Interview with the Artist: Ashley Woodson Bailey
Ashley took the time to sit down for an interview and answer questions regarding her inspiration, motivations, and personal love of flowers and “florography”. Below is a transcript of her interview that she hopes will give clients a glimpse into her heart and mind and how she approaches her creative practice.
Q: How did you begin your photography work?
A: After suffering extensive injuries from a head on collision in 2012, I was left largely immobile in a back brace and mentally jarred. I didn’t feel quite like myself, but to distract from the boredom of recovery and pain caused by the accident I began taking photos of the flowers my friends and family gave me. It began as a casual hobby, taking photos, editing them, and saving them- knowing I could return to them the next time I picked up my phone- and evolved into a major passion, which has since become an entire career. It’s amazing when good things can emerge from such horrible events, what light can come from the darkness.
Q: What does “florography” mean?
A: Florography is a term my friend Megan Morton developed while I was traveling to Australia to teach. She merged “flowers” and “photography” to create one word that is equally made up by the two terms, which I think is a wonderful encapsulation of my work. Flowers and photography are the basis of everything I do, and her term, which she has so graciously allowed me to use as my main descriptor for my art, does an excellent job of getting to the heart of what I do with an effective uniqueness.
Q: How did you decide to develop your prints into wallpapers, fabric, and clothing?
A: Well, the start of AWB was a complete accident. I used photography to distract myself during a time of pain and darkness, and decided to document the beauty I could find in the world around me in the form of flowers. In its earliest stages, AWB was a hobby, a distraction. But as I began launching I realized how many people adore the Dutch Master style of still life documentation, particularly their portrayal of flowers in rich, emotional hues. At the same time, wallpaper was coming back into style and I thought my photograph Dutch Love, named after the Masters from which its dark and moody colors are paying homage to, would make an incredible pattern.
On my first trip to Sydney, Australia I met a wonderful Tasmanian girl named Sophia who has been my wallpaper wizard from the very start. She would take my images and help me develop them into wallpaper patterns, and watching her creative mind at work was truly exhilarating. I knew that I was on the verge of launching something unlike anything else available on the market.
I have also always been a lover of design, whether it be fashion, interior, sculpture, architecture, etc.. Once I launched my wallpaper, I also launched a capsule collection of clothing with my dear friend Brooke Atwood. God, I really loved that collection. If I could design clothing all day I would, but working on interiors isn’t a bad gig.
The fabric launch has been a bit more drawn out for me. I adore the richness and versatility of fabric, and every single pattern I offer can be printed onto fabric to offer a full selection for my customers. I tend to focus the most on the wallpaper, simply out of habit as it’s what I started with and what most people come to me for, but every endeavor into new mediums has been an adventure I cherish.
Q: What are your favorite flowers? What flowers feature most frequently in your work?
A: I love so many different flowers, but peonies, ranunculus, bearded irises, and poppies are my all-time favorites. You’ll see peonies and poppies pop up the most frequently in my work, though I make sure to include a wide array of flowers, both local and exotic, throughout my work.
Q: Do you have any personal favorite pieces?
A: Honestly, a lot of my favorites aren’t even on my website yet. I have so many images that if I were to post them all, no one could sort through them all and pick one!
I will say, my very favorite piece is Tainted Love. There is so much personality and emotion in the movement of that poppy, in the wrinkles of its petals and the dramatic lighting that makes it appear almost paper-thin, bold and delicate all at once. I have plenty of other favorites that hold a special place in my heart, just a few of them being Walking on a Red Cloud, June, Blue Peony, Woman on Fire, Revolution, Wonder, and The Calm Before the Storm.
Q: What are some of your major sources of inspiration?
A: My biggest inspiration is the flower itself. I can spend a thousand dollars on flowers that I know will die in a week without a second thought, but would be consumed with worrying about spending that much on a dress. Most people think it’s a pretty backwards way of thinking, but there is nothing I like more than a cold flower wholesaler with rows and rows of beauties to admire.
Flowers are incredible because they’re always changing. On the individual level, flowers decay and age in a pretty short period, so I enjoy capturing the stages of aging a flower goes through and witnessing it settle into different stages of beauty throughout its life cycle. On a larger scale, flowers are changing because of the unbelievable ingenuity of people in the flower field. Growers are always developing new hybrid forms of flowers and inventing creations with unique flares that you wouldn’t believe, and it fills me with so much joy to see these new types of flowers come out and get to include them in my work.
My second biggest inspirational source is fashion, I just love everything about it. I love seeing what designers come out with each season, and watching design houses evolve and shift over time. If I had a million dollars, I would most likely spend it on Haute Couture. I look to Pierpaolo Piccioli, the Design Director for Valentino, and Alessandro Michele at Gucci, for inspiration.
My South Texas upbringing also has an undeniable impact on my art and is a constant source of inspiration. We lived in Alice, Corpus Christi, Nacogdoches, and Galveston. My first introduction to flowers was the honeysuckle, which is actually a weed, but if you smell it and taste it you’ll want it all over your home. Austin is where I landed for college, and where I dove deep into the art world and began to live on my own. Art History was my major and Art was my minor and my favorite course, interestingly enough, was 3D Art. I had to build a three-dimensional sculpture for my final grade and it remains, to this day, my favorite piece I have ever created. You know, arranging flowers is creating a sculpture, it just won’t last forever. So I document my sculptures as I make them and the result is my florography.
Q: What do you hope people take away from your work?A: My work is meant to evoke all sorts of emotions. Whether it be a reminder of your bridal bouquet or your mom’s favorite flower, it is all about remembrance, nostalgia, and memorializing special moments. Flowers are all the women in my life, in all ages and stages. Bright and happy, sad and lonely, wrinkled yet vibrant, dying or freshly born. I want people to feel all of these things- to witness life in growth, decay, and ever-present beauty- in my work. It is so much more than pretty flowers.