Speaking from my full honest opinion, the initial reaction that came to mind when viewing this type of art was definitely grunge and feminist aesthetics. To paint a picture would be to imagine yourself surrounded by objects that stereotypically depict trashy or gaudy elements, but are now placed on a pedestal as if belonging to the corporate art world. This is what I admire about what Ashley Nielsen does with their artistic style. Though their art technically falls under the expressionism category, I see how other stylistic approaches have melted within. From originally being from a small town, I can relate to the artist’s beginnings all the way in El Dorado, Arkansas. I have always viewed tattooing as one of the most technical arts due to how intricate the entire process is of executing the art itself. I appreciate this artist’s ability to transition from painting into tattooing, but still keep true to their original designs.
The question “What is good art?” gets thrown around a lot and interpreted in all sorts of ways. The art you are about to witness truly breaks the barriers and pushes the boundaries as to what stereotypical art looks like. I urge you to go beyond the norm of your current surroundings as we pillage through the distorted wasteland together.
L to R: Tattoos by Ashley Nielsen & “Gravity Falls is a Good Show”, 2019
To truly get to know someone, it's always good to find out where they come from. The artist discusses their beginnings with their craft in saying, "So I started making art I guess when I was little, as all small children do. I just liked making things. I'm an only child so I had a lot of time on my hands. I was also home-schooled 'til the 6th grade. When I got into junior high, I started making art. Once I got into high school, I was still making art [and] I decided that I wanted to major in art. I kind of had this crisis because I took myself way too seriously and I really hated art school in the beginning. I majored in art at the University of Arkansas and I graduated in May 2021. I had a teacher [named] Kristin Musgnug [and] I love her. She's fantastic and taught me how to [ask myself] 'Why are you doing this?' [My response was] 'Well I don't really want to think about that.' Dealing with personal trauma and all that is not fun and I wasn't ready to do that. I couldn’t talk about my art because I didn't know why I was making it, why I painted a certain way or why I was drawn to these elements. What I came to the conclusion is the reason I like all these bright colors, text, glitter, Dolly Parton and all that good stuff is I grew up essentially with a 'white trash' past hidden under a middle class aesthetic for appearances. As a child, I remember one time I watching a fucking cupcake baking show (because there were a thousand of those back in 2005-2012) where they were making cupcakes for a drag race and I had never heard of that. I was raised conservative Christian, which I am not either of those things. I was telling my mom and [I asked her] 'Do you know what drag queens are? They're fantastic!' She got really upset and [said] 'That’s… No.' [I have] a constant love for all things tacky, obnoxious, bright and loud because that's always who I've been. There is a beauty that is in tackiness and trashiness, but it's only celebrated if you are of the 1% or if you're of a higher earning standard. It's glorified because you have the money to endorse yourself, but the people where it comes from is not acceptable because of classism. That's what I draw from when I am painting."
When being questioned about what types of artistic influences catch the eye of this artist, they responded "I'm really bad about looking at outside artists. One artist that I really liked [is] named Ghada Amer and she works in mostly textiles and creating pornographic images in a way that is [visible, but not]. They're very explicit images [and it's as if] you can see it, but you can't. They're usually kind of hidden throughout [the] weaving and these paintings. You want to rip at it, but you can't. It's very interesting. I really like her. With tattoos and other art like that, I really enjoy vintage influences like marketing, posters, flyers and advertisements. I like that brash, bold [essence] that you get from an advertisement." Categorization and classification can be such a bore, but it helps others grow their knowledge and ultimately learn about art that may be unknown to them. Ashley Nielsen describes her art saying, "I guess as a blanket umbrella term that people understand [would be] 'abstract art' or maybe 'expressionism' perhaps. For tattooing, there's a term it might be loosely umbrella-ed under [called] 'ignorant style'. I would say 'trashy, neon colors combined with gooey-thick textures and abstracted shapes'. If you try to imagine what something looks like in your head without a reference and then you draw it, [it] is what all of my things are basically."
“Vomit paintings” , 2021
According to them, the person they consider to be their role model as an artist is John Jurisich. They go on to say, "I have an uncle. We're not actually related, but he was a painter and said he was the 'Father of Prismatics'. I remember when I was little and I walked into his studio. I liked the way it smelled and it was really cool that he was just doing his little 'John-thing' out there. I was just fascinated by him and [their] technicality I think. I do remember talking to him and he was always [saying], 'You should go into fashion designing.' I [responded] 'No. Why would you say that to me? I'm 8.' I feel like that if he looked at my art, I do not know if he would say it was good art. If that makes sense. Ya know what I mean? It's fascinating to think about. His paintings are good, [but] not my favorite. I like that he's doing his thing even if no one saw it." While discussing their most proudest accomplishment, their moment of reaching self actualization emerges from this statement: "I would say [it was] my first large painting that I ever did. The one that has the opossum and Dolly Parton with Trixie Mattel. That was my first [moment where I thought], 'Hmm… Okay. Oh! I like this.' [I had] that moment of [realization in thinking], 'This is what I want to do. This is what I want to keep creating. I did it.' Looking at the painting, it's something that makes people stop and look at it. That's what I wanted. I wanted to be able to just be engulfed by something large. Literally, the scale of it was a lot for me. It's 8 foot by almost 4-5 feet. It's just big. HUGE. I [thought to myself], 'Wow. I should keep doing this.'"
Last but not least, Ashley Nielsen talks us through their thought process when deciding to become a tattoo artist and how it all began. "I've always wanted to tattoo, but I didn't really think it was going to be possible living in Arkansas and being a female presenting person. I [thought], 'Meh… Maybe one day.' I have an art degree and my options for work are very slim. As I was nearing graduation I [thought], 'I don't know what I am going to do. I saw Speakeasy Tattoo Lounge posted on their Instagram story [about them taking on] apprentices. I [thought], 'Fuck it. I'm just gonna apply and see what happens 'cause why not?' I just started tattooing in March 2021 on actual people and I got my license in May. I had started my apprenticeship in December 2020. I just thought it was cool. I used to draw on myself all the time. I think we all did."
**Photo credits: Ashley Nielsen**