"It starts with an eye": Ashley Macias on making beautiful things

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All interviews should start like this one: pre-drinking and other illegalities at a parking lot before a Molotov concert: desmadre, a continuum of bad choices, improprieties, and falling asleep with the subject of your next story.

Cochinos! Don’t assume, it’s not like that; I’m willing to bend all rules to ‘build a rapport’ con el/la entrevistad@, and I think I stretched it a tad with this one.

I asked Ashley Macias, a local artist, if I could interview her. I knew who she was and her work. I saw her at different events and knew for certain she had more talent than just partying—she seemed like someone you could go hardy with and have deep tertulias.

Months later, I got tickets for a Molotov concert that no one wanted to go to, and Ashley was the only one who said yes.

I figured I could start my interview that night and make a few journalism professors cringe.

“Phoenix needs to be more that just ‘potential,’ this place is filled with potential, and for the longest time it seemed that it was stuck there,” she tells me while puffing a badly rolled Top before going to rock hard at Molotov.

Nothing really important was discussed during the concert, other than which choice of sauce we should ingest to get plastered. This was her first time en un concierto de rock en español. WTF! Good thing it was Molotov and not your typical arena superstars.

After the party, some incomplete questions, half answers and a whole lot of slurring in-between hysterical laughs, Ashley tucked into my bed. (I took the couch, pervs.)

Morning came, and so did la cruda—that fucker. We woke up looking like Rob Smith from The Cure: the glamour was just a smear. The inner pride of another legendary night for the rock gods was enough. We had our interview with some eggs and coffee.

“Everything starts with a dot, a little circle of paint floating in white space,” dijo con voz de ultratumba, while slurping a fresh cup of black brew.

This applies to any form of canvas Ashley touches (she does everything, inert or living). That first dot eventually turns into an eye that morphs from Ashley’s hand, all the way to her spectator’s eye ball.

“It starts with an eye. I think that it’s because it’s an entryway to our inner world, sometimes its intentional, others not so much,” she said.

At first, and this could be due to la cruda, Ashley gives the impression that she doesn’t give a shit, as if she is indifferent, and if her answers satisfy your curiosity, or not is irrelevant. She has an eagerness to make her art a communication conduit between her inner world and whoever is standing in front of her paintings. Whether through her color palette, the strokes she explores, or the visceral way in which the paintings lure you in, Ashley is telling you a little secret by means of her art.

Sinplanetario: Do you remember the specific moment in which you realized this was something you wanted to do all the time?

Ashley Macias: I don’t remember a specific moment, but a collection of moments that made me understand that this was something that I enjoyed doing, and that had supremacy over anything else.

S: Were you a creative kid—a little artist?

AM: Sort of. I remember making drawings, but I didn’t have a cognitive process about what I was doing.

S: How did you start exploring you creativity?

AM: I started doodling, with coloring books like most kids, drawing aliens. I had a weird fascination with them—still do. From the first time I held a pencil, I knew this is what I wanted to do. I loved anything related to space. In first grade, my teacher suggested I sell my drawings for cents, and I did pretty well for a bit.

S: So you’ve had teachers that encouraged that creativity?

AM: Yes, I’ve been fortunate enough to have teachers that, at different points in my life, have taken special interest in my work and I’m sure that that has made a huge difference in my career choices.

S: Do you think teachers are crucial in the lives of their students?

AM: I think teachers should motivate their students to be creative in whatever field. Creativity is the most important quality in human beings and we should invest more in it.

S: Is there a specific teacher you remember that had that impact in your life?

AM: I had a teacher in high school, and he registered me to an internship through West Valley Fine Arts, and that experience changed my life because I had the opportunity to meet young artists like Joseph “Sentrock” Perez. It also helped me to develop a portfolio and it taught me to be more organized.

S: Which high school did you go to?

AM: Desert Edge High School in Avondale. Not a very good place, if you want to be creative.

S: Why?

AM: Nothing happens there; it’s just a suburb. Avondale is not an inspiring place, or known by its artists.

S: Except for you, there might be others like you there.

AM: True.

S: I assume you don’t have a tie with that community. Where are you from originally?

AM: I was born in Laguna Nigel, California; I didn’t live there, I was just born there because they had a good pediatric hospital.

S: Does anybody in your family paint?

AM: My brother is an amazing artist; his talent and example were great motivators for me. Since I was a kid I was amazed by his creations, and how it came to him so naturally. I would’ve liked for him to pursue it more.

S: What is the earliest memory you can remember?

AM: I remember waking up in the middle of the night, and while my parents were asleep, I went to the refrigerator started eating butter and handfuls of sugar. I also remember watching cartoons; I used to love Popeye.

S: Do you think that we’re all artists or we have that ability?

AM: I believe that humans have a creative nature, but the difference is how much time you invest into developing that creativity, and where you want to take it.

S: When did you realize you could do this for a living?

AM: A few years ago. Up until then I didn’t have a full understanding of how the industry worked, and didn’t have the financial support I needed to dedicate myself full time to it.

S: When was the first time an art piece made an immediate impact in you and who was the artist?

AM: I believe it was in high school because I really didn’t have any reference before. During the internship, I came across the work of Sam Flores, Alex Pardee, and others from the Upper Playground collective.

S: People oversimplify your art by labeling it as “different”. How would you describe it?

AM: I believe it’s close to surrealism, which is something I’ve been influenced by. It’s very organic because there are scenes I have in my mind and they’re not necessarily mental constructions. I like the mental process that makes me externalize what I’m visualizing because that’s my mind’s natural state, so I can’t describe my mind as any text book aesthetic.

S: Do you believe that you’re at a point in your career in which you can confidently say you have your own style?

AM: I’ve been feeling great about the work I’ve been putting out. I like the progression and I want to continue to move forward, and it definitely has a correlation with the amount of time I dedicate myself to it.

S: What have been some of your struggles as an artist that lives off of her work?

AM: I’m still learning how to manage my time and not over commit, but also keep tabs on my finances and reach out to other artists and collaborate.

S: Do you have formal training?

AM: No, as a matter of fact, I was going to college for something entirely different, but I decided it wasn’t for me, so I just dropped out. It wasn’t that I hated school or learning—I believe education is important but it’s taking you away from your goals.

S: Do you think young artists should have an infamous “Plan B” in case art doesn’t work for them?

AM: There are two things that I’ve escaped all my life: the notion that you’re going to starve if you’re an artist, and that you need a secure job in order to not be miserable. If you work toward your goal and invest time on your craft, show people what you can do, and have perseverance and patience, I believe you’re in a good path.

S: What’s your biggest fear as an artist?

AM: To be repetitive, to replicate my own work and recycle stuff. There are artists that do that here, and it’s fine, but I think that as artists we must show respect to the art form and always create something new.

S: Have you ever thought about making “political art”?

AM: I don’t think I’ll ever do that or do militant art. My purpose as an artist is to stimulate people’s creativity, to make them think with my paintings. I don’t want to be constantly bombarded with political shit; I appreciate activists, I really do, but I also think that we need to create beautiful things. We know the world is shit, but just make art, man, or be creative about your activism.

After the interview we both crashed like a couple of Van Buren tweakers. Ashley decided it was time to go home and take a massive nap. I thought it was a good idea and was going to take one myself. In my grogginess, as Morfeo was paying me a visit, I thought about how Ashley’s paintings create an intimate relationship with your psyche, and she’s right, it all starts with an eye, that’s the door from which she enters.