Characters in paintings represent thoughts, feelings

Ashley Pierce really puts herself into her work.

No, really. Those characters, especially the ones with the horns, that, along with a rich color palette and a sense of mischievous whimsy that make Pierce's work immediately identifiable, are most often the artist herself.

“I'd say 85 percent of my work is self-portrait,” Pierce said in an interview at her home studio. “And then [my son], Harvey, shows up, too,” she adds, motioning to the large piece on her work table that features white rabbits. (Yes, her son is named for Elwood P. Dowd's invisible friend.)

The work — “characters” included — represents not so much the artist as thoughts, ideas and feelings.

“It's what I'm going through or feeling. Especially the horns — they indicate something that's not quite … solid. There's a suggestion with the horns that there's something you can't quite put your finger on,” Pierce said.

“All of my art is a response to something I'm dealing with, or a story, or things that are going on in the world. It's a stream of consciousness. It comes from the everyday,” she said. “The work is something I need to do, to get it out of me and be done with it. It's a way for me to acknowledge what I'm thinking about.”

What Pierce has been thinking about includes the environment (specifically, the flooding following this summer's hurricanes), the recent solar eclipse and how looking up brought us together even briefly, stuff that's happening at work (Pierce leads art sessions through the Columbus Center for Human Services, a provider for adults with developmental disabilities) and things that her friends are going through. How those things inform Pierce's work gives a deeper insight into the artist.

“Art is very exposing,” Pierce said. “Most of my pieces are sad. I'm not a sad person. But happy is a kind of in-the-moment thing. Sadness is something you have to process. Home life, work life… having people die is something that happens all the time in my field.”

A self-taught artist, Pierce paints watercolor on wood boards, adds texture (with a Dremel woodworking tool) and sprays to seal and add “pop.” She works out of her home while listening to 33 RPM records on a turntable, because, she said, listening to a full record without skipping songs feels like experiencing an artist's complete work.

“I've got my records and my coffee and my Dremel. I can just make stuff,” said Pierce, who is preparing for her first solo show in two years. “It's fun to share [my work], and I really like it when people connect with the work. But even if there weren't a show, I'm gonna make it, no matter what.”