At Huff Harrington, we love it when an opportunity comes knocking (or emailing). When it’s a talented young artist whose abstracted landscapes catch our eye and put a smile on our face, it’s even better.
We’re delighted to welcome bayou-born and bred Ashton Shaw Despot to the gallery – and right from the start, we loved her punchy, bright and happy paintings. They’re fresh, fun and interesting and we’re happy to report that our clients think so too.
Ashton hails from the bayou and she’s passionate about portraying that lush, rich landscape and its multitude of layers and complexity.
Her work, though, seems surprisingly simplistic with its bold, short stokes and slashes of bright color. She paints quickly with an array of an artist’s arsenal of brushes, palette knives and sponges.
We had a chance to chat with Ashton and here’s what she has to say about being an artist, creating paintings and her favorite studio companion.
HHFA: You’re a Louisiana girl through and through. Tell us how the magical vibe of the bayou features in your work.
ASD: I am proud to be a Louisiana girl and wouldn’t change it for anything. I was born and raised in Lafayette, Louisiana—known for its Cajun culture and swampy bayous. Growing up my father always took the family out on the boat and this truly was one of my fondest memories. From an early age, I loved being on the water. The landscape and wild life is so rich and diverse that there is always something new to explore. I am constantly inspired by the way the light flickers and dances though the trees and reflects in the water.
HHFA: Your work has layers and layers of translucent color. What’s your technique? (and it’s okay if you don’t want to give away all your secrets…)
ASD: Without giving away all my secrets (!), I will tell you that my work changes multiple times before it comes into the final project. It is all about the layers. I love to thin the paint down and sometime wipe the whole piece down with a new color wash. Working with the paint mix is the most fun challenge. My favorite thing about painting is pushing and pulling the layers to create depth and interest.
HHFA: We’re especially drawn to the angular and abstracted qualities of your paintings. How did you develop that style? What is the inspiration?
ASD: I am not quite sure how I developed the style I am currently using. One thing I do know is that I am truly a colorist. When I look at an object I can always see it broken down into many colors. I imagine my graphic design background has had some influence on this, where we were always encouraged to take an idea and break it down to its simplest form. The age of technology has definitely influenced how I see shapes and how I interpret them. I love contrast and often like to paint the shadows and the highlights and then work to find how they fit together.
HHFA: Are you self-taught or have you studied painting?
ASD: I first got the bug for painting in high school, where I had two amazing art teachers. From there I went on to study graphic design at LSU, but I always took painting and sculpture classes on the side. My heart truly lies in the art of making and creating with my hands. In my graphic design classes I would often paint or draw images and scan them into the computer, then manipulate them to fit the project requirements. I was very lucky to have some amazing teachers that encouraged my curious mind and always taught me to welcome change and never be afraid to scratch an idea and start over.
HHFA: You’re having a dinner party and can invite three artists to dine with you. Who are they and why?
ASD: Edward Hopper, Van Gogh and Michael Crespo. Edward Hopper is a famous American realist painter. I admire his use of light and shadows in his paintings. They are some of my absolute favorites. Van Gogh is a famous post- impressionist painter. I love his gestural approach and his bold use of color. Michael Crespo is my very favorite and most influential professor I have ever had. His work was exquisite but also his zest for life was uncomparable. He taught me a lot about life and helped me find a voice within my work, but most importantly he taught me not to be afraid.
HHFA: Tell us about your painting habits. Are you an early morning artist? Do you listen to music? What’s your favorite playlist? And what about your faithful and cute companion?
ASD: Hmmm. My painting habits…I have many! I love to paint in the morning. The light is so nice and I like to get my day started early with a cup of coffee and some painting! I love love to mix paint so I usually start by mixing up a few new colors and testing them out on canvas papers. This helps me to get into the swing of painting without having to think or worry too much. I love to listen to music. Usually I have a playlist I am currently listening too and so I will flip that on. Bailey, my sweet sweet springer spaniel, always accompanies me to the studio. It is our favorite place together. She is particularly calm and naps almost anywhere there is not paint. I love having her in there with me. She always leaving with a little of my color palette on her fur as well.
HHFA: What’s your studio/painting space like?
ASD: It is a lovely space! I actually just moved down the street my first ever studio space. The new space has its own front door on Magazine Street, with a small window that peers into a downstairs foyer where I display recent work. It is a two room space that I share with two other artists. I have the front room facing Magazine Street. The room has amazing northern light streaming in from two front windows. I am installing a hanging system soon to hang my work on the walls (like an easel on the walls), but right now I have the floor covered with drop cloth and I have been working on the pieces propped up again the wall. I also have a nice small adjacent kitchen where I keep all my paint and brushes. The space is very charming has lots of character. My favorite part is the light that comes in at different angles during the day. It’s a nice happy cheery space to work. I am also very excited I will get to hang a sign on the street soon!!
HHFA: New Orleans is just ripe with artistic inspiration. Tell us what whets your artistic appetite around your city.
ASD: I love how there is always something going on in New Orleans. With it being festival season, I have gotten to enjoy some great times outside. The music around the city is phenomenal as well as the food. There is really nothing I don’t like. I am so happy to be able to live in such a cultural and lively city. I love to ride bikes around the city and watch the big tug boats pass by on the Mississippi River.
HHFA: Favorite art museum?
ASD: The Whitney Museum of American Art in New York. Absolutely love this place!!
HHFA: If you were an artist in another life, who would it be and why?
ASD: I would be a mix between Anna Rifle Bond and Ashley Longshore. They are both working artists now and I feel a mix between the two styles and personalities would just be superb. I love the whimsical floral illustrations of Anna Rifle Bond, and I admire how she was branched out into some many other product lines. I especially love the book cover designs she was recently done. I would also want to be Ashley Longshore, who is a pop artist in New Orleans. I got the chance to meet her the other day and admire how she goes for what she wants without holding back. She uses bold colors and patterns and does what makes her happy. I love love that about her work.
Come by and feast your eyes on this young and inspired artist’s work. We promise it will put a smile on your face and a bounce in your step.