Sometimes the surreal is easier to comprehend than the real. There can be more beauty and expression in the unnatural that reality falls short of measuring up to. Freelance oil painter Ashlee Stanley explores how the fantastical elements of surrealism can be applied to the world as we know it.
“I’m fascinated with the idea of expanding and opening one’s mind to new ideas and perspectives, and I love the aesthetic of mushrooms and what they symbolize,” Stanley says. “I’ve always loved fantasy books about faeries, witches, werewolves — any sort of mystical being. I enjoy the idea of a world full of magic. Over the years in my art career, I’ve been working towards mastering realism and I enjoy being able to capture something realistic and mesh it with surrealistic features to give that sense of fantasy.”
Her passion for fantasy isn’t the only thing Stanley has always been drawn to. She’s been practicing her skill of capturing mystical moments for years.
“I’ve been creating art for as long as I can remember. My favorite subject in school was always art,” Stanley says. “I have many teachers who have inspired me and cheered me on throughout the years, but some that have had an impact on my life are Nicole Sample and Amber Cardinale. Mrs. Sample inspired me to pursue an artistic career path, and Mrs. Cardinale has always felt like an art mom to me, and still cheers me on to this day.”
A newer addition to her artistry is sculpting. While painting and imagination have been flowing from her hands for most of her life, the method of constructing a scene from her mind into something durable is still being tweaked.
“The first time I actually sculpted something was in my college sculpting class. The first thing we started off with was a human skull, which eventually turned into a bust of my mom. For a school project, I created a series of mosaic sculptures which I really enjoyed and would like to create more,” Stanley says. She has now been sculpting for two years. “Recently I have started experimenting with polymer clay creating stash jars in the shape of mushrooms. I’m planning to open commissions for them once I feel confident enough about my technique.”
Painting remains Stanley’s preferred expression of creativity, but sculpting is rising in the ranks as an alternative.
“I enjoy being able to capture a moment in time on a piece of wood or canvas. Sculpting makes my inner child feel happy and free just to be able to get my hands dirty and create something,” Stanley shares.
Painting or sculpting, each artist is unique in their approach to translating the image from their head to canvas for the world to see. Stanley is lucky enough to have a mixture of professional guidance and her own instincts to influence her creative process.
“It’s always advised in school to come up with the meaning first, but I think the meaning can come at any stage in creating a piece. And sometimes you don’t even have to have a meaning, and that’s OK, too,” Stanley says. “Anytime I have an idea I want to explore, I write it down and list some things I could try to connect it with and then I go from there. I create a general idea of what I want the piece to look like, and as I’m going I’ll add or change a few things. I like to give myself room to experiment.”
Despite how well she has progressed in her career and finding her artist identity, there are always struggles along the way. The art industry is not always an open door, and young artists have to go to extra lengths just for their name to stick. Stanley is one example of a young artist facing the difficulties of gaining recognition.
“I’m sure many other artists feel the same way as well. It can feel like you’ve been knocked down when you don’t feel like you’re being recognized or when you don’t sell as many prints or pieces as you thought you would. But you have to remind yourself why you’re creating art in the first place, and pick yourself back up and keep making art,” Stanley shares. For other young artists hesitant about taking the step to putting their art and name out there, Stanley has a few pieces of advice. “Don’t stop making art even if you’ve had a setback. Your voice deserves to be heard, and one day it will be. Use any social media platform you can and post your process! A lot of artists are gaining recognition through TikTok.”
This artist has big plans for her future art career despite the challenges she knows are still ahead of her. Arkansas hasn’t always been known for its art or the talented faces that reside here, but the many galleries around the state are quickly changing the perspective — Stanley hopes to one day be a local featured artist.
“Seeing my work in galleries throughout Arkansas would be awesome,” she says. “I would be thrilled to see my work in any gallery or publication. I would love for everyone to be able to experience my work in person. A small goal I have right now is to see stickers and prints of my work reach different states or countries.”
In age, she might be young, but Stanley has plenty to show for her progressing career. She has built a reputation for herself, found her style and continues to show growth as an artist and a human.
“The piece I feel the deepest connection to is titled Haunted by Self-Reflection which is about not liking what you see when you look in the mirror. I have always struggled with my appearance and I wanted to really express that with this piece,” Stanley shares. “The piece that I’m the proudest of is titled Personal Growth. I’m the proudest of it because it is the first time I painted a figure to look hyper-realistic, and I felt very accomplished with how far I’ve come.”
Find more of Ashlee Stanley’s art on her website.