Q+A with Visual Artist Ashley Nora

Photography by Khaila King

Back in April, I competed in the PATTERN x MARTK’D art on sneaker event. Just dipping my toes into Indy’s scene of creatives, on the day of the event, the introvert kicked in. I was nervous, timid and conveniently placed in the very back corner of the venue. I only had one neighboring artist at the table to the left of me, but there was something about this neighbor that was very special. She had a light inside of her that was so beautiful and memorable. Filled with joy and high energy, she introduced herself to me and connected with me via social media and out of all of the artists there she was the only person who had done so. 

I do not believe in coincidences, we are always in the right place at the right time and sometimes it is just to meet the right person. I am so grateful to have met her and when I had the opportunity to interview her for PATTERN, I knew I had to take it! Her name is Ashley and her brand is Ashley Nora Art. She is a multifaceted creative in the city with a bright and bubbly personality and an undeniable gift. Each and every one of her pieces carries love, light and joy which is completely reflected in her history and her heart! Read below to learn more about the wonderful and incredibly talented multi medium artist Ashley Nora!

Khaila King: Can you describe your personal journey? Who is Ashley Nora and how did she evolve into the creative she is today?
Ashley Nora: I was born and raised in Laurel, Mississippi. At 17, my mom and I moved here to Indiana. I graduated from Anderson University with a degree in biology and chemistry. I was an analytical chemist for 5 years and on May 17, 2019, I decided that I could no longer do it. I was mentally drained and exhausted. I could do the work, but I’m such a free spirit and I wasn’t happy. At that point in my life I was going through some things and I struggled with depression. When I was a kid, whenever I was feeling depressed or sad, art was a way for me to escape without ever leaving home. When I was going through this transitional phase, of being a mom and being a wife, being a chemist, I never really felt like I was being Ashley. I felt like I was overextending myself for everyone else. The only time I had to just be and to exist freely was through art and eventually art saved my life. 

I started to post my work on my personal page and a few people were like, “Hey, can you do an art party? Can you do a portrait of my granny? Can you do this?” Seeing people believe in something so much that they would tell others about me and invest their money made me feel like, “maybe I can really do this.” I got into a RAW showcase about three weeks before I quit my job and when I almost sold out of everything I said, “I trust God and I trust myself. If I can give my all to the work of others, I can give my all for me. I will do this and if I fail, I have my degree, I have my experience, I can go back, but I never want to go back and because I have that drive, I can’t go back.” So, I gave it everything I had! I had to understand my “why.” I have two daughters who look up to me. They’ve gotten to see mommy be a chemist and they’ve gotten to see mommy be an artist, but most importantly they have gotten to see mommy pursuing her purpose! The reason I am who I am today is, because of that drive. I grew up very poor and now for the first time in my life I can say that I’m making it, I’m doing well and I feel amazing. 

KK: Can you tell me the story behind your brand?
AN: My name is Ashley, but my business is Ashley Nora. I named it after my big mother Nora. She passed in 2013 and before she passed I was about to get married. I told her, “big mom, when I have my first son, I’m going to name him after you.” God blessed me with two girls and I never got that opportunity. When it was time to name my business I thought, “you know what, this is my baby and I can name my baby Nora and your name will live on forever. Every time I sign a painting, it’s you, it’s your light, everything that you instilled into me will live on forever. ” God knew what he was doing. Now that I’m here, seeing who I am and at the core it’s Nora. I thank God. Nora means “light”. Every single day before I even knew that I’d be here, I would try to be a light. No matter what I’m going through, I just want to make other people smile because you never know, you could change somebody’s life. That is the story of Ashley Nora. 

KK: I love seeing Black parents being artists. It’s something that I have always admired. Because a lot of us grow up in class-based oppression, we’re constantly thinking of survival.  For a long time art has not been seen as a lucrative career choice or something that would allow you to support and sustain a household. Now your kids can see that they can succeed in more than one atmosphere, whether that means being a creative or being in a corporate field, and both are okay.
AN: Exactly, both are okay. I worked in a corporate atmosphere, I did it but I wasn’t happy. A lot of people need the structure of a 9 to 5, but I’m such a free spirit. I speak to a lot of kids and I tell them all, do not chase paper, chase your purpose. Chase purpose and the paper will come. That’s where freedom is at. I was financially well off and I worked really hard, but I was always so busy. I rarely took time for myself. When I learned to chase my purpose, the money came. But getting there was scary. I grew up poor, and I didn’t want my kids to grow up like that, because I know how hard that was. I wanted a better life for them, you know, the American dream. I’m understanding now through time and through wisdom, the dream is freedom. I have freedom. If my children are sick, I don’t ever have to put in a PTO, I’m there. If I want to go on vacation, I don’t have to explain that to anyone. I can go on vacation. There’s still discipline that comes with it, though. You have to stick to a schedule. You have to make sure that you show up for yourself every day. I stopped thinking about the money and I truly had to lean on God. If you put in the work and have faith that success will come, it will come. I’m finally in a place where I feel like Ashley is an emerging artist. She’s gifted, she can do this. I never took a class a day in my life, I’m self taught and I’m just like, man, that’s a gift from God and it’s my responsibility to show up every day for my purpose.

