Art that makes Noise
By Melanie A. Cissone | Photography by Andrew Alwert
Sarah Ashley Longshore wakes up early every day, even if she’s been out until two the night before. She greets each morning with that high-energy, pumped-up-volume, balls-to-the-wall, full-on, bringin’-it attitude that makes her so deliciously likeable. She’s on “go” from the moment her eyes open. She says she sleeps well: “I’m out as soon as I hit the pillow. I get tired of me.”
A native of Montgomery, Alabama, Longshore has made a name for herself not only along New Orleans’s artsy, funky, “antiquey” Magazine Street but also among serious personal and corporate art collectors, Hollywood types, fashionistas, and society folk from New York to Miami.
Longshore graduated from Brenau Academy, formerly an all-girls boarding school in northeastern Georgia. About leaving home in her teens, Longshore says, “I loved boarding school. My parents were getting divorced at the time. It felt wonderful to be so independent.”
Longshore then pursued a BA in English literature at the University of Montana. She says of choosing Montana, “I wanted to do something different. I wasn’t the sorority girl or the popular girl, even though those were all things I thought about growing up. I have a zany interpretation of the world.”
Self-taught, Longshore began painting when she was in college and describes her canvases then to have been as equally vibrant and colorful as the work she produces now.
Despite her college degree, she never really considered a related career. “With imagery and few words, I express myself better,” she says.
Animals feature strongly in her artwork. Longshore says, “I love animals. I’m not religious but I am very spiritual, and I see God in all these creatures.” She continues, “I’m such an urban hippy. I love evolution. If I see a dead snake on the road, I’ll stop and take a photo of it.”
Another important character—a mother figure of sorts—in Longshore’s paintings is actress Audrey Hepburn. Hepburn, arguably one of the most beautiful, elegant, and talented actresses who ever lived, has so dominated Longshore’s thoughts that she created an entire series called Audrey.
The inspiration that Longshore derives from Audrey Hepburn—often painted in profile, eyes closed, much like the 1964 Cecil Beaton photo where she wears a velvet Asian-inspired Givenchy hat with tassels—harks back to Longshore’s upbringing. “Audrey is in lieu of the maternal in my life. She is the mother—iconic, philanthropic, and so flawlessly beautiful,” Longshore says.
She philosophizes, “Eyes closed, Audrey, for me, radiates goodness. What a perfect template for the perfect woman. Her image is very comforting. She’s like my “woobie.” The imagery is also about the many hats a woman wears. It’s amazing to be a woman in the United States today.”
Curiously, the Cecil Beaton photo was part of a photographic essay for Vogue titled “Audrey Hepburn in Givenchy Hats: My Fair Lady to the Life.” Longshore’s Audrey series includes images of Audrey Hepburn wearing as a hat a Mona Lisa snow globe, a jeweled hummingbird, a Darth Vader helmet, a koala bear, butterflies, peacock feathers, and so much more.
Estranged from her mother, Longshore describes her as having been very good at all the traditional Southern formalities of child rearing. As a young girl who preferred to be out in the backyard where she had a nickname for every frog, Longshore says, “I am lucky I didn’t want to follow the same course my mother did. I've always had a different perspective on life and being a woman. Who knows what perspective is better than another? I just didn't want to be another carpool driving, grocery hauling, social climbing, committee joining, old fashioned Southern woman.”
She continues, “I think I was tested by her to the point of running in the other direction, and for that I am grateful.”
“My mother tried to get me to join the Junior League,” she says, laughing and looking down at herself. The raven-haired, puckish Longshore dresses all in black—her usual—and sports three gigantic Pitango rings on one hand and a sculptural, punkish statement ring on the other. “Can you imagine me in the Junior League in Montgomery, Alabama?” she asks.
She recalls, “When I was young, my mother would volunteer our house for benefit home tours. When people came over, my sister and I would have to get dressed up. My sister loved getting dressed up.” Longshore slouches in her chair and mimics a pouty preteen. “Most of the time I was relegated to the ‘time out’ chair before anyone ever called it that.” It comes as no surprise that one of Longshore’s popular furniture pieces is a sparkly, candy-colored, vinyl-upholstered chair with the words “Time Out” embroidered on the seat back.
Maternal feelings also factor into Longshore’s protective relationship with her younger sister, Allyson. Also artistic, Allyson recently transferred from Atlanta to the Big Apple, where she went from being the brand ambassador for Chanel to the ready-to-wear stylist for fashion legend Carolina Herrera. She works directly with Ms. Herrera and loves every minute of it.
With a seven-year age difference between the two sisters, Longshore refers to herself as “Mamma Hen.” She remembers when her sister was born. “I was like, she’s mine … I'll teach her everything I know!” Longshore cocks her head back, puts her hand on her hip, thinks aloud about what was going on in her heart and her head when her sister arrived, and says, “I got this.”
Younger sis Allyson says, “Ashley inspires me. We inspire each other. We both receive our issues of Vogue magazine at the same time and together we’ll go through them over the phone and bounce ideas around.
“Fashion, interiors, and art have always collided,” she continues. “My world in fashion and her world as an artist complement each other.”
