Two years ago I met Ashley while waiting for friends at Threes Brewing in Gowanus. We struck up a conversation about beer, art and Brooklyn and were so engrossed in our conversation that when my friends arrived, she was immediately invited to join us for dinner. This would become a night you talk about throughout the years and what can only be described as an adventurous evening in conversation.
As we parted ways in the wee hours of the morning, we exchanged contact information - mainly so I could follow her and her career. When Covid hit, I would check in on Ashley sporadically. We weren't close friends, but I knew enough about her as an artist. She mainly works outside on murals, traveling to produce them in person. While the impact of the pandemic on artists was unimaginable, I felt it was deeper for Ashley, because she worked in neighborhoods interacting with people - often traveling to locations and doing workshops with at-risk youth. I knew she was itching to get back to Flint, Michigan to talk to those little girls and teach them more about drawing.
Artists have a delicate balance between what they can give to people of themselves in real life and what they give to us through their work. Their creations are personal, so I imagine the only true boundary they can find to protect themselves is to retreat at times into their work. Covid for many artists may have upset that mental health balance.
When I checked in with Ashley at one point, asking her if we could feature her on Ello, she was to my surprise, excited. Not because she isn’t confident in her work but because, like many of her peers, she struggles with self-promotion. There always seems to be a sense of being a fraud and not being authentic to yourself and your art. Once again - that tricky balance.
This is why I love Ello and Talenthouse. We have this rare opportunity to introduce you to people like Ashley, not just through their work, but through their point of view. After all, without realizing it, her work and many of her peers are the galleries of your commutes, walks or bike rides and, dare we say it, your selfies. And she is so much more too. She’s an advocate for kids who don't have access to the arts, an animator and writer with a witty and truly caring mind.
A few months ago, I told Ashley that I moved to Miami. She shared with me that many years ago she painted a mural at a Sunoco gas station just outside of Wynwood and was curious if it was still there. It turned out the gas station was close to my new place, so I hopped on my bike and rode over to see if it was still there. And there it was - peeling and faded by the brutal Miami sun, but a piece of her right in front of me.
In the months since, I find excuses to ride past the mural, to make sure it’s there and to watch Ashley’s work change and beautifully decay, but mainly to find an excuse to say to anyone that will listen “I know that artist, you should know her too. She has a lot to say - a lot to contribute. Her name is Ashley-Simone McKenzie.”
Want to hear from Ashley directly? Register for her Black Art Matters livestream interview taking place on Monday, February 15th at 7PM EST!
Stay up to date with the Black Art Matters curators and artists by visiting the Ello Blog.