Q&A – artist Brett Ashby

Published:  March 22, 2012
Q&A – artist Brett Ashby

After spending the last year in London, further exploring his craft, local artist Brett Ashby, is back home and gearing up to show off his latest body of work at Art Melbourne in May. He’s known for his experimental documentary-style of work or ‘narrative-based montage’,  and is busy working on community-based project ‘The Photo Connection’ (more on that later).

We interrogated Brett about why his current projects are always his favourite projects, how he would define his style and why he has a preference for glass desktops.

You’ve worked across graphic design, animation, web design and have now made a name as an artist. Can you tell us what promoted you to shoot off in a new career direction as an artist?
I’ve been focused on my art since an early age, I worked professionally covering all mediums of multimedia, exploring advertising and getting a taste for everything business. During this period, I always had my art concepts developing in the background, with many art submissions being emailed out or posted abroad. I’m known to be a hard worker while working full-time as a TV Producer, I would also work eight hours each evening on my art, many late nights developing concepts and new ideas. As a child I had never traveled abroad but once I turned 17 it became a great interest – each annual leave period, I’d just pack a bag, book my ticket four days before departure and fly out. I used my travel time as a form of research, where I’d gather photographs to construct my art. As a digital artist, I’m very grateful for my grounding in design, web and animation with my art only being an extension of my previous skills, represented now in an original format.


Barack Obama Washington DC copyright 2009

Self Portrait London, Uk copyright 2006

Do your artworks form the main focus of your professional life or do you still take on graphic design projects and other work?
Art is a lifestyle, I’d say once I defined my art style, full of travel and storytelling, I’ve had to place everything on the line for my art. I do fill my professional life with art, I’m constantly developing self-driven deadlines, ideas, solutions and travel plans every hour of every day. I can’t say I don’t take on web, animation or design because I still do. It’s clear to me that these commissions are based on my skills as an artist. I never take on a project that is just straight graphics or straight web, clients tend to recruit me to develop the entire solution. All advertising, graphics, marketing, web and TV work is essentially a blank canvas for me to apply my artistic experience to. I’ve always loved a challenge and working in collaboration with clients is such a rewarding experience and allows me to showcase my skill set in a different medium.

Your style has been described as ‘photographic documentary’. Can you talk a little about your process of creating each artwork?
My art is new media, socially un-titled, created from my personal photographs traveling the world. In a sense it sits within the genre ‘photographic documentary’ although it also encompasses elements of film and animation. I find myself basically documenting my mind’s eye. I walk through spaces working like an animator studying each and every detail. I record the data, I’m touching, feeling and seeing via photography. I apply the same technique each day of my life, not only if I’m exploring a new city, new country, famous icon or meeting new people. I can’t stress enough how much art dictates my lifestyle. I review every facet of life as a data analysis, compiling photographic documents archived to be collaged as retrospective art. I try to create once I’ve experienced elements in many perspectives, I feel confident then to notate my reality into each physical artwork or collage. In basic terms I photograph realism, read into it trying to understand, then manually express my stories through ‘photo montage’. I depend heavily on my memory of the initial concept as well as photos taken from the shoot, which I then use as a digital paint palette in colour order to develop the artwork.

Freiheit - mixed media

What has been your favourite project to work on thus far? Why?
My favourite project is always my most current project because you have to love it to do it. I think every project to date has been just as important and challenging to me as the last. There’s always certain elements of each exhibition / design / production / project to curate that are surprising and exciting. These allow me to compile a selection of favourite moments which can range from building .php code for a banking website to transforming an average lounge chair into a piece of art. Each project brings an exciting task and these tasks would be my favourite things. As well as the creative solution, I also enjoy the process, such as driving from one country to another (conceptualising many ideas along the way) and meeting amazing creatives who fuel my artistic drive. There are so many things to add to my favourites list, I can only summarise it by saying I exhibit and represent as a source of growth, income and creativity; that’s why I do it.

Can you tell us about a professional highlight from the past year?
I’m currently completing a community-based project titled ‘The Photo Connection’. I was commissioned by my local council to create four Ashby originals. Initially it was hard to conceptualise my technique and apply it towards the local community. I developed a solution which combined all things photographic, web and educational hence the title ‘The Photo Connection’. This project has led me to a developing interest in working with and involving the community. I have now applied the knowledge gained from this achievement to working with my local London community in East London. Involving and educating people in new media develops my work further; through adding another layer of depth to what I am increasingly finding more and more interesting. A definite highlight of the past year.

You’ve just got back from AAF Brussels and AAF Milan and are soon to be exhibiting at Art Melbourne. When not travelling, where are you based and what does your studio space look like?
Melbourne is my home, time flies by and from Art Melbourne to Art Melbourne, I will have been full-time in London for the duration of one year, making this my current studio as such. I don’t have a permanent space at present, this year has been more about temporary spaces and showing my art to the world. All previous studios consist of a clean workstation, glass desks are my favourite. I currently use a 27 inch Apple iMac and Wacom pen, you’ll never see a mouse attached to my edit suit. I work on a 60/40 basis to cover all aspects of my design, 60% being the conceptualising and 40% when the manual labour is put into place. Most of the year my studio is like a professional design space or gallery, displaying my original works. Although in saying that, I’m not partial to transforming the whole space when it’s required. Drop sheets cover my desk, computers and other valuables so I can spray paint, apply resin and cut timber. As a digital artist I develop my concepts to a specific level then transform the space into a paint booth, get messy sweep everything out, send it to the trash and setup a clean workstation again.

What can we expect from you at Art Melbourne?
Original Ashby style in new artworks, bringing an international and local flavour all at the same time. I’m planning on transforming my exhibition space to involve a few creative surprises. Stay tuned Melbourne!


WIN! We have TWO double passes to the opening night of Art Melbourne (24 May) to give away, plus TEN general admission tickets to give away (the event runs from 24 – 27 May). Just email your name and postal address to desktopcomp@niche.com.au with ‘Art Melbourne’ as the subject line. Competition closes 30 March 2012 and is only open to residents of Australia.

Thumbnail image: City Circle Tram

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