Artist Interview: Ashley Gray
by Pax Bobrow
Ashley Gray is an Aiken, SC ceramic artist with a love for creating public art. She is one of the four artists who were selected in Phase ONE of the Golden Blocks Project, and she is also a recipient of a 2020 Porter Fleming Foundation grant to create, Basking Turtles, a piece along the Augusta Canal Trail. Her bas relief work is also hanging at the Sweet Auburn Curb Market in Atlanta, Georgia’s Sweet Auburn Historic District.
Ashley graduated from the sculpture program at Boston University in 2003, where she tended to work big, in clay, and then cast her pieces in plaster, training to have work that would be cast in bronze. When she moved to Alfred, NY in 2006, she had the great good fortune to land in a huge ceramics community, filled with both ceramic artists and ceramic engineers. She soon fell in love with the medium. “I like how ceramics look better than bronze,” Ashley tells me. Also, with ceramics, she can control the process all the way through. “But!” she warns, “tiles want to crack, so you have to be very careful.” She has boxes and boxes of test tiles she’s created trying to perfect the look for a particular piece. In the end, she loves creating ceramic tile pieces because it combines the best of both painting and sculpture. “I like how it can combine the figure and its setting at the same time.”
So why public art? “I love doing public art and community art,” Ashley tells me. “The subject matter is always interesting and I love working with and collaborating with other people. Making art can sometimes be very solitary, but I actually really love working with other artists and people from other disciplines.” She also loves learning the history of a place, and just loves asking, “Who was here before, and what was it like?”
In particular, Ashley loved collaborating with artists and historians for the Golden Blocks Project. In her research at the Museum, she loved seeing how things changed over time. Ashley also loves the stories of all the remarkable people who lived and worked and created institutions in the Golden Blocks. What really struck a chord in Ashley’s soul was seeing how slow, steady, lifelong dedication by these remarkable people led to great work. This has inspired her in her own life. “If you dedicate yourself to something your whole life, you can accomplish something.” Ashley also loved interweaving her work and creative ideas with the work and ideas of the other project artists.
You can see Ashley’s beautiful Golden Blocks Map on the side of the Wallace Branch Library on Laney Walker Blvd. The Golden Blocks Map is a tile mural detailing historical locations and people from the Golden Blocks that incorporates the poetry of author, Kristie Robin Johnson. Ashley’s tiles can also be found on top of the actual golden blocks that Sarah Cooks placed at historically significant locations along Laney Walker Blvd. Completed marker tiles include one in front of the Penny Savings Bank, featuring a portrait of Deacon Albert Taylor, co-founder of both the Penny Savings Bank and of Elim Baptist Church, and another in front of where the Burres Sanitarium was, depicting what that building looked like while it stood. Three more tiles are in the works, and Ashley has also been commissioned to create a large commemorative tile of beloved Laney High School science teacher, Marjorie Carter with her science club students, which will be hung inside Laney High.
But wait! There’s more! Ashley has an awesome new ceramic tile sculpture that is being unveiled at the Augusta Canal Trail. Basking Turtles was inspired by the combination of nature and architecture along the Canal. ”The red bricks mirror the mills along the canal. When I walk along the Canal Trail, I see the plants, the animals, and the old buildings.” Ashley wanted to reflect them all in her piece. Come out to the Lake Olmstead Trailhead at the end of Milledge Road (near the new restroom facility) and help Ashley celebrate the launch of her latest piece on March 3, 2021.
Basking Turtles, Ashley Gray