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Art & Art History
University of Mississippi

Q&A with Ashley Smith (MFA Sculpture)

Introduce yourself and tell us where you are from.
Hello, my name is Ashley Smith, and I am from a small town in the middle of several wheat fields called Hays, Kansas!

What attracted you to the graduate program at the Department of Art & Art History?
I was attracted to the idea of getting to work on the Yokna Sculpture Trail, and I got a good assistantship when I applied! I also knew Stacey Rathert a bit before coming here, so that was a plus!

What type of artwork do you create and can you explain your process?
I work in both 2D and 3D. I make cast iron and forged sculptures alongside several rust prints. My process is pretty fun, I get to play with fire! I start by making patterns out of crumpled paper, and then I take these patterns and make sand molds. These sand molds are made of fine sand mixed with resin to be hardened enough to hold the negative of a shape. Once I get these patterns into the sand, I get to do the fun part and pour liquid cast iron into them! When they cool off, I have these crumpled paper forms in solid metal. I clean these castings up with some power tools such as an angle grinder! Once cleaned up, I let my castings sit out in the rain to develop beautiful rust all across them. I also do blacksmithing. This method allows me to make a straight and rigid piece of metal into something full of movement and life. These forged pieces are then polished to create contrast with my rusty cast iron forms. My prints are made from the shavings that come off my castings during the clean-up stage! I take these shavings and sprinkle them onto the paper I am using. I then saturate the paper and the shavings with a vinegar mixture that allows the rust to happen quicker.

Could you tell us about your MFA thesis?
My thesis revolves around creating visually pleasing compositions through the use of the principles and elements of design such as unity, balance, pattern, movement, contrast, line quality, shape, and texture. While these compositions focus on these principles and elements, my own personal mental health influences how the compositions are created and compliment the works through both hard and soft arrangements.

Could you describe a favorite memory here in the department?
I think my most favorite memory is right before the pandemic happened. All the grads that were here at that time gathered in my studio space to watch a movie and hang out!

Which professors inspired you the most during your time here as a student?
Definitely Lauren Cardenas and Stacey Rathert. Lauren taught me a lot about mark-making through printmaking and changed how I approach many of my works, even in sculpture. Stacey helped me get through a lot of creative art blocks I would have, and her energy in the classroom/studio always got me jazzed to be here.

Do you have any advice for incoming undergraduate/graduate art students?
To anyone thinking about graduate school; don’t be afraid to take that time off in between graduate and undergraduate school! These last few years have been rather difficult, and there is nothing wrong with taking time to collect yourself before taking a leap into something new. When you do look at graduate schools – be sure to give yourself several options and go see the schools you’re interested in! Seeing them in person will change your perspective on those schools, and your least favorite school could be the one that gives you a really good assistantship. Don’t be afraid to reach out to the current graduate students at the school you’re interested in and ask them what they think!

These past couple of years have been crazy. Did the pandemic affect your life as an artist or your artwork? If so, in what ways?
The pandemic made a big difference in my work over these years! Because of certain limitations, I was forced to explore a medium I was not familiar with at all. While the medium did not make it to my thesis work, I learned a lot when it came to composition and how to make hard and rigid things into something softer.

Do you have any hobbies outside of the art department?
I play a lot of video games with my fiance and hang out with my cats. We play Minecraft and Minecraft Dungeons a lot together. When we are not playing that, we take turns playing my all-time favorite game series Horizon Zero Dawn and the sequel Horizon Forbidden West. We also play a lot of Elden Ring and I will occasionally play Pokemon Legends Arceus.

Do you have any big plans after graduation?
I have major plans when I graduate! I will be moving back to Kansas with my fiance where we will be starting a Non-Profit Organization. We are going to be making a sculpture trail that has a foundry on-site to do workshops, while also offering a maker space for the community to come hang out and make art with us! Be sure to keep your eyes open for Spirit Sculpture Garden and Makerspace coming soon! While I am doing the Non-Profit, I will also be teaching at Smith Center Jr./Sr. High School as their high school art teacher!

What is your favorite thing about Oxford or the University?
Honestly, probably the amazing food.

What type of music do you listen to while you create art?
It honestly depends on the mood I am in that day and what I am doing. If it is rust printing I tend to listen to more mellow LoFi music, but if I am hammering out some steel or smashing iron in the iron pile I put on heavy metal to get me pumped and ready to let out some stress.

What’s your favorite thing to watch while being a couch potato?
If I am not busy gaming, I will be watching a lot of Minecraft Youtubers and the hilarious content they put on their channels.

What’s your go-to restaurant in Oxford?
It’s a toss-up! I love Toyo, Oby’s, Zaap Thai, and Handy Andy’s! They all have something really good, and they’re all a little different from one another to mix things up.

Can we find you on social media?
You sure can! My Instagram is @smith_sculpture, and my website is I am really bad about posting on Instagram, but anyone is welcome to reach out and chat!

“Oxidized” will be on display in Gallery 130 from April 25–29, 2022.
Q&A Interview conducted by Frank Estrada. Photos provided by the artist.