Ashley employs an understated notion of monumentality and spectacle and coaxes painting away from its roots in anxious naturalism and all manner of expressionist figuration. Her work may recall subculture apparel and street art but zeroes in on the imperiled body. In 2014, she installed her amorphous inflatables at The Box gallery in Galesburg in collaboration with the Galesburg Civic Art Center. Knox College Art Chair Mark Holmes sees her as an “ambassador, with an amazing gift for reaching across the contested gulf between the art-elite and a broader audience. While playful and exuberant, her work is authentically and practically political – not hiding behind theoretical/institutional fences.”
I saw Claire Ashley’s installation of inflatable sculpture just two years later at Illinois State University in a show curated by Jason Judd, and she stretched, as she has often in her career, to encompass an enormous space. When I heard Claire would be showing at the Contemporary Art Center this summer, and in the much smaller 3rd floor gallery, I assumed she would be showing more diminutive work. I was surprised, however, by the still grand scale, even as narrow passages produced a rather circumscribed intimacy. But here was her fragmented body metaphor, sometimes described as bruised and ashen, looking jubilant and redemptive on one hand and uncanny on the other.
Spray paint-covered PVC-coated tarps stood plump via small fans serving as humming umbilical cords. Surface details were wonderful parodies of fibrous construction materials, designed it seems for an extraterrestrial film narrative where the landscape of gigantic, portable, Play-Doh colored larva presaged something dreadful, (I sensed more Kaiju hide here in Peoria than bruised and sagging human flesh).
In the best sense, the artist makes juvenescence and pleasure an alternative to quasi-relational or para-angst-ridden art fare. Her elaborately dimpled surfaces and sinuous organic contours serve her well as sanctuary for her migratory performances. She straddles academia, the art market, pop culture and domestic life, which likely fuels her proficiency for hybridizing genres. Ultimately she discloses a corporeal text between escapism and repression, and that’s what resonates most – an authentic link between surrealism with a small “s” and ordinary life with an inflated “L.”