Five questions to Ashlynn Browning

Five questions to Ashlynn Browning

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Ashlynn Browning is a painter born in Charlotte, NC and living currently in Raleigh, NC. She earned BA degrees in Studio Art and English from Meredith College and her MFA in painting and printmaking from the University of NC at Greensboro. Browning is a Joan Mitchell Grant recipient who exhibits nationally and internationally. 

Tell us your story, why did you become an artist?

Ever since childhood I knew I wanted to be an artist, but my earliest plans were to be a children’s book illustrator. That changed in college when I had some amazing professors who mentored me and guided me toward the work of Willem de Kooning, Philip Guston, and Anselm Kiefer, among many others. That’s when I knew I would be an abstract painter, and I never looked back. Over the years, through graduate school and beyond, my mediums have ranged from drawing, collage and printmaking, to acrylic and oil paint. My forms have fluctuated as well, going from organic and gestural to more geometric over the years.

The idea that art changes alongside one as they go through life is very appealing to me. I love being an artist because it gives me a language to communicate the human experience in the most expressive and fulfilling way that I know how. I want my paintings to represent a psychological state of being; an openness to life experience, to joy and pain, light and dark, and the inherent tension and pendulum swing between the two. While I feel my paintings evoke spirited energy, there is also a sense of the shadows lurking within, a grounding that balances the ebullience with gravitas, creating a tug of war between release and restraint, chaos and control, darkness and light.

When you create a new work, how do you go about it? What comes first?

I work in oil paint on wood panels. The paintings contain a hybrid of geometric and organic forms created through an intuitive painting process. The work is multi-layered, both in process and concept. I begin every painting with just putting down a wash of color. This color might be inspired by what I’m wearing that day, by an image or memory in my mind, my mood at the moment, or sometimes simply by the first dirty paintbrush I grab. Next comes a simple line drawing that is usually of geometric forms. The first few layers of a piece have a wonderful freedom to them, because I know things are just getting started. New layers will come and go, be added, scraped down, edited out. Nothing is there to stay necessarily, so there’s an “anything goes” approach that can trigger some exciting moves. 

I would say at least seventy-five percent of each painting is made by trusting my gut and putting down colors and marks that I’m driven to choose, even when logically they don’t make much sense to me at the time. The other twenty-five percent of the process is where I will let a layer sit for a while and just look at it over a period of days, plotting my next move. That calculated choice may or may not remain in the final piece, but it is still an important part of the process. So, in the end, the painting contains a layered accumulation of thoughtful decisions and purely felt acts. That seems to be the approach that resonates the most deeply for me.

What can you tell us about your studio, what makes it special to you and how does it influence the way you work?

I’m very sensitive to my studio environment. The look and feel of it, the lighting and amount of privacy are all very important to me. I’m lucky to have a studio away from my home so that I can kind of compartmentalize those separate worlds and give myself wholly to the work while I am there. The studio is a sanctuary of peace and calm but it is also its own little micro world of introspection, chaos and creativity. It’s a place where I can “control” things in some ways and in others completely surrender control to where a painting wants to go. I love this ebb/flow environment in which I am constantly challenged and pushed to evolve. 

Is there a work of art in your life that has especially impressed you?

All of the early work of Willem de Kooning was hugely influential to me as a young artist and that has stayed with me. His color sense, brushwork and just the overall energy and passion of his paintings are incredible. I was so thrilled to be able to visit a huge retrospective exhibition of his work at MOMA in 2012 and it was quite literally the most impressive thing that I have ever seen in my life. 

Reach to the stars: where will you be in 5 years?

I plan to continue working and making the best paintings that I can, following wherever curiosity and experimentation take me. I would love to be involved with curating more exhibitions and also exhibiting on a larger scale both in the country and abroad. 

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