunate to have that.
Outside of the traditional art spaces, I find a wealth material and inspiration regionally. The geographic variety of the Appalachian range, the Piedmont, and the Outer Banks all within close proximity is a great resource to draw from in a variety of ways. What really excites my curiosity and imagination are the communities tucked away off the beaten paths, the Mt. Gilliads and the Jeffersons and the Johnsonvilles, places that are neither drive-throughs nor destinations. They’re just forgotten places that refuse to die, but more importantly they’re artifacts of a history of boom-then-bust. There is so much to experience without driving far, enough to keep the creative juices flowing.
HCLT: When did you realize you were an artist?
AL: I’m not sure if I have attained that distinction yet, but I don’t remember a time when I wasn’t making pictures. I distinctly remember specific times when I felt a strong connection with making images although I’m still not sure what those moments meant. For instance, I had an “a-ha” moment in kindergarten when I drew a detailed picture of Mr. Bubble, the scrubbing bubble. If I ever figure out what that was about, I would probably quit making art.
I was lucky to have plenty of support by members of my family. Their support and encouragement engrained in me early on that drawing, painting, and making images was my forté. By the time I was in high school, I thought that graphic design was the mature direction to hone my abilities. After following that path through undergrad and a few jobs, I decided maturity wasn’t all that and pulled the brushes and canvas back out. That commitment changed my relationship with art and may be the closest moment to realizing myself as something other than a hobbyist.
HCLT: Tell us about your current body of work?
AL: Over the past few years my attitude toward my work has shifted from product to process. I consider myself primarily a painter, so image is still king. But the image has become a remnant or stopgap within a larger process rather than being complete within the confines of the image. For instance, my most recent works have been large-scale cultural studies in Southern Identity, spectatorship, and historic legacy.
I am interested in my own historic identity and the legacy of the past, so I have turned towards archival imagery to draw from lately. I love the language of old photo documentation and how they try to present factual information, but they’re really facades to a time and place that we can never truly experience or understand. I have been deconstructing these documents, looking past the overt subject matter, and highlighting the supporting details from these documents. This is my way of attempting to penetrate through the looking-glass darkly. It doesn’t provide answers, but it provides new perspectives.
HCLT: Where can we see your work?
AL: I currently have work in a group exhibit at Projective Eye Gallery, UNC-Charlotte Center City; “Icarus,” curated by Crista Cammarato. You would need to hurry though; it’s a five piece encaustic painting that melts away during its’ presentation. There is an opening this Saturday, October the 18th. Come check it out. I’m not sure how much of my painting will be remaining by then, but there will be documentation of its’ devolution, and the results will be interesting.
Oh, and you can access my work in digital glory 24/7 from my website; ashleylathe.com.
HCLT: Best meal in Charlotte?
AL: That would have to be my wife’s cooking, but when things get hectic I still enjoy the haunts that refuse to die. Gus’s Sir Beef for home cooked entrees, Open Kitchen for some Italian flair, and on special occasions nothing screams “celebration” like Beef-n-Bottles’ filet. Burgers: South 21. Unfortunately, Charlotte’s best kept secret for hot dogs was The Sandwich Shop off of The Plaza, but Gus, the owner, is pulling stakes and heading to greener pastures. Can you tell I like food?
HCLT: What book is on your nightstand right now?
AL: You would have to dig beneath a stack of papers that need my attention, but buried beneath them you’ll find a copy of J.W. Cash’s “Mind of the South,” a fascinating cultural study from 1941. And beneath that there’s a copy of “Painting as Model.” We had to read selections from that in school, and I am going back and filling in the blanks.
HCLT: What three things would you take with you to a deserted island?
AL: Are you offering? I guess it would be prudent to start with my nightstand books buried beneath the papers on my nightstand. Good coffee and a good pillow. Let’s go.
HCLT: What is up next?
AL: That’s always a good question. I’ve been completely focused on painting the past couple years, but I find that a little variety, detours off the planned path, are good for the process. I’m excited about an animation project I’m working on that’s a little found material, a little narrative, and a little cultural study all rolled and packaged as shadow theater. It is coming at the same ideas of Southern Identity from a very different angle and medium. The working title is “Southern Death Stories,” just in time for Halloween. Anyone that I have tried to explain it to looks at me with concern, so I think I’m onto something.
For upcoming shows, I have a few irons in the fire that I will share as they solidify, so keep tabs on my website.
HCLT: Oh – we definitely will!
All images courtesy of Ashley Lathe.