Claire Ashley, Distant Landscapes: peepdyedcrevicehotpinkridge

at The Icebox at Crane Arts

Through May 31, 2013


Crane Arts Hours thru May 31

Monday May 27, Tuesday May 28: open by appointment, email

Wednesday – Friday, 12:00 – 6:00


by Marcelino Stuhmer


If you have visited the Icebox at Crane Arts it’s hard to imagine an artist filling that enormous space with a single body of work. Yet Claire Ashley, a Chicago-based artist who makes large inflatable synthetic painting/sculptures, has created an ambitious installation that challenges the Icebox space, making the extraordinarily large white cube feel much smaller. The sensational scale shift also affects our understanding of our own body’s size. Ryan McCartney, co-director of the Icebox, told me that Ashley transported all these works from Chicago in a minivan. I was shocked; it seemed impossible, yet wonderfully ironic. It makes me curious to see what these forms look like when they’re deflated.


Ashley’s installation functions as a constructed imaginary reality, with forms that suggest figures and references to landscape. Each object is specific and intentional, yet un-nameable. They look as if they were designed from children’s drawings of walruses, elephants, deformed teddy bears, and stick-figures, while larger objects look like inflated rock formations, hills, icebergs, gigantic pillows, and blowup mattresses. Each of these air-filled things are unique in shape, structure, painted technique, and composition, but are uniformly saturated in high key yellows, oranges, blues, and hot pink. Ashley has adopted the playful vernacular colors of anime and computer-generated animation to make these immense objects come to life.


Ashley spray-paints the sewn plastic material both when deflated and inflated. By spraying across the forms and folds, she creates beautifully synthetic folds and wrinkles, as well as spray-painted zigzags, color gradations, and geometric shapes that create visual complexity and allow painted compositions to exist. When one focuses on the paint, the form flattens into an odd-shaped painted surface or silhouette, which then transforms with each step around the object. When one focuses on the forms, the paint becomes part of their skin, which includes patches, sewn seams, and attached electric fans that keep these things alive.


Ashley’s work combines concepts of painting, sculpture, and performance. The work’s relationship to Pop art, abstraction, and inflatable sculpture puts it in dialogue with expanded or hybrid painting and biomorphic sculpture. Her sense of humor draws relationships to Claus Oldenberg’s soft sculptures. Ashley’s work also relates to Katherine Grossa’s installations in which paint comes alive and goes out of control, transforming space into an “other” unknown space, and Charlene von Heyl’s paintings that construct visual conflict between idiosyncratic shapes and their uncanny spatial or textural interiority.


Ashley intends these morphic beings to be animated, beautiful, weird, funny, and ridiculous. The implication that some of these painted forms are alive is especially apparent in the videos in the adjacent gallery to the Icebox. In one video, twelve people enter into apertures on the bottom of the largest painted form in the installation. In Chicago’s Daly plaza (right next to a huge steel Picasso sculpture) two people hold onto long ropes tied to the top of the twenty-foot-high creature to pull it upright and then to keep it from falling over. Once it is standing up, what seems to be the head bobs around chaotically, while the thing runs around hysterically with twenty-four legs dancing in unison. In the installation this large piece is sandwiched between the floor and ceiling in what appears to be an attempt to break through the roof and escape confinement.


Claire Ashley’s exhibition was organized by Crane Arts and Happy Collaborationists, which is a curatorial collective of Anna Trier and Meredith Weber based in Chicago.


Marcelino Stuhmer received his MFA from the School of the Art Institute of Chicago. He is an interdisciplinary artist and has exhibited his work internationally. His painting, video, and mirror maze installation Get Ready to Shoot Yourself was on view at VOX VIII at Vox Populi in summer 2012. He is an Assistant Professor of Fine Arts and Painting Program Coordinator at the University of the Arts in Philadelphia.