Name: Ash Darq
Royal Title: Dark Surrealist Art Goddess
Buy her a Soy latte from Crunch Café in Thornbury
On the speakers – Staunch, Kodiak Kid, Chamberlain
Eating – When I’m being fancy: The banquet at Longrain, or the Pork Belly at Red Spice Road. Or, when I’m being fat the Hot Bird at 300 grams.
Drinking: Spicy Bloody Mary at the Thornbury Local
Melbourne’s Best Kept Secret – Jamsheed Urban Winery in Preston
On 4 December last year, dark surrealist art goddess Ash Darq finally managed to launch her much anticipated Exuviae exhibition at Honey Bones Gallery in Brunswick, with fellow Melbourne artists Zoë Rayne, Dean Herlihy and H.E.L Waters. It had been delayed three times due to the spicy cough.
“I’m really good at getting shit done,” she says.
“But getting constantly postponed was quite deflating,” she says.
“I found it hard to get my momentum back. I was so emotionally invested, it blew my buzz. Two weeks before this one, I was still thinking are we going to get to do this; it was hard to get myself to believe it so I could advertise and operationalise it properly. But I did, and I went hard. It was a massive success.”
Exuviae is all about re-emerging and shedding a skin, something that resonates with all of us after what we’ve endured these last couple of years.
“Hamish [H.E.L Waters] had the word written on his studio wall for years. When we were spitballing what we were going to call the show, this came up and we were all like yes!”
“When I first saw Hamish’s paintings at Tanglewood, I thought, oh my god this person has painted the inside of my brain. Except they’re way more tech at painting than me!”
Ash attributes the success of the Exuviae exhibit to the fact that the artists she was working with had the same vision. They had been part of festival galleries and aligned with doof culture, but weren’t bringing the typical visionary paintings in the bright psychedelics you’d usually see. She has been building a community of fellow dark surrealists as she has developed her brand and identity.
Exuviae was Ash’s favourite series she has ever worked on. Her relationship with one painting in particular really stood out to her.
“Innoxious Knows Not Life’s Darkness, AKA The Pink One, felt really out there for me, even though it’s maybe the most palatable in some ways. Initially I thought the pink one wouldn’t work. I thought a pink painting might feel out of place, but I was totally projecting my weird relationship with pink onto other people. It ended up being a surprise personal and audience favourite.”
“Growing up, there was a strict perception of girls. You were either a tomboy in blue or a girly girl in pink. I didn’t fit into either of those boxes. But as I worked with this painting, I’ve realised I’ve been closet pink fan my whole life. Bringing her to life healed my relationship to the colour pink.”
“To me this painting flips the script on the soft feminine. The protagonist is quietly powerful. I can equate my interpretation of pink with society’s antiquated relationship to women in general. As women, we always have to fight, endure, and be strong although we are expected to be the opposite. I’m trying to manifest my own power in softness and vulnerability. I’m learning I don’t need to be tough all the time, and that softness is not weakness.”
“Working on this piece I listened obsessively to the album Miss Anthropocene by Grimes and the soundtrack from the UK TV show Utopia. I don’t know what this means, but it really was what I needed at the time.”
Cracking the States
Last year, Ash feasted on the juicy fruits of remote collaboration, showcasing a couple of her pieces at the Dark Art Emporium in Long Beach California. So how did this partnership come about?
“Early 2020, I was listening to a Dark Art Society podcast hosted by Chet Zar. I’d joined the Patreon and been hitting up some Zoom art jams and got to know the artists and collectors – to be honest these connections and workshops got me through lockdown, to be painting with my new friends, weekly.”
“In one of the jams, a fellow artist Buddy Nestor told me he was curating a show and asked if I wanted to make a submission. It was late and he was kinda drunk at the time. The next day I messaged him saying you cant take that back LOL. He honoured what he said and gave me a spot. I’m still so grateful to him for that breakthrough moment. Since then the Dark Art Emporium have invited me back to couple shows and most of my stuff has sold from there. My work in the most recent show AESTHETHA hung alongside some of actual contemporary geniuses, like David Van Gough and Jasmine Beckett-Griffith – this was a seminal moment for me.”
What’s for Breakky?
Closer to home, Ash has been a resident artist at Monday morning wake and bake institution The Breakfast Club for over two years.
“They are such a sick crew and family. In the early days, they definitely imbued me with the confidence to start coming out of my shell, learning to talk to people about what I’m doing and ultimately, get it out there. I’m not going to lie, it’s pretty loose. But it’s a buzz to be partying and feeling social while you’re working – guilt free raving!”
Ash has already locked in festival gallery gigs for 2022, including Where the Wild Things Are in February and Esoteric in March. She also wants to branch out to do more in person workshops and also run a solo show in November. But she won’t tell me jack about it.
“If you talk too much about something you get the dopamine hit without actually doing the work,” she says.
“The only things I can guarantee are that it’s going to be really intense, and it’s going to be in November.”
Making a career out of your passion
What I really like about Ash and what drove me to connect with her for this interview in the first place is her unshakeable dedication to her art journey, which in 2021 she claimed as her full time career. She made a post on social media that I felt in the very fibre of my being; it deeply resonated with me. It didn’t just highlight the hard work you need to perfect your craft but the personal mindset, lifestyle and culture shifts you need to commit to in order to make your passion your career.
“I realised that I wasn’t giving it everything because I was still relying on another income,” she says.
