NAME: Sarah Ashley Longshore
LOCATION: New Orleans, Louisiana
OCCUPATION: Painter, Gallery Owner, and Entrepreneur
A self-taught artist who opened a small gallery a couple of years ago on Magazine Street in New Orleans, Ashley Longshore has quickly become an international sensation–which is both a surprise to her and all part of the plan. The paintings themselves are painted in bold, saturated colors and depict irreverent, sarcastic, and whimsical portraits of popular icons, celebrity, and satire. In addition, she’s made a unique line of chairs, and has a line of home wares at Anthropologie. Longshore didn’t get to this place by dumb luck; the driven, hard-working businesswoman has unabashedly put herself out there and embraced marketing her brand.
BEGINNING: Longshore says that she came into this world “kicking and screaming,” and never remembers a time when she wasn’t full of energy and a natural zest for life. As a kid, she soaked up the arts and musical theater, taking every tap, ballet, gymnastics, theater, baton, piano, jazz, and sewing class her parents could find. In college, her love affair with painting began: “I moved to Montana for a semester. I spent my days painting, riding and jumping horses. I got really deep in Montana.” She’s completely self-taught, learning mainly from the greats that came before her, spending a good part of her early painting years recreating Picasso pictures.
VISION: Andy Warhol’s infamous quote “Making art is art, and making money is art,” is one Longshore quotes often, and is something she has taken to heart. “My thing is that I am not just an artist. I’m so much about marketing and sales and making it happen,” she explains. And she in fact has made it happen for herself, in a very short amount of time for that matter. How this has happened is the most interesting part: rather than attempt making highly conceptual work grounded in art-school principles that only a discerning few understand, she makes bright, bold, outrageous paintings that aren’t attempting to adhere to any school of thought currently accepted in the always-changing art world.
Many of Longshore’s brightly colored, sassy expressionist paintings at her gallery are inscribed with such comments as “Take your pills, pay your bills” and off-color comments about trophy wives, including, “Every time a bell rings a trophy wife gets more things.”
Her take on pop art is smart: “I love to draw from things that identify us, which you can’t escape.” Many times artists try to reside outside of time and space, but Longshore embraces “the now” and closely studies the cultural phenomenons and examines her own feelings and obsessions. “We wake up and we decide who we’re going to be in the world and that takes branding. And then I’m fascinated by how these companies create their branding and who they target.”
We’re reminded of Wayne Thiebau’s desert paintings or more recently, Elizabeth Peyton’s portraits of British pop stars, both of whom embrace pulp. But unlike Thiebau’s paintings of cakes and gum-ball machines, Longshore really cares about starting a conversation in her work. One look at a painting and you’re forced to face a statement and then figure out your opinion. They evoke a reaction, but not too much of one. “It’s all in good fun!”
THE WORK: Her signature palette is bright, saturated colors mixed in bold ways. She lays it on thick (there’s not much water or turpentine thinning this paint out). Her work is made using mixed media, acrylic and finished with resin to create a signature lacquer. In terms of what she paints, it usually starts when she’s “tickled by an idea,” or inspired by an image she thinks is funny. An example: A portrait of George Washington features the first president “with this dour look on his face with a smiley face on his chest.”
Her fashion series of icons like Anna Wintour does an amazing job at simultaneously praising them and calling them out for taking themselves too seriously. In her words: “Fashion can be so much fun, but you can’t take it too seriously.” But that’s actually what is so brilliant about Longshore’s art: it’s not easy to poke fun at celebrity or pop culture in a way that makes the subject matter feel known. After all, when she paints a picture of Anna Wintour that says the statement “No Fatties Allowed,” you kind of get the feeling that Anna would see the painting and think to herself, “well said.”
THE BUSINESS SIDE: Longshore has embraced marketing wholeheartedly, and sees it as a big part of what she does. And in a world full of subtle self promotion and artists who claim to make work purely for altruistic purposes, her overt belief in advertising is refreshing. Or, as she says, “When people tell you they don’t need to advertise, you tell them, neither does Coke, neither does McDonald’s, but they do it because it’s their way of reaffirming they are the best.”
THE FUTURE: Most recently, Longshore has been on the horn about empowering women. She’s seen such success by living out loud, encouraging her female counterparts to do the same is her personal cause, especially when it comes to business, naming Fran Houser of Time Inc. as one of her main mentors. This is what her Audrey Hepburn series is about. “Audrey represents the woman we all aspire to be,” says Longshore, who is fascinated by the icon who was loved by men and admired by women.
LOCAL LOVE: Her commitment to New Orleans is readily apparent, and she jokes about its charm, saying, “It’s a city founded by pirates and whores!” She loves that the city celebrates the arts in everything it does — food, music, art itself — and continues to exude NOLA’s unique energy in her work.