Before I ever first met Kirtland Ash, the artist behind our first edition of "She Came to Stay," I had heard stories about him. My friend Cedric once told a story of how he had to go to LA for work. "I didn't know anyone there," he recounted "So I asked Kirtland to introduce me to someone who could show me around. He said he would but get this. When I got there, this tall fellow comes to meet me. And I'm looking at him like I think I know him but I can't place him. Then he says his name is Keanu... yes... that Keanu!"
I quite liked that story as it sums up many things about Kirtland. From his easy going nature, his openness and willingness to make sure people are looked after, to the respect he manages to command as a person and an artist. In many ways Kirtland is the antithesis to many other artists around. He isn't the stereotypical quiet moody type working away in a studio that is little more than a creative mess. Instead he is an imposing figure with a ready smile and a schoolboy sense of mischief. He is also fastidiously tidy. His studio an exercise in minimalism and order.
A self-taught artist, Kirtland was born in Oregon and raised in Vancouver. He began his career in 1997, in Los Angeles, painting detailed, abstract images in watercolour. Overtime his worked evolved and his recent work is primarily collage, fusing text and images on paper to explore the human form.
I sat down with Kirtland to ask him about his work.
Do you have a central drive or theme behind your work?
Yes. I am interested in the female form as seen from the male perspective. I have recently amassed a collection of 70s and 80s pinups. They have a certain kitsch that fascinates me and I find very telling about the time and culture. This is what is driving my current work.
Can you tell us a bit about your process? About how you work?
My work begins by doing studies on paper. This is how I explore a concept. By working and reworking dozens and sometimes hundred upon hundreds of paper studies. These are then edited down and the best of these are then translated onto large scale oil on canvas.
What inspires you?
Being an artist has everything to do with being observant about the world around me. I am inspired by the observations I make every day. The banalities that are often overlooked. The other day I was driving through South London and just had to stop to take a picture of a billboard. It was of a beer with it's head being skimmed off. But what brought it home was that behind the billboard was a mosque. I found the whole scenario rather surreal yet completely perverse. Especially given the current problems we are facing in the news.
How do you see your work evolving? Both from when you started to now and where you hope to be tomorrow.
My work has evolved rapidly in the past few years. I spent thirteen years painting very large colour field paintings and recently I have moved into figurative work. I think there is a lot do with figurative and I will probably still be exploring it tomorrow!
What are you working on now?
Primarily figurative collage and painting. I am fascinated by the female form and how it fits into current popular culture and perceptions of both physical beauty and fashion.
Kirtland currently works in London, exhibits internationally and has works in the private collections of notable collectors including Keanu Reeves, Ken Jordan from the Crystal Method and the hotelier Sam Nazarian.
Main Photo: Kirtland Ash by Agnieszka Trzoch
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