“Still in the hobbyist mindset, I wasn’t taking my art seriously as a viable business. Granted, the unpredictable nature of the work is very difficult to adjust to, and especially now when the goal posts keep getting moved with lockdowns. But even then, I could see my trajectory on an upward spiral when I weighed up my performance in terms of exposure, engagement and finances from the previous year. That charged me full of the hope that I can totally do this.”
“You need to accept that it’s not going to be easy, and that you have to bust your ass to earn it, but that it’s yours if you want it. Realistically, you probably need to save a solid nest egg that you can rely on, especially for the boring things like rent and bills. If you do still need a side gig, then you need to commit to it being just that and not becoming a priority over your art. If you get too caught up in the hamster wheel of needing money, your art suffers.”
“If you can generate an additional revenue stream from what you are doing, as well as say selling paintings or commissions, this is a great lifeline. For me the teaching aspect has been most incredible addition to my life. It’s really fulfilling; it feels great to be opening up a space for people to create, and it’s also a great backstop in terms of financial sustainability.”
Ash and self-confessed hippy artist creator Psxy squeezed in a pretty epic commission job as Melbourne emerged from the last lockdown, a larger than life mural of 13 hiphop artists at the Blackout Lounge shisha bar in Fitzroy. Goes without saying, it looks fucking sick.
“Everytime we’ve done a painting together it’s ended up looking so rad. Psxy has a design background and is a master of colour, shape and movement, he brought this kind of Gotham-esque vibe. But the portraiture was my part. I did all 13 figures. They told us who they wanted in the mural then gave us free rein on presentation. I placed them in order based on who I felt was most worthy to sit at The Last Supper, starting from Dr. Dre as Jesus. I don’t know heaps about gangsta rap so it was mostly ordered to my own personal taste.”
Ash often takes on portraiture projects as commissioned pieces, which serves as more of a break from the more “surreal” and emotionally taxing pieces. The creative process is completely different.
“I try and immerse myself in the person I’m painting. Most recently I was commissioned to paint Mac Miller, and believe it or not I actually didn’t know who he was at the time. So I resurrected his whole back catalogue to capture his essence and fully absorb what he was about. I watched a great youtube doco about him and learned about his tragic death. You might notice my Mac Miller has glitter flecked through the painting. This was in homage not just to the glittery personality of the rad chick who ordered the commission, but also to illuminate the ironic reality of fame and the often destructive sparkle of being in the limelight.”
Conjuring the magic
Ash’s style has been described as dark surrealism, but it also calls on visionary style painting and abstract expressionism, while still offering something different, something uniquely celestial and supernatural.
“I relate to all of the classifications that have been attached to me but I don’t 100% fit into any of them. I use genre labels because they are the best way to market. But I strongly believe that if an artist plays to a genre too much it ends up becoming restrictive. I let the piece talk to me and I don’t pigeon hole myself.”
For Ash, every painting takes on an organic energy that breaks itself free from genre confines.
Working in this way allows Ash to be able to paint beyond the plane of reality, inviting in weird synchronicities and symbolism and conjuring the real magic.
“Often, you begin to unlock things you had going on inside yourself that you didn’t know existed. Working within this chaos on an almost subconscious or supernatural level is what makes me vibe the most.”
Inspiration and community
“My biggest inspirations are music, and words… things just come to me; sentences, words or song lyrics that hit me a certain way. Many of the titles of my paintings have to do with song titles or lyrics. Forest families is The Knife. Understanding Decay is the Dillinger Escape Plan. The Grudge is a TOOL track. Then there are quotes; I never painted my dreams is from Frida Kahlo, Mother is a word for god is from a Nietzsche quote. But many are either words I love or weird sentences that appear in my brain.”
“In terms of people who inspire me I try to cast the net wide. Not just artists in my circle but also old masters, really out there or super contemporary artists. Poets and poetic writers. Weirdly I have found a lot of self-help books have guided and inspired me.”
“For a long time, I didn’t think I needed artist friends. I thought painting was a solitary thing. But I gradually began to realise that I needed to be in contact with people who were doing what I was doing, not just to feel connected to them, but also to bounce ideas off. I had a lot of muso friends and for a while I thought that was all I needed, but musos can only talk about music, not colour, pigment or where the best place to get prints is. You need a support network who get it, so you don’t feel like you are just wasting your life.”
“Once I decided I was going to take art seriously, I admitted to myself that I also needed to find or build an artistic collective. Listening to artist talks and interviews I kept hearing confirmation that I needed to be around people who were walking same path as me, artists get each other on a different level.”
“It’s hard to tell how you are doing with art. There’s so many ups and downs. Your friends are always going to be supportive, so it’s good to have a trained eye take a look at what you’re doing, or chat about techniques with people who actually know what they’re talking about.”
“I figured out that ‘visionary art’ was being shown at all the festivals I went to, and was along the lines of what I felt aligned with. After a few years of making art full time, I’d made a promise to myself that I wasn’t going to go to festivals without being involved in the galleries anymore. I loved partying but I needed a purpose. In 2018 I signed up for a workshop in Byron Bay, studying with two established visionary artists, although I didn’t know who they were at the time. I went because I wanted to meet someone who was as serious about their art as I was. That workshop ticked all the boxes. My intention had been to connect with just one likeminded artist, and I met Tennessee. That’s all it took, it flowed on to so much more.”