Artist Talk: Aschely Vaughan Cone

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Free pizza with a huge upside! The first installment of the Artist Talk series highlighted a new visiting professor here on campus, Aschely Vaughan Cone. She has achieved great success with awards such as a matching scholarship for study at the Skowhegan School of Painting and Sculpture and the SMCM-MICA Artist House Teaching Fellowship. Cone has a BA in Liberal Arts and an MA in Art History. Her specialization is 19th century French painting, and she wrote her thesis on the early works of Edouard Manet. The artist talk was a wonderful and in-depth look at her past to present career as an artist, which is certainly a crazy ride!

An avid traveller who loves to be truly present among her subjects, Aschely Vaughan Cone loves taking adventures and aims to give people a sense of the landscape through her art. Her early works were really focused on observational painting, so she always painted on site. However, she is more attracted to capturing moderately harsh conditions that gave her an experience. This creates more of a story for a painting rather than just saying that you painted something at a location. A specific time in Alaska, she hiked two miles just to get to the spot she wanted to paint! The rough weather forced her to wear many layers of clothing, take breaks to sprint for warmth, and even thaw out her frozen paint. In 2013, she went to Switzerland with her mentor for what she thought was going to be a rather boring trip, but again she produced quite a lot of painting of the landscape in Switzerland. Just a year later, she went to Maine on the same quest for thrilling landscapes. She arrived at the rocky, granite cliffs of Cranberry Island where she was inspired again by the rough landscape.

Once she got to grad school at the Maryland Institute College of Art, she relaxed into a studio setting with an elaborate desk setup consisting of many knick-knacks and game pieces all strewn about the desk. This produced a lot of color and excitement in her work that was different than in nature where you tend to see a lot of the same colors. After this, there was a short period of time where she was more focused on text and the idea of “If the text could speak, what would it be saying?” She went from breathtaking views that not many people get to see to wacky text on canvas. In an interview, I asked if she could take me through her thought process on such a drastic change. “It was definitely a big shift for me,” she noted. “I had described in the talk working on the spot, always in front of the thing I was concerned with was really important to me and I kept doing that in grad school but, with set-ups in my studio…it just kinda wasn’t doing it for me anymore.” So then she decided to tackle the problem from a different angle. What does she want to communicate through her art? “I worked a lot with words because my undergraduate degree is in classics in philosophy, I did a Masters in art history and so…in terms of communicating for me, I felt like if I want to say something, I’ll write it.” It was at this point she described how she felt like she was deconstructing things in her practice. So she wrote them and described that they were turning into “these silly joke paintings.” She also knew that she wanted the painting to carry more force than what words can. Everything had been stripped away at that point being that she was adjusting to MICA coming from such fantastic locations as Alaska, Switzerland, and Maine. After that, her artistry did really pick back up. Her next focus was a much simpler approach with geometry and color but still in Cone fashion.

Speaking of Cone fashion, in 2015 she drove out 2200 miles and 32 hours to Southern Utah. The economy of the landscape and the power of the visual experience was a huge draw to the landscape there. Some people might think it rather crazy to just pick everything up and drive across the country but, for her, pursuing art is worth it!

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