The mind behind the artist: Makenna Ashley

Setodzi Avoke
Copy Editor

Fine arts student Makenna Ashley shares alternative perspectives of well-known events through history through her artwork. Photo by: Vinny Croce

Fine arts student Makenna Ashley shares alternative perspectives of well-known events through history through her artwork.

Fine arts major Makenna Ashley enjoys telling stories surrounding forgotten moments.

“Before I was a little worried [about] making statements—controversy or offending somebody—but at a certain point you have to let that go. I would definitely say that I work with aesthetics that have a message,” said Ashley.

Her most recent piece was displayed in the Fine Arts Students End-of-Year Exhibit, and captured the iconic moment in sports history of Muhammad Ali’s fight against Floyd Patterson.

“The movements that went into it—climactic movements—the physical aspect of it and also the emotional aspect of it…the psychological aspect of what those moments mean and the emptiness that’s left after,” she said.

On a more contemporary front, Ashley made a piece called “Opportunities Through Broken Dreams” capturing broken shards of glass from a vandalized shop window following the election of Donald Trump.

“The feelings of both sides, whoever won, both felt a little shattered and broken after, so I investigated those moments,” said Ashley.

For Ashley, confronting current issues and concerns make her work personal.

“I’ve dealt with police brutality and how it’s hit close to home for me because my father is a retired police officer—he was my hero growing up my entire life and then now it’s almost like you don’t want to say that’s what his occupation was, or, [make sure to say] he devoted his entire life to helping other people,” said Ashley.

“Focusing on these moments has been emotional for me because of the controversy that has been surrounding them. [Policing in America] and everything that has been going on with social media…,” said Ashley.

Due to the extreme political and social climate, Ashley takes a headstrong approach in capturing these emotions and opinions within her work.

“Nobody does the research to find what happened before and after. Everyone thinks that because there’s a 30-second clip on the internet, then that’s true.”

Ashley hopes to show through her work the current context of events as well as the underlying tones of these events to the observer.

“The black and white, you have to read it for what it is. There’s no color distracting it, there’s nothing distracting it except for what’s there,” said Ashley.

“I think that’s perfect—that deep contrast is what I like,” said Ashley. “In working in black and white, you get to find each of those [climactic] moments throughout my charcoal drawings…it makes you look a bit harder I think,” said Ashley.

Art is defined as the expression or application of human creative skill and imagination, typically in a visual form such as painting or sculpture, producing works to be appreciated primarily for their beauty or emotional power.

“I’ve fought with myself a lot [regarding aesthetics versus meaning] because I really wanted to make something beautiful and as I started getting a little bit deeper and investigating what I was looking at, I knew that I could say something with the process that I would go through,” said Ashley.

As Ashley expanded her style through exploring beauty through current events, she names a piece of hers which she felt had more impact on increasing her skills as not just an artist, but a story-teller.

“I did an AK-47, a gun, shooting a bullet. I first thought about that being its climactic moment, but then I thought about it a little more…the bullet on its own—what happens once it’s met its climactic moment,” said Ashley.

Following that line of thinking, Ashley began to question the gun alone. “If it doesn’t have the bullet, then the gun doesn’t represent anything anymore—then it’s just a hollow barrel. You can hit someone with it, but it doesn’t really represent what it’s intended for.”

Another piece of hers titled “Hollow” took the concept of took the concept of objects interacting with one another and applies it to boxing.

“They no longer have the same meaning when there’s no fighter behind [them],” said Ashley. “They’re just items and things again,” said Ashley.

A major influence to Ashley is the work of Robert Longo, who also worked with charcoal.

“He has a long history [in art]. He takes these powerful moments and makes them huge. He brings you in and captures you with his realism, realistic drawing and style that he has—technique that he has,” said Ashley.

Ashley’s overall goal when someone views her work is that the viewer opens themselves up to looking at their own life as critically as her pieces.

“If people listened to their own journey instead of all the noise that’s around them all the time, I think things would be more organic—things would happen more organically instead of this facade people put up…what they can bring in a positive way…just let go of the noise,” said Ashley.

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