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The art of loneliness

‘Drought’ among the offerings to debut at Living Arts’ New Genre festival

Ashli Ringgold

Tulsa Native Ashli Ringgold debuts “Drought: A Landscape Within” March 6 during the Brady Arts District’s First Friday Art Crawl.  

Curious by nature, Ringgold has been creating as long as she can remember, dabbling in writing and drawing and using art as a means to understand and circumstances around her. Now, she’s putting those same sensibilities to work in “Drought,” an installation at Living Arts that explores the interplay between self, nature and loneliness in a modern, technology-saturated world. 

The installation has been long in the making for Ringgold, who drew inspiration from living as a migrant worker across the U.S. over the past four years. From Alaska to Washington, New Mexico to Maine, Ringgold has wandered and immersed herself in new walks of life—sometimes in community, sometimes not. Constantly changing jobs and scenery has left her with a keen awareness of loneliness, nature and introspection—and their power to transform how we see the world. 

While working in the backwoods of Maine, Ringgold took many long, winding walks along empty paths in the wilderness. Without company, there was plenty of time to consider the concept of isolation. Although some might feel desolate in such a landscape, Ringgold found comfort, and it’s this same comfort that informs the work in “Drought.” 

“I felt comforted by the woods around me there,” she said. “And I felt that if I could emulate a small pocket of wilderness for people to find refuge, if even for a short time, it could be healing in some way.” 

Two years later, the project has evolved, but finding solace in solitude is still at the heart of Ringgold’s installation. 

Ringgold is no stranger to Living Arts, and her installation is a homecoming for the current Colorado dweller. The venue was first to showcase her work during her youth; and she’s excited to get back to town and debut the installation at the New Genre Arts Festival, which coincides with the Art Crawl. 

New Genre will highlight works from diverse, cross-disciplinary artists incorporating new media and technology. Other artists on the bill include Anh-Thuy Ngyuyen with “Thuy and Rice,” a video performance installation exploring Ngyuyen’s cultural heritage (and its implications and restrictions), and a memory-triggering installation of glass rods and painted urethane entitled “The You and The I” by Micaela De Vivero, among others.

Ringgold’s print work treads somewhere between playful mischief and dark maturity. Somber, conjuring images of decay play off moony, childlike doodles to create a vague, ageless quality in the work, rounded out by themes of wonder and hurt. It’s contradictory, but Ringgold sees such honest paradoxes as the spice of life (and art). 

“I think it takes a lot of bravery to be able to create artwork that speaks about one’s suffering, or about one’s place in life, more generally,” she said. “As an artist, when you get to that place, the possibilities are abundant because every life is like an infinite book with endless secret doors.”

In addition to installation, Ringgold often works in sculpture and printmaking (blue is showing up repeatedly in her current series). She’s also working on embroidery and coloring with natural dyes.  

When she’s not creating works for series or installations, Ringgold still manages to keep art at the center of her life. She’s finishing up a Bachelor of Fine Arts in Colorado, and she hopes to pursue a Master of Fine Art after graduation. Ringgold also works to finance her art, and the jobs inform many of her pieces. 

“They [odd jobs] give me ideas for creating,” she said. “Right now, I’m a housekeeper, and I’m sure I’m quietly collecting little inspirations for future pieces yet to be known.”

This simplicity—an affable willingness to embrace the mundane—shows in her approach to the creative process and in the finished product. But that’s not to say it doesn’t leave an impression—or an invitation to explore.

“I want viewers to take a sense of awe away from my installation,” Ringgold said. “Perhaps not necessarily for the piece itself, but for the world again, and the world within themselves.” 

Drought: A Landscape Within // Installation by Ashli Ringgold // March 6-April 23 // Living Arts, 307 E. M.B. Brady Street 

For more stories like this, read Molly Bullock's feature on the young artists of Momentum 2014 or Cheyenne Butcher's story about Dia de los Muertos. Want more from Megan? Check out her stories on The Wood Brothers and Railroad Earth.

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