Bayou Artist: Ashley Greer
ASHLEY GREER, THIS MONTH’S BAYOU ARTIST, ATTRIBUTES LOVE AS A KEY INGREDIENT IN HER CREATIVE PROCESS.
article by April Clark Honaker | photos by Kelly Moore Clark
Like many who are born to be artists, Ashley Greer was often discouraged. “I’ve had a lot of people tell me to drop art,” she said. They would encourage her to instead pursue a more “practical” career, like law or medicine. Although she’s gone through periods where she says her creative energy has been blocked, Ashley has never wavered from pursuing her true purpose, which is to create. According to Ashley, art has been the one constant in her life. “It’s been the most loyal thing,” she said. “It always shows up for me.” Even during the roughest patches in her life when she’s felt stifled creatively, she’s always received some form of reassurance that she was on the right path. “Just when I think things are crumbling or falling apart,” she said, “the universe always gives me these beautiful gems along the way, and it’s really a journey of trust. Sometimes I feel like I’m walking blindfolded or walking through a cloud, but I just keep going.”
Ashley’s journey as an artist has taken her all over the country, but north Louisiana is home. Ashley was born in El Dorado, Arkansas, but her family moved to Dubach, Louisiana, when she was a baby. As a child Ashley was super shy, but art gave her a voice, even at a very young age. “Instead of speaking my emotions, I would draw them,” she said, “and I would paint what was in front of me but in more vibrant colors.” At age 4 or 5, Ashley won her first art contest. It was sponsored by the National Wild Turkey Federation and came with some cool prizes—a ribbon, a t-shirt, and some other goodies. When Ashley received her awards in the mail, she was ecstatic. “I thought, ‘This is awesome, and I wanna keep doing it,’” she said.
But Ashley has never painted purely for the recognition. “Art was an escape but also a healing experience,” she said. As a child, her family endured some hardships, including her parents’ divorce, but art was an outlet for her during those times, and it helped her cope. “I was the creator of this whole other universe, and I could make anything happen there,” she said. According to Ashley, drawing and painting have always helped her manifest positive things into her reality.
Early on, it was not only evident that Ashley loved making art. She was also talented, and that talent did not go unnoticed by her art teacher at Hico Elementary School. Ms. Deason referred Ashley to be tested for the gifted and talented art program, and she qualified, which allowed her to work on projects and receive more intense instruction with Gaile Clary two times a week. Throughout elementary and junior high school, Ashley continued to grow and learn as an artist. Then, when she started her sophomore year at Ruston High School, she met Charlie Meeds. Meeds was hard on Ashley. She said he would constantly tap her shoulder while she worked and tell her to loosen up. He would impress upon his students that energy flows from the shoulder, not from the wrist or elbow, and he believed that energy was the source of life in any work of art.
Ashley learned a lot from Meeds about composition and flow. During the summer after her junior year of high school, she took the initiative to apply some of what she learned on her own and hone her skills. She started painting, and it was like she suddenly knew what she was meant to do. “I painted and painted and painted,” she said. “It was like someone twisted the knob on a faucet, and I couldn’t stop.” When the summer was over and she brought the work to show it to Meeds, he was taken aback. He said, “Did you really do this?” In that moment, he was both surprised and affirmed. He said to Ashley, “I knew it! That’s why I was so hard on you!”
During her senior year of high school, Ashley started painting commissions, and they kept her very busy. Before long, she experienced her first serious creative block. “I was painting too much, and I wasn’t painting my vision anymore,” she said. She felt blocked for over a year, but the experience was definitely a lesson in self-care, and she realized that she couldn’t give all of her time away but had to keep some for herself. She had to devote some of it to her own creative vision. Although she’s experienced other creative blocks since then, she’s better at working through them now. On most days, painting is like working out. She feels compelled to do it, but it energizes her and makes her happy. As she said, “It’s therapeutic.”
After high school, Ashley took a year off to paint and save money. She then spent three years in California—two and a half in San Francisco and six months in Oakland. During that time, she studied at both the Art Institute of California and City College of San Francisco. However, it was really expensive, and Ashley eventually decided that she could be successful as an artist on her own, so she decided to move back home. After the bustle and grind of the concrete jungle, she was eager for a more peaceful environment. “I felt that I could set up a great space and have time to let my creative energy flow,” she said. Since moving home, Ashley said the paintings have just flowed out of her, and it’s proven to be one of the best decisions she’s ever made.
