Artist Ashton Guy to show The Power of Paper during Albany’s First Friday
Ashton Guy’s art speaks of a person who’s not afraid of open space.
The merchandise on her online storefront reveals splashes of color against negative space. A minimal approach that ushers serenity in everyday objects bound for a more hectic world. She’s to be one of several artists, including Ruby Silvious, Mimi Castiglione-Santiago, Abe Ferraro, and Bryan Hamill, exhibiting her work at Overit Media as Nippertown helps expand Albany’s First Friday celebration on May 5.
The night also promises to introduce Guy to the Capital City. The Austin native packed her bags and family a few years ago, trading away life in a sprawling urbanscape for one in the Helderberg hilltowns. Their century-old farmhouse in Berne is a creative’s haven. Her husband, Adam, is a musician, a composer, and a teacher. He plays and writes his music. She paints and manages her small business.
She designed and launched Sacred Fool Furnishings earlier this year. It’s an online shop she describes as “colorful, poetic, ridiculous home goods and apparel.”
“[It’s] a little bit Sesame Street, with references to Joan of Arc, millennial cartoons, and the Tarot de Marseille, collecting a piece multiplies the magnetic color coordinates of your life,” she states on her website. “It stays thrilling to watch bubbly backpacks, lunar throw pillows, and butt shower curtains scatter about the country day by day. A favorite, favorite feeling.”
Her creative life started in earnest about six years after graduating from the University of Texas and pursuing a path in social work. It was a pivot influenced by the local music scene. She chose commercial illustration, getting her start by designing album art. Bands would feed her their unreleased work. She’d listen “for days, weeks, months on end” to capture the feeling of their music in a visual piece.
Downtown Albany used to be a place where the arts exploded into the streets on the first Friday of each month. Visual arts and live music would usher visitors to Lark Street and surrounding neighborhoods, hosting open houses, artist receptions, exhibitions, and live music throughout the evening. Restaurants and venues would also offer specials or discounts to honor the night.
“The scene…it was decadent, divine,” wrote Corey Aldrich, on the Upstate Alliance for the Creative Economy website. “So creative, smart and unexpected. The who’s who of the regional arts and culture scene was there, on the streets.” But that was more than a decade ago. In his editorial, Aldrich shares how the movement fizzled out before the pandemic muzzled it completely.
First Friday Albany has maintained a monthly calendar on Facebook since 2011. There’s a visible gap between monthly itineraries, bookended by March 2020 and August 2020. Anemic lists of participating venues on those first few lists document how society limped through virus mitigation. Closed theaters, restaurants and shopping malls served a crushing blow across the board. At the end of 2020, Albany County Executive Daniel McCoy quoted an estimated loss of over $21 million in collected sales tax.
This Friday, Overit Media exhibits “The Power of Paper”, an exhibition showcasing several area artists. As part of First Friday, it represents an expanded effort to stimulate the local economy that suffered.
The Power Of Paper
“I think the way that my brain has evolved visually is that rather than creating things that are more detailed, it’s kind of working in reverse. Fields of color are how things get translated: colors and shapes and sometimes forms,” she said. “I think color is absolutely the most important thing to me. That’s why some images are only really about three colors interacting.”
One of Austin’s best bands pulled Guy from social work. Kevin Russell approached her and commissioned her to design album art for his band, Shinyribs. The flamboyant frontman has long had a reputation for wearing colorful suits, extravagant shoes, and sometimes a light-up cloak while in front of a nine-piece band that serves a dish of Texas Blues, New Orleans R&B funk, and Memphis Soul. She returned with a trippy kaleidoscope of three gray-bearded men signing from inside a cross-section of an okra plant outlined by a rattlesnake.
The work awakened a childhood dream, she said. A year later, she quit her day job.
“To me, it’s really sometimes that simple,” Guy said. “I feel like color is so potent. I don’t wanna write a novel. It’s more like a paragraph, maybe just one sentence, but it’s coming through to me and getting translated into an image.”
Guy parlayed her artwork into playing an active role in Austin’s music scene. She delved into other creative principles, including fine painting, set fabrication, merchandise design, photography, and filmmaking. It introduced her to the “artists, musicians, tech bros, social workers, and remarkable children who call Texas their home.”
“When times are good, it feels great to be there,” she said. “It’s the Live Music Capital of the World. I don’t know if you know, but that’s what they call themselves in Austin — we called ourselves in Austin. And that provides so much opportunity to musicians.”
But after seven years, she said she felt “overexposed.” In addition to its live music, Austin is the seat of government for Texas. Relatively tranquil days turned more tumultuous following the onset of the pandemic. Venues shuttered their doors, and opinions divided the community.
“The city we were living in was changing drastically,” she said.
Tourists also continue to ignore the message to limit their stay to a mere visit. Austin’s population has nearly doubled in 20 years, crowding the city and making it expensive to live there. According to the U.S. Department of Labor, the city’s cost of living rose 17.8 percent from 2010 to 2020, the 12th largest increase in the country among cities. The average home is worth over $560,000, according to Zillow.
After she and her husband married in 2021, crowded spaces and rising living costs prompted them to look elsewhere. They found their “dream workspace” in the rural hilltowns, under giant spruce trees, and away from the urban sprawl.
“My husband and I are both really sensitive, creative people,” she said. “I guess as we’re getting older, being close to nature feels really important… We found a place that requires a lot of maintenance. And it’s very flexible for us to mold it into an art studio, work-from-home space, and music recording space. We’re really, really falling in love with this area.”