Biological Art: Ashley Williams


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Ashley Williams is a student of the world, tried and true. Her most recent work stems from her interest in biological systems and patterns. In my mind, she is a human middle finger to anybody who dares say art and science are not intrinsically linked, or, at the very least, complimentary.

Williams studied art because she couldn’t imagine doing anything else. She never grew out of her imaginative-five-year-old-artists stage, and it has payed off. When she was little, her friends would ask her to draw monsters for them. “Monsters were my specialty,” she says. “When I was a teenager, I started going to the library and checking out books on the old masters, Rembrandt, Vermeer, and Baroque Still Life painters. I learned how to paint by studying those books and trying to copy the paintings in them.”

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In school, she also studied creative writing, literature, and science. A liberal arts education allowed Williams to get a feel for different subjects without focusing exclusively on art —something that has informed the trajectory of her work. She was drawn to grapes as a subject for their translucency. She moved on to human figures, back to monsters—arriving, now, at an ongoing examination of nature.

Her latest series is inspired by a trip to The Black Canyon of the Gunnison in Colorado. The environment is bleak and barren, as if, Williams describes, “to suggest the end of the world or civilization.” In her words, “I was there in the winter on a foggy day, and the landscape was mostly shades of grey with a cold, green river running through it. None of the paintings that resulted from that trip were direct representations of The Black Canyon, but they were all inspired by the experience of being there: the feeling of being on the edge of something, the impenetrability of the fog, and a sense of the otherworldly.”

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Williams says her most recent paintings of rocks are a nod to her earlier subjects. She says, “I recently started focusing on rocks as a subject, painting them as though they are living beings. In a strange way, my rock paintings incorporate everything I learned from studying grapes, monsters, and the human figure.”

She uses art as a means of dissecting the natural world. Williams has an affinity for understanding how things work: “I try to understand its branching structure, how it grows and absorbs nutrients. Each one of my paintings, even if they seem completely imaginary, starts with intense observation of a natural system.” This base of knowledge gives her imagined forms a certain level of complexity.

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Williams describes her painting as “possibilities.” She is actively playing the line between realism and imagination. “Although some of my paintings look like simple landscapes, they are all interpretations of things that I see. They are a suggestion of the world as it might be. When I visit a new landscape, I am always imagining how it might look on a slightly different day, in the past or in the distant future.”

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