Despite the fact that California was not a long-term fit for Ashley, being there changed her. She saw many different types of art and considers San Francisco itself an art school. Being there broadened not only her skill set, but also her way of thinking. She came back to Louisiana more confident in who she is and ready to boldly embrace what her imagination invents. Within six months of moving back, Ashley had created enough new work that she was ready to make the kind of connections that would help her grow the business side of her work. One of the first connections she made was with the Champs Sports Bar and Restaurant in Ruston. Although the owner wasn’t interested in buying work for the restaurant, he offered to host an exhibition. Ashley was so eager to get started that she gave herself only three days to get the exhibition up and promote the reception. The show featured her work as well as the work of two student artists. Even with such a tight timeline, they were able to bring in 60 people, sell some work, and make some more great connections.
At the Champs exhibition, Judi Null of Ruston Artisans became interested in Ashley and her work. Soon after, the two met to discuss an opportunity for Ashley to use a loft studio in the gallery in exchange for some marketing and other work. The serendipity was uncanny because Ashley had been hoping for a studio space just like the one Judi offered her. When the two agreed and Judi handed Ashley the key, she immediately noticed the swirling Milky Way printed on the side and said, “The stars felt like they aligned in that moment.” Ashley’s studio is still located inside Ruston Artisans today, and Judi has been a great mentor for business matters and for helping Ashley discover who she is as an artist. “She has just been the biggest blessing over the past couple of years of my life,” Ashley said.
On August 11, 2018, Ashley did a live painting while her friend singer-songwriter Grant Terry performed. The event was called “Music in Color,” and it was such a hit that Ashley has been traveling around the country painting while Grant performs on his tour. They’ve been to Nashville, Chicago, Brooklynn, and other major cities. Before meeting Grant, Ashley didn’t have many artist friends. He changed that for her. “He took me under his wing, and was like, ‘This is the artist life,’ and it was so free, and the people he introduced me to were so creative,” she said. “That helped me so much. It definitely gave me more life.”
Although Ashley isn’t traveling with Grant as much now, she’s definitely staying busy. Recently, she’s taken on some mural projects locally and beyond. One of those projects is a Ruston Strong mural across from the Dixie Center for the Arts that will honor the mother and son who were victims of the tornado that swept through the town in late April. It will also depict the aftermath of the tornado and how it brought everyone together.
In addition to this project, Ashley has been painting murals in local businesses, including Paradigm Gym and Karl Malone’s 5.11 Tactical store. The mural in 5.11 features an American flag, the seals of our different branches of military service, and the state flag. The plan is to paint similar murals in all of Malone’s 5.11 stores over the next five years, with her next stop being Little Rock, Arkansas. For Malone, the murals are a way to honor, remember, and thank our servicemen and women. For Ashley, the feeling is mutual. When she’s painting the murals, she’s always thinking about their meaning and about our American soldiers. When she was painting the mural in the store in Metairie, the energy was especially intense. After finishing the seals and the American flag, she took a step back, thanked God, and decided to take a break.
When she got in her car and turned it on, the clock said 5:11, which she thought was a neat coincidence, but nothing could have prepared her for what happened next. As she was backing out of the parking lot, she noticed something fly out of the sky and land beside her car. It was a bald eagle! “I just couldn’t believe that it landed by my car,” she said. “It was magical. They’re so rare.” This moment was one of those beautiful gems that has always reassured her that she is on the right path. “Being able to connect with that animal was one of the most beautiful experiences,” she said. “I love when magical, beautiful experiences like that happen after you’ve given something.” Ashley has dedicated her life to creating images and stories that build people up and spread positivity.
Although she often paints from imagination and dreams, most of her paintings involve a spiritual story or something related to health. Of course, when she is working with other people the focus is slightly different. She aims to give life to their vision. Regardless of the circumstances, Ashley said love is a key ingredient to her creative process, and without it, her creativity is blocked. Fortunately, love is inherent to much of what she does. “What fuels me,” she said, “is that I would love to inspire younger artists.” She also wants to pass along some of the lessons she’s learned along the way. “The most important lesson I’ve learned,” she said, “is to follow your heart. You’ve got to follow your own arrow, your own GPS.”