Ashley Cathey is a painter whose creative journey began with performing arts before she was eventually encouraged to develop her visual art talents, which, up until then had been purely for her own personal edification, by exhibiting in Chicago before returning to her native Louisville. She came to prominence when ArtsReach commissioned Cathey to create a series of portraits for their annual Keepers of the Dream celebration at the Kentucky Center for the Arts. In 2016 her work was featured on the cover of LEO Weekly as part of an extensive story on artists of color in Louisville.
Cathey is currently featured in Looking Up: Heroes For Today – An LVA Exhibit at Metro Hall, which is on exhibit through January 11, 2019 at Louisville’s Metro Hall, 511 West Jefferson Street. The work included there consists of portraits of Women Of Color in acrylic and oil, striking in their use of non-traditional colors for skin tones and an almost complete omission of the hair. While the faces are rendered in rich, graphic layers of texture, where the hair would be Cathey has left mostly empty space, with perhaps a few marks to indicate the shape or direction of the women’s hair.
“So often Black women are judged by their hair, and I wanted to take that away and let them be judged for themselves. I didn’t want to focus on their color or their hair,” explains Cathey, “but on the colors of the paint, the expression on the face.”
“I wanted to do portraits of people that aren’t often acknowledged, such as single mothers. They are rarely, if ever represented at all, much less for what they accomplish: raising kids, feeding a family - simple things that many of us take for granted, but for which some of these women are heroic acts.”
Cathey’s portraits are largely these kind of “ordinary” women for whom just living can seem like an act of courage: surviving against economic challenges and fighting an uphill battle just to make it through the day. They include refugees and immigrants for who home is no longer viable.
But some of her subjects are women striving to make a difference in the community that surrounds them, people such as Dr. Kaila Story, who is Associate Professor in both the Department of Pan-African Studies and Department of Women's & Gender Studies at the University of Louisville. “Her work on Strange Fruit (a weekly podcast of musings on politics, pop culture, and black gay life, that is broadcast on WFPL) is so important,” says Cathey. “There is not always a voice of color when it comes to dealing with LGBTQ issues.”
Hometown: Louisville, Kentucky
Education: Studied theatre at Roosevelt University, Chicago, Illinois
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Written by Keith Waits. Entire contents copyright © 2018 Louisville Visual Art. All rights reserved.