LA Lesbian Artist Ashleigh Sumner Rocks Art Space Warehouse
When Ashleigh Sumner first moved to Los Angeles, it was with the same goal as everyone else: to make it big as an actress. But instead of driving fast through the Hollywood Hills, Sumner slowed down to check out the street art populating the downtown L.A. area. Now, this self-taught artist treks across the globe in search of inspiration, and her street-art inspired works are collected by the likes of actresses Vivica Fox and Robin Weigert. Her current collection of work is on exhibition at Gallery 825 on N. La Cienega Boulevard.
"You’re giving your baby away to a new home, in an odd way," said Sumner of her growing fame. "I met Vivica at an Obama fundraiser. She saw one of my pieces and commissioned me to do a piece for her. And Robin had seen an ’Angels in America’ piece interlaced with pages of the Bible and two big angels. She had played the angel in that show, so she bought that piece for her collection. She took something away from it that no one else would."
Sumner’s work blends street art with song lyrics, poetry or phrases. It is mixed media images stacked and torn to create layers upon layers of distressed imagery. She introduces acrylic paint, oil pastel and spray paint, stenciled images, poetry, symbols or words, and covers the final product with several coats of resin for a smooth finish.
Although she studied performance art in college, Sumner said that she has been interested in visual arts since she was a child, and was always doing it as a hobby. In her 20s, she picked up her brushes, and found that the principles she had learned in her acting classes could be applied to her paintings.
"When you’re an artist, you’re an artist; the creative throughline moves in everything," said Sumner. "I became able to emotionally access more, and put it on the canvas."
Her work really grew when she got a studio in downtown L.A. After a trip to Paris in January opened her eyes to the thrills of public art such as murals, she began to see her city in a new light.
"I love street culture in cities; I love to walk around cities because it gives me a lot of inspiration," she said. "And the downtown area, believe it or not, is one of few pedestrian cultures you’ll find in L.A. I feel like my urban environment teaches me a lot."
Sumner now travels around the globe searching for inspiration in urban areas, using her acting skills to translate her emotional responses to the canvas. She has also relocated her home to the downtown L.A. area, an industrial mecca of street art.
"I feel like that’s where the pulse of what’s going on in these communities is, more so than in galleries," said Sumner. "You can find inspiration just by walking around the corner. There is always something new."
Although she can’t say whether being openly lesbian has hurt or harmed her sales, Sumner notes that, "great art is rooted in truth, and if you are going to hide the core of who you are, it’s going to affect your art. I’ve always chosen to be out and honest, and I think that’s the key to being a great artist."
With Spring approaching, Sumner is now working with Red Bull for a March show where 20 artists create a canvas-wrapped cooler that will travel on tour as part of a community art project. She is also forging in new directions.
"My work right now is going through a change, and it’s the metamorphosis that I’m wrestling with a bit," said Sumner. "It’s exciting, but at the same time a bit challenging. I’m trying to find my way with this before I show it off to the world."
In the meantime, fans can wear some of Sumner’s art. In collaboration with Mark E. Walker and Gia Esquivel, she has designed Fi(e)rs (pronounced "Fierce,") a line of streetwear with everything designed, cut, screened and sewn by L.A. women.
"I love women, and it’s a closing line with the Mission Mantra to empower women," said Sumner, who is currently working on paintings to screenprint on the shirts. "It’s sort of my love note to downtown L.A."