When artist Ashley Oubre first began drawing, her subjects were often based on random photos she'd found online. In her own words, she was obsessed with perfecting her technical skill, so much so that she'd go on to place ads on Craigslist searching for models, or ask friends and strangers if she could snap their pictures.
From those shots, she would painstakingly draw her favorite parts -- a close-up of nostrils from one photo, the lips and hair from another. The resulting ink-on-paper works are hyperreal in their execution, yet they end up resembling slightly abstracted moments in time, frozen and zoomed in just enough to subvert the typical photorealistic trends. The negative space around her subjects swallows her images whole, infusing the portraits with what she calls an "airy quiet." Rather than producing a finished picture, she imagines scenes pulled from dreams both good and bad, her subjects part of some surreal narrative we're not yet privy to.
That narrative, it turns out, is something of an underdog story. In a past interview with The Washington Blade, the artist mentioned that she was drawn to subjects "that are damaged in some way." She elaborated in an email to The Huffington Post: "I love a good underdog story. The triumph at the end is wonderful, but I prefer the part where the character is some place downing vodka or home alone and jaded. It might be morbid, but who hasn’t had nights like that?"
In her drawings, Oubre seems to be imagining how a person finds themselves in moments of duress, whether the reason is illness, shame, heartache, loss or living paycheck to paycheck. "I love that these melancholy things connect us all despite age, race and distance," she added. "It may be in the form of a defeated stare or slouched, faceless frame, but that loneliness and ugliness and that shame and those drunken, awful stupors are very real and very humanizing."
Oubre says she wants to make art that dignifies "the often unpleasant (and sometimes whimsical) things we all experience." She cites lost love, self-loathing, resentment, misery, loneliness, suspension and human indignity as points of interest. As she's honed her craft, her mode of expression has teetered on the verge of hyperrealism, a fitting technique for her fascination with humanity.
"My take is that hyperrealism isn't art that mimics photography. It’s art that inspires senses of familiarity and surrealism in addition to appearing photo-like," she said. "Am I a hyperrealist? I wish. I’d love to be considered that. But I think my works have too many small telltale marks and weird smudges that won’t let them look too photorealistic, they are impressions of something recognizable ... familiar."
Oubre's disciplined method comes from years of trial and error. After taking an art history class at the age of 19, she entered into a complicated relationship with art making, first painting abstractly, then dabbling in mixed media. Eventually she began drawing with pencils and "things just popped," but this revelatory feeling was shortlived. "Dead-end jobs, years of feeling like an unaccomplished bum and unresolved feelings thwarted my art career," she admitted, but she eventually tried again.
"Last year I was signed to the Robert Fontaine Gallery and so many doors have opened since," she said. "I’m showing at SCOPE art Fair and Miami Project during Art Basel this year and after that is my next solo show in Miami followed by a group exhibit in Paris, and who knows what more. I’m hoping for the best and enjoying the ride."
All images courtesy of Ashley Oubre
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