Portrait of an Artist: An Interview with Ashlynn Cedrone

In which we discuss the human form, female subjugation in art, and the unique joys and challenges of being a young artist today.

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When I first met Ashlynn Cedrone, I remember thinking she was one of the most stylish ladies I’d ever seen. Her understanding of form comes through clearly in her clothing, and she has a gift for finding gems when thrifting that simply can’t be taught. Little did I know then that she’s also a talented artist, whose knack for capturing the human form in all its complexity shows through in every one of her paintings.

At the moment, she’s working on a series of male nudes that subvert gender expectations, created in part as a response to historic artistic depictions of female subjugation. She took some time off from preparing for her upcoming showcase to chat about her work, creative process, and influences. I left our interview feeling inspired, and lucky to know Ashlynn as both an artist and friend.

Portrait of an Artist: Ashlynn Cedrone

Do you remember the moment you knew you wanted to be an artist?

I’ve been making “art” since I could pick up a pencil. My mother told me that I was two when I started, and I’d be in my crib watching Bob Ross’s show or The Lion King while I tried to copy whatever was happening on screen. It’s just something I’ve always done and it’s my favorite thing in the world. There’s nothing else that even comes close.

What inspires you most (people, places, music…)?

The human figure is something I latched onto very strongly from the first time I worked with a model as a high school student. It’s always changing, every second; with every breath, a new shadow comes, a plethora of color appears. We are such complex beings in every sense of the word, and I daresay no one has ever, or will ever, capture us as humans completely. Sure, any artist can perfectly render any body, but it’s impossible to be able to show what kind of person the subject is—are they quick to laugh, or a bit more guarded? Are they a secret writer or pianist? Are they a mother or a father or are they childless? If so, is that because they chose that or was it something perhaps more tragic?

I could go on and on, of course, but what I’m trying to say (in a very long-winded way, apparently) is that you can only reveal some of these pieces of your subject, of that person, but they in their entirety, will never surface. I suppose that’s why human figure has been the most used subject matter in the history of art. Humans are beautiful, constantly aging, constantly changing, growing, shrinking, crying, smiling forces of life, and above all, ever-slipping out of the hands of artists.

What’s your creative process like?

I try to be as autonomous as possible when making art. It is a fact that when you get inside your own head too much, or become too conscious of what you’re seeing or making, it will turn out shitty (pardon my french). I’ve always been ridiculously anal about my art, and in the past, I was so self-aware that I was constantly ready to throw away everything at any given moment. When I created things I did like, I held onto them for dear life.

As I’ve gotten older and more skilled, I’ve come to realize 2 things— I have to shut down if i’m to make anything worthy of keeping, and I have to be willing to throw a piece out, even if it’s one I’ve worked on for 100 hours, in order to move forward and get better. For example, I just recently tossed a painting that I had put at least 400 hours into because once it was finished, I decided it simply wasn’t a keeper.

When I am painting, I blast music as loudly as I can manage to drown out the voice of my consciousness, load my brush with paint, and just do it. I literally tune out and move my arm. If I don’t stop the physical act of painting, I won’t have the chance to second guess myself. It’s almost like I black out and go into this frenzied state of mind. Then the next thing you know, 5 hours later, I’m stepping back and I’ve got a huge portion of my piece done. It’s like waking up from a great dream or finishing sex— it’s just a blur of ecstasy and you’re left with the remnants of it.

Which mediums do you prefer to work with? Has this changed at all over the years?

I have used graphite pencils for most of my life, mainly because they’re what’s most accessible when you’re growing up. However, since taking my first college painting class, I’ve been using strictly oil paints when it comes to my own work (meaning work done outside of class assignments). They are so unbelievably sensual! They are so saturated with pigment, with color, and I can get so thick and aggressive with my strokes. Oils embody everything I try to do in my work—sensuality, sexuality, rawness, flesh—all things visceral and primal.

What’s been your favorite piece so far?

I have to say, the current series that i’m working on contains my favorite pieces. I’m working very large, ranging from 5×6’ to 5×8’, and the subjects are all young male nudes.  This series is a critique on the sexualization and subjugation of women in art via gender reversal and undertones of sexual fluidity.

In each piece, I have one male subject either standing or reclining nude in a pose that suggests vulnerability, but also a certain coyness or sense of longing. They each have their respective facial hair, but also lack at least armpit hair, leg hair, chest hair, etc. They are also each adorned in fine fabrics and materials— glossy satins, furs, floral bedding, and so on, and they wear multiple pieces of jewelry. In some, the subject makes eye contact with the viewer in a very confrontational way. In others, viewers can only see the subject’s big, sumptuous body as his face is hidden from sight.

