Artist’s work is inspired by ‘emotional response’ to region’s landscape
Nov 07, 2013 | 2716 views | 0 0 comments | 37 37 recommendations | email to a friend | print
“Desert Triptych,” an outdoor installation piece painted in acrylic panels, illustrates Michael Ashcraft’s “horizontal painting” technique. 
Courtesy photo
“Desert Triptych,” an outdoor installation piece painted in acrylic panels, illustrates Michael Ashcraft’s “horizontal painting” technique. Courtesy photo
Esteemed abstract painter and longtime area resident Michael Ashcraft’s career spans more than five decades, and his paintings, informed by years of immersion in the canyon country, call on his “direct emotional response” to the elements of that mysterious landscape.

Ashcraft’s career began with his education and subsequent teaching position at the prestigious Rhode Island School of Design. After a decade of productive but frenetic teaching and painting, he decided to leave New England and seek relative isolation in order to devote his time to painting. A journey to the Desert Southwest, inspired by a scene in the film “Easy Rider,” brought Ashcraft to the “exotic landscape of the canyon country [that has become] my creative and emotional home.”

His discovery of Moab in 1974 was quite by chance. He and his wife at the time were traveling through the Southwest planning to relocate to Las Cruces, N.M. After visiting many national parks, they kept hearing of a desert hamlet among the red rocks, with a name they weren’t sure how to pronounce. Upon arrival, they knew Moab was home, and they purchased the building that now houses Rim Cyclery to serve as their home and art studio.

While working on his art, Ashcraft needed a job to support them. He credits Harold Jacobs, then-mayor of Moab, for providing him with the job that gave him the greatest insight into canyon country. He was hired, for $3 per hour, to reconstruct the stone flood-control dams built by the Civilian Conservation Corps in the 1930s and which had since silted in. This experience, handling the stone, cleaving it into parts, gave Ashcraft the greatest insight into the workings of the region.

Ashcraft stayed in Moab for the next 10 years, painting, acting with Jean Roberts in the early days of Moab Community Theater, and relentlessly exploring canyon country. In 1985, he moved to San Francisco, where he worked as an installer and handler of “blue chip art,” by 20th century greats including Willem de Kooning, Mark Rothko, and Andy Warhol. He also established his own presence at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art Artists Gallery, where he has been continually represented for more than 25 years.

Ashcraft returned to his beloved canyon country in 1999 and now lives in Castle Valley. At his home/studio, he has continued to work “painting horizontally, on flat platforms, pouring the paint, and letting it run,” a process he considers “starkly primitive.” Ashcraft’s paintings don’t call the landscape to mind in the traditional sense. Instead, he says, they focus on direct emotional response and the interplay of elements, “background and foreground, object and not object [as they] advance and recede ... matter and anti-matter – until the image becomes whole, unified ... vibrating with latent potential energy and emotion.”

Ashcraft’s new work will be on display through the month of November, at Framed Image Fine Art, 59 E. Center St. The exhibit opens Saturday, Nov. 9, during the Moab Art Walk.

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