ashley montague, wrapped in it, mixed media, 2007
Portland based artist Asheley Montague has been in the art game for several years, wielding various artistic tools in divergent, yet related manifestations of his creative self. We are hoping to collaborate A.S.A.P on shows at Fenario, so I decided to prep myself for the Ashley experience by dropping a few questions on the man. Ashley took the time to give thoughtful responses to some of my more intense queries and was a great sport in playing along with the dorkier side of my investigative reporting.
Chloe G: Tell us a bit about yourself, and how you got started making art.
Ashley Montague: My name is Ashley Montague, 34, born in Buffallo, N.Y. and I've lived in California, Colorado and now live/work in Portland, Or. I guess the art all started in my life because both my parents were artists/painters... so from a young age they would roll out their butcher paper and just let me go to town on it... they would be doing their own artwork, and I'd be zoning out at paintings my dad/mom did when I was young... more abstract stylee stuff... and I remember seeing so many images in them. I would spin around until I was dizzy, fall over on the floor and look at the paintings. They also worked at the Albright Knox gallery in Buffalo, N.Y., so I was hanging out there when I was little... I even went to preschool there. I have always been surrounded by it, so I think it just became second nature to me.
CG: Do you have any formal art training? How do you feel about art school as a process and its importance, or lack there of, in the career of a contemporary artist?
AM: My formal training would be 1 year of college/art school... I went to PNCA in Portland for a year. Got super frustrated and bored with first year courses (and paying a heap o' money to do greyscales, etc.) so I dropped out. Thought I should immerse myself in the Portland world of art... so I helped some friends work a gallery called The Glade gallery. Glade was the super DIY gallery. Way back in the days... fun times for sure!
ashley montague, hydro life machine, multimedia piece done for the opening of upper playground in PDX
As for art school and its importance... I think for some the structure is needed, it definitely teaches you techniques/methods a lot quicker than on your own. Also connections, that end piece of paper (degree) can get you far in the art world. But I feel that if you truly love creating art you will make your vision come true... You can do the research, keep up on techniques, find out who's who in your community and beyond and make it your life... and really learn what you need to do, without going to a formal school and getting in a heap-o-debt.
CG: Your art is multimedia, but spray paint seems to be a fairly important component. Are you, or have you ever been involved in graffiti art on the street level?
AM: Yeah, I've definitely put in some time on the street doing pieces... I was never a tagger, cause my letter styles were never up to par, I thought... so it was all quick characters and such. It started back in high school, we had this bridge about a block from my house... I'd go under there and do life size characters and throw-ups. Then I'd take my mom on a walk and be all, "Whoa... who did that... those damn graffiti kids!" Of course she knew it was me, she just told me not to get busted... never really got mad about it. She was rad for that.
Then in Portland, at first I really only did rooftops and lil' duck outs where I could spend a bit more time working on a piece- plus it would stay up for a bit. The I was given free reign to paint on this garage on Belmont & 32nd. Murals were illegal in Portland, but somehow that garage never got fucked with. i lived like 4 blocks from it... so for about 5yrs. I painted that thing non-stop! Sooooo many layers of paint are on that- even to this day it still runs.... myself & local/visiting artists/friends paint on it- a good spot for sure.
CG: What is the major difference in process between a piece done on canvas and a work done out and about in the environment? Do you find that your subject/themes tend to change depending on the environment the piece is intended for?
AM: Yeah, subject definitely changes depending on the location of the piece, where it'll hang, etc... I think the beauty of a good street art piece is the placement, subject matter, and relation to its surroundings. If you've got those 3 things you're golden. Think Banksy, 'nuff said.
As for canvas work, with me... it definitely gets more introspective, 'cause I have the time to really think out a piece/concept and go back to it maybe a week/month later to see what it might need. Pieces grow at their own rate, some quicker than others... and some definitely touch on a more personal realm. I also really like doing conceptual pieces for certain venues... whether it be sushi joint, shoe shop, or gallery it's always a fun personal challenge to paint specifically for a place.
CG: I know you've done some live painting. Tell me about the thrill of public art. Do you feed off the crowd's reaction much the same a musician or other type of performer would?
AM: Oh for sure! It works just the same... you can literally feel the crowd when you're live painting- even though you don't really see them. When you're on it, and the piece is working out... there's this push and pull from the crowd... they'll get closer in during major changes/steps to the piece, and fall back while the piece is in slower times. After a bit of this, I've learned how to time out the movements of a piece to keep it interactive and interesting for folks to watch- being sure and solid with your movements, and knowing when to step away from it is key also!
