Open Frequency 2010: Edwina Ashton selected by Simon Morrissey

Open Frequency 2010: Edwina Ashton selected by Simon Morrissey Edwina Ashton, New unusual and ready to go, 2008. Watercolour, ink and biro on sugar paper. 282 x 264 cm

Director of WORKS|PROJECTS, Bristol, Simon Morrissey profiles the work of London-based artist Edwina Ashton

Edwina Ashton is best known for her exquisite and ambiguous drawings - which can move from the sensitive to the savage within the turn of a line - and her perversely funny videos.

Her work shares the peculiarly dark magic of offbeat children’s classics like The Muppet Show, where people interact with talking puppet animals and cartoonish curiosities without batting an eyelid, and where the superficially playful surface hides serious concerns with how we construct our own identity, and cope with its vulnerability within the flux of relationships.

The almost aching sense of frustration embedded in individual acts of social positioning and inter-personal connection are captured by Ashton with a sensitivity that can be both heartbreaking and hilarious. In the video ‘Business Section’ (2006), a caterpillar sitting on a park bench vainly attempts to read the financial papers, despite its lack of hands and a strong wind; whilst in ‘Flossie and Duffield’ (2003), a rather hesitant gentleman in Victorian dress invites a monstrous maggot-type creature into his greenhouse and attempts to woo it with salad he has grown. ‘I've tried to make it nice for you’, he says. The maggot simply ignores him, seemingly separated as much by indifference as lack of understanding.

In Ashton’s signature drawings, fragments of handwritten prose economically suggest the same kind of dysfunctions. Next to an amorphously anthropomorphic brown shape, the legend ‘he went wrong early on despite everything’ suggests not only failure but also a cutting tone of disappointment. Two piggy faced simpletons stare out of a coffee-stained void above the phrase ’look at the lovely colours’. Another drawing simply declares in ridiculously elaborate script ’I Teach Writing’, as if that fact alone spoke of unfathomable forms of sophistication.

Edwina Ashton No More Furniture

Edwina Ashton, No More Furniture, 2010. Featuring galacticus, wood, cloth, plastic

Over the past two years Ashton has extended her distinctive vocabulary into new territories, for example creating her first animated film, ‘Mr Panz at Lake Leman’ (2010), which fuses her drawings with the painfully-distracted narratives common to her videos, in a study of fraying purpose. The distinctly improvised aesthetic of the characters and props in Ashton’s videos has also found more permanent form in new autonomous sculptures. In her recent exhibition, No More Furniture, at WORKS|PROJECTS, Bristol, ‘Galacticus’ and ‘Josephine’, the Roman centurion and his distant conquest, stand separated in mournful bewilderment; whilst the ambitious 'Who’s drinking your tea Sir? You Sir!', a 30-foot long carnival float created for Foreground’s Independent State project in 2009, fused sculpture and live performance. Here, more than a dozen maniacal insects ran riot in the cartoon library of a Victorian naturalist to a soundtrack of Aphex Twin and The Cramps.

These oblique and contradictory concoctions of material, character and narrative run through all of Edwina Ashton’s work. Infused with a distinctly British sensibility, where politeness lives cheek by jowl with deep eccentricity, her work unravels the perverse allure and quiet tragedy embedded in the rules that govern social interaction, in a manner that is delicate and demented in equal measure.

Simon Morrissey, June 2010

Artist's biography 

Edwina Ashton studied Fine Art at Goldsmiths College, London from 1993-1996. Recent exhibitions, screenings and performances include Rude Britannia: British Comic Art, Tate Britain, London; No more furniture, WORKS|PROJECTS, Bristol (solo); Shudder, Animate Projects/The Drawing Room, London (solo, all 2010); Independent State, Foreground, Somerset (solo); Gallery Termite, performance with Jordan Mckenzie and Aaron Williamson, Studio 1.1, London (solo); Animal Prospects, Georg Kolbe Museum, Berlin; Rotate, Contemporary Art Society, London; Drawing Tales, Citric, Brescia, Italy; From the Sublime to the Ridiculous, Teverina Fine Art, Athens; Creatures, Project Space, London; Pictopia, Pictoplasma, Berlin (all 2009).

Edwina Ashton’s work is represented in private collections in the UK, USA, Switzerland, Japan and Germany.

She lives in London and is represented by WORKS|PROJECTS.

About Simon Morrissey

Simon Morrissey is Director of WORKS|PROJECTS, the commercial gallery which he established in Bristol in November 2008, which represents a small stable of emerging and established British artists.

Simon is also curator at Foreground, the visual arts commissioning organisation he founded with Tabitha Clayson in 2007. Based in Frome, Somerset, Foreground realise temporary and permanently sited contemporary art projects in the South West of England that explore the relationship between art and its diverse settings and publics.

Educated at Warwick University (BA Hons History, MA European Cultural Policy & Administration), Simon worked at Ikon Gallery, Birmingham 1994-1996, and Matt’s Gallery, London 1996 – 1999. Since 1999, Simon has worked as an independent curator. His curated projects have been commissioned by leading public institutions and commercial galleries including The British Council; Arnolfini, Bristol; The Bowes Museum, County Durham; Forma, Newcastle/London; and Spike Island, Bristol as well as being produced as self-initiated projects.

He has written extensively on contemporary art & edited publications for numerous leading galleries and publishers in Britain and internationally. He contributed widely to UK art and architecture magazines and periodicals between 1995 & 2003.

Simon is also Senior Lecturer in Fine Art at University of the West of England, where he is a member of the PLACE research centre, which addresses recent theories of place, location, and context in contemporary visual art.

Open Frequency keeps you in touch with new developments in contemporary art practice from across the UK. The artists are selected and profiled by leading curators, artists and writers, presenting the work of artists to watch out for over the coming year. Open Frequency represents a forward-looking glance today of the artists who will be setting the agenda tomorrow.