Master of the fine arts graduate student, Noël Ash, has always been interested in depicting a theme of the struggles and beauties that come along with family life through her art. Ever since she was a little girl, she has loved expressing herself through her paintings.
An artist from her church originally taught Ash and her sister the basic skills. She then took art classes at a small liberal arts college and later received her undergraduate degree from the Art Institute of Chicago.
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During her childhood and earlier life, Ash created paintings that generally reflected family life as a whole. She specifically focused on societal pressures: how strangers in public often closely monitor children’s behavior, making it more difficult than it already is to be a parent.
After becoming a mother of three, Ash shifted her focus to magnify in on the complexities that correspond with raising children. As a university housing resident, along with a community of other student parents, balancing the dedication that goes into schoolwork and raising children is a situation that never leaves Ash’s mind.
She is currently working on a series about the country’s political divide and how that tension affects family relationships. Ash is interested in the issues that result from family members who hold opposite views on the political spectrum.
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The technique Ash uses is oil painting on canvas — she is classified as a realist figurative painter. In the past, families have acted for her paintings, yet she still made sure to depict the people for who they are, not someone else she wanted them to be. Ash is currently working on paintings of actual families living life naturally. She is lucky to have the opportunity to paint those who live with her in the university housing neighborhood.
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“The biggest challenge I have is that I don’t like to ‘hit the nail on the head’ … I don’t like to create pictures that are a direct obvious lesson,” Ash said. “I am always a little too coy and I try to allow the picture to hold more meaning that people have to get out of it on their own, and I think needs to be more obvious … or be clear without being overly obvious.”
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Ash enjoys illustrating the chaos that results from having children and spending time with the entire family. In order to make family a priority, the turmoil must be accepted, Ash explained.
One of Ash’s personal favorite pieces is called “A Portrait of a University Family,” which portrays one of her neighbors’ family living life naturally. Ash sets the scene by describing that the mother is helping the oldest son with his homework and the daughter is outside with her aunt, who is knitting and chatting on the phone. The husband is sitting on the couch with the youngest son, who is acting a little wildly. There are suitcases and a mattress behind the couch for the family members who constantly come to visit.
“There is just a lot going on, and that is what it feels like in this place, [at home]” Ash said. “It’s not miserable, you know, it’s a beautiful space and there’s some nice light coming into the living room, but there’s a lot going on.”
It’s important for Ash to include images of her own family in her painting series as well. The aspect of her relationship with her children that she tends to represent is an affectionate closeness with them, even though she may not have as much time as she would like to give to them.
The painting illustrates herself with her daughter on her lap, portraying a physical closeness, even though they are each focused on their own task. Another piece includes her husband, who is reading a book, with all three kids on his lap who are watching a YouTube video. Ash feels a strong bond with her family, despite each of their hectic and busy individual lives.
Ash advised younger artists and other students striving to pursue art to figure out what they want to create and follow that desire even if they are unsure about the significance.
“Sometimes it’s important to make the work first and figure out later why it draws you,” Ash said.
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After graduate school, Ash hopes to move to New York with her husband and children, where she will work on getting gallery representation.
Almost all of Ash’s work is currently in the art show in Wausau until Feb. 25.