Pop artist Ashley Longshore is like a piece of pop art herself. She wears wacky colors and enormous oversized jewelry, Instagrams herself skiing naked, and swears like a sailor with the voice of a sweet Southern belle. Her recently published book, You Don't Look Fat, You Look Crazy: An Unapologetic Guide to Being Ambitchous, says it all in the title.
But while it’s easy to get distracted by the glitter smeared across her canvases, or the celebrities who are buying up her paintings like they’re candy, Longshore’s art is about something quite deep. She exposes and critiques the ugly side of the American dream. So how does a woman who loves Chanel handbags get away with making fun of consumer culture?
I loved all the stories in your book about you struggling to get by as a young painter.
Well, thanks! I’m trying to keep it real. The old America for women was about making everything look perfect -- perfect house, perfect body, perfect dinner. But now that women have all this opportunity, it’s the imperfection that brings us closer together. What I did in my 20s was really fucking stupid, so I want to show young women how I got to where I am now.
That means a lot to me as a 25-year-old who feels like she’s fucking up all the time!
Your 20s are hard. You don’t have any money, you don’t know where you’re going. But those years are when you build character.
What kind of young women are your fans?
They’re serious! They wanna be doctors, lawyers, engineers. My fans aren’t just going to college to get drunk and find a husband. When I was your age, I didn't care about art, all I cared about was dick and weed!
In this political climate, we can go two ways: I can get really scared and depressed, or I can get excited about how fired up all these young women are getting. This is the time for women. Trump really magnifies that. We can’t just sit on our asses, we have to go to work.
Your parents sent you to an all-female boarding school as a teenager. How did that impact your view of women?
I realized I’m the type of girl who loves to be surrounded by beautiful, successful women. I want to ask them, “How do you deal with fear?” Women are such intuitive, giving beings. One of my friends had me in the delivery room recently. I watched her give birth and I thought, wow! This is one of the most spiritual things of my life.
In your book, you write that you once got an angry message from a woman who accused you of hating women in your art.
Sometimes people don’t get it. I have a sign on my gallery now that says “She Took A Xanax, Stole His Amex And Bought Everything.” A woman last week came in and said, “Conservative women do not steal Amexes. They ask their husband’s permission.” Well, I said, “You don’t get me. I’m poking fun at women who do that sort of shit.”
You’re critical in your art of superficiality and consumer culture. Do you think all women should work?
This is the best country in the world with the most opportunity. I’ve been to India, Asia, and there is no better country to be a woman than the United States of America. How can you just sit around doing pilates and going out to lunch every day? It isn't fucking 1965. It’s fucking 2017, do something!
Look, I’d be lying if I said there weren't days when the phone is ringing off the hook, people waiting on commissions, half-painted paintings on the easel, and I don’t think, phew, what I wouldn't give to be in a bubble bath after a pilates class. But fuck that shit. It feels so good to work for it. We’re Americans, dammit, that’s what we fucking do. We work.
Amen. Where do you think you get your work ethic from?
Part of it is fear. There was a time when I’d deliver food for my friend’s catering company for $25. I’d go to Home Depot and build my own canvases. And I loved that part of my life. But I never want to live like that again. One day I’m gonna fucking die. And I’m aware I won’t have enough time in my life to do all that I want to do. So I have to work.
Movie stars and hedge funders are your clients. But your art mocks status and greed. Why do you think Wall Street dudes like art that makes fun of capitalism and the pursuit of money and luxury?
Because it's brutally honest. In America, we have this dream of making money, having all the right shit. My clients work their asses off to make money, but they get the sense of humor in the struggle.
In America, it’s “look at me, buying this.” It’s a new money thing. It's amazing to go from not being able to pay your fucking rent to that infinite American possibility of making your fucking dreams come true. When I’ve had shows in Switzerland and Antwerp, those people who come out have had money in their families for a very long time. People don’t pull out black Amexes and flash them when I sell art in other countries. They wire money.
Fascinating. I guess that’s old money.
And I’m trying to capture that American ambition from the female perspective. The new American woman who flies in her own fucking jet.
Your book is a beautiful half memoir, half coffee table book. How did it come together?
After all the social media success and the attention I've gotten, Judith Regan, an amazing woman and publisher, said to me, “God, Ashley, I think you’re hilarious and refreshing and talented, tell me what you want.” I was like, “Well, shit! Let’s do a fucking book.”
We were thinking about a coffee table book. Then Judith said, “You know what, let’s tell your story.” And so I started telling her all these stories that are now in the book about meeting rich assholes, about the security guard in the Bowery Hotel who had to come up and knock because I was sobbing so loud. Those were really hard moments, but it’s fun now to tell them. When you can get through that shit, you can get through anything.
The cover is a self-portrait of you dressed as Wonder Woman. How’d you decide on that?
I was fired up -- we were about to have our first female president (and that’s still going to happen, by the way), -- and I was like, this has to be on the cover. The scariest thing in the world for me is to expose my naked body, but I love me. I’m not a size two. Oprah didn't get to be Oprah by looking like Halle Berry.
Oprah’s a great example of that authenticity you exude. She was honest about her weight struggle and used it to connect to her fans.
Right, it's the real shit that works. Not, “Look at me in my big fucking house. Look at my perfect huge diamond.” What we want are real fucking stories. And a story starts when shit goes wrong.
Self-branding gets a bad rap these days. Social media has turned everyone who's creative into 140 characters and a few filtered photos. How you keep your brand authentic?
When I think of branding, I think of me going “fuck no” to someone who tries to make me sell out. I’m gonna do it my way, and my way is colorful, it’s glossy, it's sparkly. I'm not gonna make fucking iPhone cases.
You have a bunch of celebrity fans like Salma Hayek, Penelope Cruz. You have a book, you run your own gallery in New Orleans. Have you officially “made it?”
Success to me is being able to be with myself, feel good about what I've done, not be an asshole, not owe anybody any fucking money.
That’s what I expected you to say. I've read articles about you and it seems like people want to hear how you're friends with Blake Lively. Which is cool, I like her and all, but it sounds like you were happiest when you sold your first painting.
Let me tell you something about me. I get invited to these fancy parties. You know where I end up? In the fucking kitchen, hanging out with the help. I can't stand the mindless cocktail party talk. Let’s get a bottle of wine and talk about shit, man. Let’s get fucking real, you know?
All images courtesy Ashley Longshore
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Liz Posner is a lifelong writer, editor, media critic, and progressive advocate. She writes frequently about feminism, education, race, and social justice issues. Liz has worked as an editor for Idealist, a managing editor for Odyssey, and a news writer for Bustle. Her writing has also been published at Refinery29, JNS, The Times of Israel, the Jewish Voice, TeacherPop, Crack the Spine, Down in the Dirt, Dead Snakes, and 50 Word Stories. While working as a high school Spanish instructor with Teach for America in Memphis, Tennessee, she wrote a novel about inner-city students and teachers. Her story “Habibi” received Honorable Mention in Memphis Magazine’s 2015 Fiction Contest. Follow her at www.lizposner.com and on Twitter @elizpos.