There are layers and layers of symbolism and meaning in each piece that would honestly need a separate interview to cover, so I’ll sum up by saying that I really like how they are all coming out. I can’t say that I like any of them more than the others, which I suppose is a pretty great problem to have at the moment!

Who are your influences?

I love Willem DeKooning, Jenny Saville, Lucien Freud, John Singer Sargent, Manet, Matisse, Eric Fischl- I could keep going, but those are some painters I’ve been looking at a lot lately.

What’s your greatest challenge as an artist? Have you ever had a dry spell or hit a point where you couldn’t paint? How did you work through it?

I find that the hardest part for me is coming up with a concept. I know what I like to paint and how I like to paint, but what matters less to me is why I want to paint. Coming up with an idea that I have to work through visually is so difficult at times, and whenever I try to come up with such an idea, I always end up changing my mind half a dozen times before it’s done. My current concept, for example, took me a very long time to land on, and is the last of several ideas I’ve come up with.

Once I do get going, I run into points where I feel as though I’ve hit a wall, and it is then that I can’t go on any longer. If I can’t seem to paint something in a way that I like no matter how many times I’ve tried, I have to force myself to step away and take a break. as long as I step back for a couple days and refresh myself, I usually find I’ve subconsciously figured out my visual puzzle on my own by the time I pick up the brush again.

How important is it for you to be surrounded by a community of other artists? Are you more of a lone cabin in the woods person or bohemian collective type?

My friends are, for the most part, artists or musicians who share that same bohemian sense of spirit that I do, and we do spend a lot of time together. Our time gives me ideas and gives me the opportunity to relax enough to work through any visual issues I may have going on, but when I’m actually painting, I much prefer to be alone. Like I said before, I need to tune out and just paint if I’m going to make anything acceptable, so if there are people around, even if they are close friends, it’s another distraction from getting to that autopilot zone.

You’re one of the most fashionable people I know. Can you speak a bit about what influences your personal style, or what style means to you?

I love clothes! It’s actually kind of a problem…As a visual person, I think it’s obvious  that what you wear is a very easy way to show other people something about yourself. Style is important to me because it is yet another tool that I have to communicate with those around me without saying anything at all, and that’s a very exciting idea to me!

Personally, I love clothes that balance structure and line, and that contain unexpected interactions of color and texture. I find that sort of thing most in 60s mod fashion, but of course I try to give it a contemporary twist. For example, one of my favorite outfits consists of black lace-up ankle boots, black sheer tights, burnt-rust colored high-waisted shorts, a cream-colored tank, and a blazer with black burlap exterior and satin lining. I try to keep things comfy, yet interesting and well-fitted, so that maybe I’ll come across as more put together than I actually am (ha!).

If could give your younger self advice, what would you say?

I’d tell myself not to hold on to my failures so much and move on! I’d also tell myself to be more honest with others, and above all, myself. I wish I realized earlier on in life how much easier and fulfilling it is to just accept yourself and your wants, needs, aspirations, and feelings as they truthfully are, rather than trying to please everybody else. You’ve really gotta live for you, you know?

What’s hard about being an artist living today, in America in 2015? Alternately, what’s great about it?

Nowadays, I think the hardest part of being an artist is that it sort of feels as though everything’s already been done. It’s much, much, much more difficult to break new ground now without empty shock value tactics, especially for a figurative artist like me. “Figure is dead”, they say. Oh well—I like what I like, right?

On the other hand, there are so many opportunities out there for young artists with the accessibility of art school and the internet. It’s so easy to meet other artists, look at famous art, become educated, travel, have your own shows, promote yourself—there are endless ways to enjoy life as an accomplished artist even if you’re not inventing new kinds of art. There’s such a wonderful collective unconscious among artists now, and it’s so easy to get in touch with people who could have an amazing influence on you, and vise versa!

Anything else you want to add?

I want to thank both the beautiful and talented young women who’ve given me the chance to put my work on their site, and to talk about my creative processes. Thanks, ladies!

Ashlynn, we’re lucky to have you! Thank you so much for the conversation.

To learn more about Cedrone and her process, see this profile, and this video of her at work (she’s also promised to send us some photos of her present work so you can see). And soon, you’ll be able to check out her work on our blog–she’s going to be the illustrator for our weekly Virtual Toast series!

xox E

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