KK: Can you describe a moment that completely changed the trajectory of your career?
AN: My career changed when I was chosen as one of the artists to do the Black Lives Matter mural. In 2019, I was blossoming, doing art parties, working for charities, apartment complexes, businesses, etc. Then, COVID happened, and it was one of those things, it could either destroy your career or it could make your career. When COVID hit, I could no longer do parties and that’s where my money came from. I had to figure it out. I needed original art to make prints and merchandise from. I had been doing commissions and doing all of the parties, but I never had enough time to really do it for myself. Then we had the opportunity as the EIGHTEEN, to do a showcase at the Art Center. Before that, I did a lot of pop art. For that show, because it was an exhibition, I had the idea to paint beautiful black people, like people were painted in the Renaissance. Not just any black people, the ones among us that we might not even deem as beautiful, so I did a woman and a little boy with albinism and a man with vitiligo just to show how gorgeous, no matter how much melanin or how little melanin we have, we are beautiful. Before I had never done an oil painting, never been taught. It blew me away. I actually started crying. I said to myself, “Ashley, you can win awards with this art. Let’s try to say “no” to commissions and actually invest time to create quality over quantity and watch what happens in your life.” I have exhibitions and stuff coming up. I’ve been painting and working, just getting these brilliant ideas. Now, I can do sculpture. I have a few sculptures that are going to be in a showcase. 

KK: What challenges do you face as a creative?
AN: The biggest challenge used to be social media. Having to keep up, having to remind myself to make art in that content. It used to take Van Gogh years to complete a painting, right? Before there was social media, artists had the freedom to take time to create masterpieces. I’m in that place where I want masterpieces. I don’t want just something easily attainable, something that anybody can do. I want to have time to create pieces that are meaningful, and have longevity throughout the years. I used to worry about followers, but I don’t think about that stuff anymore. I had to get out of that mindset and just constantly be reminding myself not to sell myself short, ever!

KK: You are dropping so many gems! My mind is literally blown. Where is the message behind your work derived from?
AN: I don’t ever depict Black pain, I only depict joy. We are full of joy. We know how to live and dance in the rain. One thing that you’re not going to do is take away our joy, you can try to destroy us, you can try to break us, but what you will not do is take away our joy. My brand is Black joy and I just can’t wait until the world sees what I’ve been working on and what God has been giving me. I’m learning to produce art and not content. I used to be like “Oh, I gotta hurry up and post something today. I gotta post this. I gotta post that.” That’s when you don’t produce magic, you’re producing garbage. You might get a few likes here, somebody might buy it, but that’s not going to win you awards or have you in museums. I want longevity. I want art collectors that see the value in my work and know that it’s an investment. That’s what I want and changing that mindset has really changed the caliber of my work. I don’t want to just paint, I want my paintings to have a meaning. I want it to make people feel something, but not just today, years from now. I have big plans and I am just getting started, I truly believe that something great is on the horizon. Everything that I’ve put on my vision board has come to fruition. It just lets me know, even though I’m a dreamer, I’m not dreaming big enough. There’s more and if I keep showing up for myself and I keep putting in hard work, my gift is going to make room for me. I believe that wholeheartedly. 

KK: You’ve been booked and busy lately, can you share your experience with being a part of MARTK’D, the BLM murals, and the Eighteen art show?
Oh my gosh, it has been so incredible. God has been blowing my mind. Before the BLM mural project ever came to the city, I didn’t even know they were working on it and I was just like, “Man, if Indianapolis every day that, God I would love to be an artist,” because I already know what I would say, what I would do, what I would dedicate it to. Please let me be a part of this.” It came and as soon as I saw it, I applied and I got it. I dedicated it to black futures and dreams. Black dreams and Black futures matter. I had what my two daughters wanted to be when they grew up and their handprints on there. I wanted to dedicate it to them and all of our children, all of the Black and Brown babies. I never expected it to go any further than that, but I knew that was special. To have that opportunity right there, it blew my mind. 

When the Art Center Exhibition opportunity came up, that’s when the trajectory of my art changed. That’s when I changed my style. From that somebody that saw the exhibition contacted me and wanted me to do a mural for their shop. They would have never known who I was if not for the exhibit. I’m just thankful because every opportunity gets another opportunity. Being a part of MARTK’D, being a part of March Madness, having my art outside and for the world to see, I’m so grateful to have been chosen. I am now being recognized as an emerging artist, and I’m so excited on this journey and while I’m here, I’m not going to waste the opportunity. There’s still so many artists out here hungry and still fighting. That’s why I thought it was important to go to MARTK’D. Nothing is too small, I wanted to meet other artists. Being able to connect and be in spaces, that’s all it is! I want to be able to for people to see the value in my work and feel my work. I’m excited this year, I have some special announcements coming up that I can’t wait to share!

KK: What keeps you from being burnt out in times like these?
AN: I have to remind myself to take care of myself when my body feels the need to rest. I’m still learning how to take time off without feeling guilty because otherwise that’s not real rest. If your mind and your heart are not rested, you can go back to work, but you’re still not going to find your flow. The biggest thing is self care, even if it’s just a long shower at the end of the day or taking time to go for a walk.

KK: Now more than ever, it feels like being a Black creative is very lucrative, how do you feel about this? Does the support seem genuine or more so like a cop out from actual change in infrastructure?
AN:  That is a good question. It feels great to be put in places of opportunity, but it does make me question the intent. Are you doing this so you can say you’re supporting the movement? Are you doing this for attention from the news to let people know you’re down? Is this a one time thing or is this a lifestyle? Here in Indianapolis, I believe that they’re really trying to change and make sure African American creatives get the same spotlight as others. Only time will tell, of course but I can say that I’m appreciative of it. I don’t want to bash it. Right now, it’s beautiful and it’s giving us something that is needed. And as an artist, I need to take responsibility for this moment; show up and show what I’m capable of. Now that we have the opportunity, it’s about what we’re going to do with it. 

Ashley has been working hard, painting and creating for various projects coming up! You can keep up with this talented artist on Facebook and Instagram!

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