In Times of Tumult, an Artist Paints for Unity

Arts & Culture


As society continues to grapple with divisive issues surrounding race, one recent transplant to the Sarasota area is poised to throw her voice into the fray. As an artist that is biracial, indigenous and queer, Ashley Gillam is uniquely positioned to reconcile the beauty and the horror of the unique set of extrinsic and intrinsic circumstances that make us us. Her body of work taps into her own intersectionality and expresses a message of hope and compassion for the viewer, though not without first engaging her audience with difficult questions.

“I took a few years of premed classes in college,” says Gillam, “and I became interested in our internal anatomy, which can be beautiful and disgusting at the same time.” For Gillam, a preoccupation with blending disparate elements comes naturally. A series of paintings tentatively called her “Mouth Series” makes use of her acquaintance with internal anatomy. It features gaping mouths with internal organs inside rendered in the reds, pinks and beiges of the human body. The teeth add a touch of menace while the lips and organs contribute to a sense of vulnerability. It is simultaneously magnetic and repulsive, but for Gillam, that’s the point. “I want to make art that is visually appealing but also draws the viewer into a line of questions that maybe aren’t so easy to answer,” she says.

Her “Intersection” series speaks more directly to the convergence of the many parts of her identity. The series juxtaposes Western techniques with the geometric forms of tribal art from Africa and the Americas to render bold female images in various shades of brown. “As someone with a Caucasian, Black and indigenous background, I want to put these different identities into one body,” she says. Her efforts to unite these identities in herself has helped yield a collection that celebrates her unique perspective as a person of color, but the piece that showcases the full scope of her range comes from her painting titled, “Flesh” (pictured above).

This piece captures the ultimate, more timely aim of her work, particularly in light of the ongoing protests for police reform. It glows with hope, its subject seeming to meditate on how to turn that hope into a new reality. “People are angry right now,” she says, “but we’re angry because we so much desire love, and in softening that anger we’ll find a solution.”

Gillam is one of several artists that will be featured as part of “Attention Please: Amplifying LGBTQ+ and BIPOC Voices and Visibility,” The Harvey Milk Festival’s art exhibition that opens on July 17th with virtual viewings and limited in-person viewings at Ligon Fine Art.

Click here for to see more from the artist.

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