CG: Music is a common theme in your art. What kind of relationship do you have to music? What kind of music inspires you?
ashley montague, sound hounds: my vinyl weighs a ton, mixed media on cardboard/paper in metal
AM: I really like da music... it all goes together so well. The audio/visual... eardrums/eyelids. I feed off of music a lot... the energy of it, how it can communicate so deeply without words- my relationship to music has changed a ton. I used to just listen, dance on the bed and get happy from it. Then I started playing bass, totally didn't even know any scales/chords or nothin', but convinced some guys that I knew what I was doing, so I played in a band for a bit... Kinda funk/jam stylee stuff. Got to play with real goo musicians though... so it was always a journey. I had to just hold the bass line solid!
Then I got my bass stolen, and got some turn tables. So it went from creating music to almost a collage format with music... Then I started doing sampling/production pretty heavy. Funny enough, eardrums4eyelids actually started as my record label. I put out 3 local PDX compilations of hip-hop/electronic producers... and a 12" piece of vinyl too- all focusing on the left field creative side of the Portland scene... this whole time I was painting also. Never really fully focused on painting though, but knew I'd always keep on doing it, until about 2 years ago when I realized that I should try and put my full attention into creating visual art, and see what can happen. So now I just DJ a few times a month... that's enough to keep the audio side of me happy... kinda a funk/neo-soul/abstract beat journey. I call it "rusty ass records from the future" *but don't get it wrong... I'm plenty serious about my DJing also- really try and push your listening ability and how you hear things!
As for when I'm painting, lately I'm hooked on sounds from the UK. Whether it's dubstep, minimal, or glitched out beats... throw me a good mix, and that'll do me just fine!
ashley montague, finger fun, one-off wood print, 2007
CG: There are also elements of spirituality and politics in your work, tell me a bit about how you translate your opinions and beliefs into graphic form. Your art is obviously discursive, do you feel like people are listening? What do you think modern art's responsibility is to issues like war, inequality and censorship- the type of issues that seem to dominate our other forms of media?
AM: Yes, I think I try to tap into my own version of spirituality- sometimes telling stories/lessons, making a commentary if needed... Visually I will use images that are relevant to my experience... my visual language- these symbols are usually never real obvious or blatant- most of the time kind of a slang. I'm not going to spoon feed you the info- you still need to read between the lines, and connect the dots yourself. I try and add just enough imagery as is needed to complete a thought or a story full circle- just enough that it makes sense in my mind.
That explained, I try and not tell the same story twice... so yes, my work IS very discursive! Which I pride myself on. I don't see how artists can paint the same image/scene over and over, maybe changing color here and there... I feel if it's about communication visually, then why the hell are you saying that thing over and over and over again?! Yes... I ramble with my visions, and I think the folks who are looking for more than just a one trick pony, and want some depth in vision/concept will listen.
As for art's responsibility to social issues... we definitely need art to say something about these issues... whether it's subtle, or you knock folks over the head with it- each version can effect you at the right times. But I think art should also remember that it is magical, and still remember the power to take you on a journey into your mind, away from all the troubles of this material life. I try and live in the fantasy/dream world... kinda in the clouds.... but rooted in reality, never avoiding issues that I feel strongly about, but being wise in how you teach these lessons.
CG: What are your favorite mediums to work with? Have you been experimenting with anything new lately?
AM: My favorite for now is acrylic, spray paint, and latex... dabbling with ink... but been getting into a lot of paper work lately- I feel I work looser on paper for some reason. I'm really down to experiment with any new techniques/medias. Like I'm putting together an interactive chair project in March where the backgrounds for are woven into the look/feel of the chair... each will have their own feel, but should work as a set. I've gotta experiment to keep it fun.
CG: How do you feel about the contemporary Portland art scene? Happy to be there right now?
AM: Wheew... the Portland are scene is funny, I guess any scene is funny in its own ways. I really enjoy it a lot though. There's plenty of inspiration from the landscape/city and people, and there are always new projects and spaces to work with. One thing with Portland is that everyone around you is literally an artist/musician... so there's soooo many folks, mini-scenes, and styles to keep track of. I guess I know who/what type of art I like... so I follow/hang with those folks... keep it family, like you know. There's a lot of real dope folks here though! A lot of them hide in the woodwork, but can just kick some visual ass if needed.
I'm really happy to be here in Portland right now. It's an ever changing/forward moving town that is slowly getting the praises that it's due. Everyone knows S.F./L.A. etc... but Portland has a lot of secret weapons that are surfacing slowly. Watch out!
CG: What do you reward yourself with when you're done with a new piece?
AM: Lately, sit on my heater and stare at it for awhile... maybe eat a snack during this time, play a good song and do the victory dance! I'm pretty simple that way.
ashley montague, the "fix", mixed media live painting with justin goreman, 2008
CG: Drink of choice?
AM: Mate... with toasted coconut.
CG: Tea or coffee?
CG: Ever owned a waterbed?
AM: Oh yes. That shit's fun! Had one when I was around 16. It was heated and all... I even had a fuzzy tiger blanket to go on top- animalistic!
CG: If you were a crayon, what color would you be?
AM: Green like the grass.