By Jordan Hill
Writer, TODAY MAGAZINE
In a small, southern, rural town, it may be hard to see great works of art. But when driving down 12th Street, it is easy to see, thanks to Ashley Graham. She is the artist responsible for the forty-foot mural painted on the side of the In Home Respiratory Care building.
After taking art classes as electives while a political science major at Emory at Oxford, Graham decided art was her passion and future. Shortly after making this decision, she transferred to the University of Georgia to pursue a degree in fine arts.
“My dad (Kevin Brooks) said, ‘If this is what you want to do then you should do it!’” Graham said. “My family is very supportive of me, even when I go ‘crazy artist’ on them. They are my biggest cheerleaders!” Graham shares.
While earning her degree, she studied abroad in Costa Rica for one summer and Ecuador for one summer, focusing on painting, printing and photography.
“In Costa Rica, we would go out in the rainforest and paint everything around us. While there we painted several murals in a local school house.” she said. “ The next summer I traveled with some of the same artists to Ecuador. While there, we visited an underprivileged community and painted an eighty-foot mural in three days. The community was so touched and honored by the beauty we brought to their town. It was one of the most rewarding experiences of my life.”
After her two summers of studying abroad, Graham had an award named in her honor. She received the Outstanding Courage and Spirit Award after studying abroad in Costa Rica. When she came back from studying abroad in Ecuador, her professors, Joseph Norman and Troy Wingard, had an idea. “We can’t give you this award again so we’re going to name it after you,” they told Graham.
The award then became known as The Lauren Ashley Brooks Courage and Spirit Award. “This was a high for me in my college career,” Graham said. “There are days that I still can’t believe the talent I studied under at UGA. Joseph Norman is a highly skilled and renowned artist that I get to call my teacher, my mentor, and my personal friend. The time I spent at the University of Georgia studying art is invaluable to me. Every decision I make as an artist is a reflection of my teachings.”
One year after graduating from UGA, Graham showed her work at Studio West Gallery in Eugene, Oregon in a collaborative show. After the show, the gallery asked to buy two of her pieces to keep on permanent collection. Shortly after, an interior decorator in New York bought a series of Graham’s paintings.
Graham describes that time as a defining moment in her artistic career.
“I don’t like to use the term artist loosely and it was these moments that made me feel as though I had earned the title of ‘artist’,” she said. “This is not a hobby for me, this is my means of living. I have worked really hard to get where I’m at. I’ve definitely had a lot of moments where I thought, ‘Let’s get real. Get a nine-to-five job. Quit trying to do this.’ And every time I’ve ever had those moments, something else has come along and kept me going.”
Currently Graham does commissioned work on a local basis, like murals and portraiture. Graham also maintains an online business, AB Graham Arts, where she focuses primarily on personalized wedding dress sketches. Alma local, Mrs. Peggy Lee was involved in the idea.
“She called me and had an idea about doing a sketch of a girl’s wedding dress as a gift. And since then, I have been doing these sketches daily,” Graham said.
Graham believes the sketches make a great first anniversary (paper) gift.
“Some husbands buy them for their wives as a gift, brides buy them for themselves or for their parents as a way to say thank you. Bridesmaids or maids of honor buy them as gifts to brides. It is a great way to celebrate a dress that you will only wear once and stuff in box. Some clients have said to me, ‘I am going to sell my wedding dress, but I want to get the sketch done so I can pass this down to my daughter,” said Graham.
“When you purchase my artwork, you’re not only supporting an artist, you’re supporting my loving, little family,” she said.
To learn more about Graham and to view her full portfolio visit her website http://www.abgrahamarts.com. For live studio updates check out her Facebook page.
Published in TODAY MAGAZINE