As a Master of Fine Art and mother of four, Ashley Sauder Miller creates pieces with heart. They’re the type of works that requires patience and little bit of wonder as you look at them. Little by little, her mixed-media paintings reveal layers of detail, grit, and unexpected markings and materials. You’d never guess that her highly abstracted pieces draw most of their inspiration from objects that the rest of us (non-artistic folks) see at home every single day. Ashley’s distinct, subtlety detailed style is an incredible tribute to an artist that has honed her craft for years, and earned her the title of this week’s Artist You Need to Know.
Ashley works on a woven element of a mixed-media piece.
Vango: Why do you do what you do?
Ashley: I have been drawing ever since I can remember. I specifically remember drawing house plants as a grade schooler. I always knew I wanted to be an artist when I grew up. I come from a long line of makers – homemakers, house builders, photographers, cabinet makers, painters, seamstresses, chefs. Making things and using my hands is just in my blood. There were periods of time between the births of child #2 and #3 where I didn’t paint much, those times I really felt like a part of me was missing, like I was deprived of some essential element of my being.
V: What does home mean to you?
A: I come back to the idea of home over and over again in my work. Home as a place of beginning, as a place of safety, as the point where all things come together. As a child and grandchild of home builders, I think about the concept of home differently. It’s a place that you literally make from nothing.
V: Where did the idea of depicting chairs and bowls come from?
A: The bowls and chairs imagery happened organically. The chair imagery, specifically, developed from a practical need to fix the caning on an heirloom rocking chair. After the death of my grandmother, I was given her family rocking chair. After the caning was damaged, I thought I could teach myself to cane. I wove yarn, string, and cut up pieces of mixed media work on paper together to learn to cane. These finished pieces were beautiful and the process was satisfying. Some worked alone as finished pieces and others I began cutting apart and making them into chair paintings. An entire series, nearly 200 chair pieces developed from this process.
Two of Ashley’s large-scale, chair paintings as works in progress.
V: There’s so much pattern and texture – where does that come from?
The patterning, doing the same mark over and over again, mimics life. Returning to the same thought, doing the same task (taking care of young children often requires the same task to be repeated indefinitely). While the first marks don’t seem significant, eventually, when you step away from the mark making, all the collective marks make something remarkable. The texture naturally comes from some the pattern making. Texture comes from use of a variety of materials. I just love to butt two different textural spaces next to one another, slick and glossy next to rough and raw.
V: We know you have some little ones, how is being both mom and artist?
A: I have four children, ages 3, 5, 7, and 9. I am also the primary caregiver for them. I could write for days about motherhood and art practice, but in a nutshell, for me, they feel like one in the same. I am preparing for a solo show, Gently Forced addressing the complexities of being a mother artist.
One of Ashley’s four little ones spins around her mom’s work.
Amused by the beginnings of two very large chairs.
V: How does painting help preserve memories?
A: I think about objects preserving memories, an object triggers a memory. Memories fade and shift over time. They become what you want them to be. The same way with story telling (another way to preserve memories). With each re-telling of a story, the parts that you want to remember become embellished are make more significant.
V: If you could have your work hanging in one person’s home, who would it be?
A: Hmmm…I really thought about this for a while. I actually never imagine my work hanging in someone else’s home, even though much of it is destined to be on someone else’s walls. Can I just say everyone should have one of my pieces in their home? 🙂
Want to see more? Follow Ashley right here
to stay up-to-date on her work, and keep up with her process on instagram @ashleysaudermiller.
Tulip Chairs, 6″ x 6″, $100.
Special Box, 16″ x 48″, $1500.
Cover/Veil, 30″ x 40″, $1500.
Rocker, 30″ x 70″, $3000.
Her Chair, 6″ x 6″, $100.
Patterns of Sentiment (Here Again), 48″ x 48″, $1000.