5 for FIVE: Ash Ferlito
The current exhibition at the Marjorie Barrick Museum, Five features paintings, sculptures, videos, installations, and photographs from contemporary artists based in LA and New York. Materiality, attitude, and wit tie their work together, as well as their past participation in the ongoing UNLV Artist-in-Residence Program.
I recently asked Alisha Kerlin and D.K. Sole if they would like to join me for a walk through the exhibition to talk about the show and create a list of questions for the five artists. Alisha Kerlin, Spring 2012 UNLV Artist-in-Residence, relocated to Las Vegas from New York and is currently serving as the Interim Director at the Museum. D.K. Sole joined the Barrick team in 2012. She leads educational tours and produces written material for the Museum. Many thanks to the artists, Kerlin and Sole for agreeing to participate in this current S + N series “5 for FIVE” and for sharing their unique insights into the work and its reception by the public. This second post shares our interview with artist Ash Ferlito.
Ash Ferlito has had a presence in the Marjorie Barrick Museum ever since 2014 when her collaborative Time Capsule project was installed in the lobby. Today, the wall on the other side of the door from the Capsule is hung with two of her huge felt eyes, and visitors who walk through the gallery entrance will be introduced to a selection of startlingly nonhomogeneous work in video, felt, faux fur, and paint. This New York-based artist’s openness to new materials and her willingness to manipulate objects in a way that visitors to the museum have described as “chaotic” and “creative” intrigued us, and we decided to ask her some questions.
Visitors often mention the messiness of your work — not only the liquids that you pour and squirt throughout the Breakfast in America video but also the casual stitching between the patches on The Propaganda of Individuality, and the way that the stripes of paint in the 2-D works have been allowed to ooze through the canvas. Art itself is always potentially messy but you seem to have cultivated the edge of disorder as a consistent aesthetic. Do you think that’s true? Could you talk to us about it?
AF: I’m interested in making art that communicates ideas with the greatest economy of means. I think about things for a long time, but I like things to happen relatively quickly. I remake things, sometimes many times, to achieve what I want while preserving a direct or casual handling. Paintings and sculptures are made to process thoughts, feelings and experiences often in response to what a friend once described as ‘the grand messiness of life.’ Working serially the materials shift in response to ideas and environment, the novelty of new materials provides great freedom. Freedom is important.
Young visitors like to point out the cartoon characters in Propaganda of Individuality. Could you tell us about the role of playfulness and humor in your art?
AF: It doesn’t always happen, but I aim for equal parts humor and pathos. While in basis the object may allude to a larger message of dystopian psychologies and contemporary societal sickness I like to disarm with humor and color, opening up an opportunity to rethink known qualities and access new truths.
You played tennis for Yale, and we notice that tennis motifs appear in both The Propaganda of Individuality and the floor fur piece, Love Means Nothing to a Tennis Player. Does tennis have a significant place in your work?
AF: Playing competitive tennis put me in a position of losing and winning and dealing with the consequences of both at a very early age. The experience certainly influenced my character, I think it made me an observer, encouraged self examination and the development of an interior life. While I was competing I was more concerned with outcomes than truly developing my play or enjoying the spirit of the game. Preoccupation with perfection can lead to missing the point of the thing you are trying to perfect. Tennis shows up in a lot of subtle ways, for example, at one point I noticed that I can approach a canvas as a field of play, a court with boundaries, this becomes more relevant in my abstract paintings.
All of your paintings in Five have been mounted so that the viewer is looking at the back of the painted image. Did you know from the start that you were going to work like that, or did you begin the process and decide part-way through that you wanted to use the verso side? Could you tell us more about these works?
AF: About five years ago I started exploring the reverse side of the paintings I was making, the ‘b-side’ had an effortless stained quality and an atmosphere that I found compelling, much more so that the face, which I had been over-working and was suffering from a lot of anxious decisions. Working in reverse allows the image to be revealed to me. I flip back and forth to see what is happening, and as I said before, I remake things, but working in reverse is a strategy to court chance, risk failure and achieve directness through distance.
An adult visitor on one of the Barrick’s tours once explained The Propaganda of Individuality to the children in the group by saying that it was “like a Facebook page” — but made with analog materials. We looked at the shape of the piece and discussed the heroic confidence of the logos versus the abject droop of the mass. Could you describe the contradictions of that piece?
AF: In essence a patch, or badge, is a decorative emblem communicating achievement, valor, rank, coolness, sincerity, irony, and alignment with or opposition to a system or group. They are used by the military, counterculture, fashion brands, girl scouts, national parks, bands, teams, bikers, and many many more for countless reasons but they are linked by experience and a certain declaration of identity which offers a conduit for classic metaphsyical questions of being, knowing, substance, cause, identity, time and space. I like that these sort of ‘dumb things’ make me think ‘deep thoughts.’ I like that there is a lot of hidden labor in the piece, time collecting, arranging and sewing in what could be seen as a readymade. I think it is strange but interesting when something mass produced and/or made somewhere far away (China, India, etc) can be sold as a souvenir of a very specific place, like Yosemite, which in visiting and celebrating and then commemorating essentially perverts the locality. Instead of being applied to a jacket, the patches are sewn together– they take over, eliminating the garment and they themselves become a kind of lacy cape alluding to the body. The individual badges can assert themselves and call singular attention but they mostly get leveled out in the din of the mass– which I think relates to the comment linking the piece to Facebook in terms of presenting personal information and selected content within a platform.
Ash Ferlito synthesizes popular culture and craft traditions with textiles, patches, and oil paint. Her videos, wall sculptures, and paintings embody an unrestricted attitude, a punchy pop palette and untethered openness to diverse subject matter and interpretation. Ferlito lives and works in Brooklyn, NY. UNLV Artist-in-Residence Spring 2014.
Five is on view at the Marjorie Barrick Museum on the campus of UNLV through September 10. For more information click here.
The Barrick Museum offers tours of Five by appointment. A checklist of the exhibition can be found here.
For more information about the UNLV Visiting Artist Program click here.
Posted by Wendy Kveck. Special thanks to D.K. Sole!
title image: Ash Ferlito, Magic Mountain, Felt, 2015. (Image courtesy the artist and the Marjorie Barrick Museum)