Allyson Longshore has launched a unique line of baroque-style neon picture frames under the banner of Neon Haus, LLC. Longshore encouraged her along the way and, on a visit to their father’s house, the two sisters each brought their art and mounted them together. Not surprisingly, the intricate bright neon frames complement Longshore’s vibrant paintings perfectly.
Longshore also gets encouragement from Allyson, especially when it comes to getting the scoop on what’s new with the “trophy wives.” Essentially, trophy wives for Longshore represent anyone who flaunts her (or his) wealth with material luxury goods. The paradox, of course, is that some of Longshore’s paintings can certainly be interpreted as jabs at wealth, status, and materiality, albeit playfully, as she enjoys the fruits of her own labor by shopping for and buying beautiful Prada shoes and a Celine handbag and by sipping fine champagne.
Both women are close to their father, Spencer Longshore III. Longshore credits her retired father—a successful advertising man—with much of what she knows about the business side of selling art. She says, “I get my animation, my theatrics from him. He is a presenter, always selling, always promoting.”
Longshore’s father was president and CEO of Time and Space, Inc., an advertising sales company. He still maintains a website, which has an image of the adman with a banner above and a tag below, making the whole thing look like a dollar bill. The tag line says “If it’s not a 4-C spread, it’s just another fractional ad,” suggesting that everything else falls short on time spent and money gained if it’s not closing on a four-color ad spread across two pages.
Tracy Gielbert, the owner of Gallery Orange on Royal Street in the French Quarter, has met Longshore’s father and says, “She’s a chip off the old block, for sure.”
Gielbert describes the antigallery artist as a very clever marketer. Gielbert says, “She’s a kindred spirit, a girlfriend. We have a very good relationship; she’s one of my best-selling artists in the gallery.”
Always referring to Longshore as Sarah Ashley, Gielbert continues, “Sarah Ashley is a workaholic, but she also enjoys time away from her studio. Some of her best work comes out of what she calls ‘inspiration’ trips, where she’ll paint in the morning, have a leisurely lunch and a swim, paint more in the afternoon, and wind up the day with cocktails in a tranquil place like Anguilla.
“But Sarah Ashley and my other top-selling artist couldn’t be more different. Their work is completely opposite. Sarah Ashley’s statement pieces are definitely more graphic, pop-arty, and extroverted, and the response to her work is always positive.”
As both artist and owner of her gallery, Longshore loves the art of the deal almost as much as she loves painting. She says, “As much as I love to paint and pursue my other creative ventures, my skin gets hot, hot, hot when I sell a painting and I see the credit card slip rolling out of the machine.” Since Longshore contends that “nobody knows my artwork like I do,” perhaps it’s for this reason that she is disinclined to hand over more sales to other galleries: she would be distanced from the selling.
There’s no denying that Longshore’s work falls into the category of pop art. Emerging in the late 1950s in the United States, the pop art movement differentiated itself from traditional fine art by deriving its imagery from popular culture, news, and comics, and referencing attitudes of the time. Some of the imagery—think Andy Warhol’s Campbell’s Soup Cans and Roy Lichtenstein’s Drowning Girl—came from advertising. There is little coincidence between sassy-natured Longshore having been raised by a father in advertising and the resulting tongue-in-cheek works she creates.
Last year, Longshore participated in a group show called Living with Pop at the Octavia Art Gallery in New Orleans. The show featured several emerging artists, including such New Orleans locals as Longshore and Jeffrey Pitt alongside modern pop mastersAndy Warhol, Keith Haring, Roy Lichtenstein, Tom Wesselmann, and Ronnie Cutrone. An Audrey from Longshore’s series was hung next to Andy Warhol’s Marilyn Monroe and opposite Warhol’s Jane Fonda in both the show and the catalog.
Octavia gallery manager Emily Siekkinen said of Longshore’s work in the show’s broad overview of the pop genre, “With a sensibility that is close to Warhol, Ashley has a more modern take on pop art’s satirical message about consumption in America.”
In her usual badass fashion, Longshore arrived at the opening night party at Octavia in a limo with an Andy Warhol impersonator on her arm as her date for the evening.
In addition to her paintings, which Gallery Orange owner Gielbert says “have an attractive price tag as an entry point” for anyone beginning to look at art as a collectible asset, Longshore also designs furniture pieces and directs and produces art films. Longshore loves instant gratification and compares the evolution of a furniture piece to “giving birth.” She lists the process of picking out a vintage chair or pair of chairs, deciding which fabric or vinyl covering would be best, and choosing a thread color for the embroidered lettering that displays Longshore’s playfulness with words. Designing chairs was a natural extension of her artwork, which grew out of going to Atlanta’s Scott Antique Markets.
Perhaps the funniest of the chair collection is the Time Out chair. The collection also includes a Bonjour and Adieu pair, WTF and OMG chairs, Audrey chairs, and goldfish and camera seat backs.
If Longshore’s designs have a ring of familiarity, it’s likely because Anthropologie, a retail chain that describes its mission as creating an “unimagined experience” for customers, carries some of her creations. A subsidiary of the $2.5 billion Urban Outfitters, Anthropologie is known for working with artists to develop, among other things, unique home goods. Currently, it offers Longshore’s lampshade creations as well as the Giverny hand-embroidered rug, which UK newspaper The Independent included in its recent list of the ten best rugs.
Longshore loves the collaboration with Anthropologie. She says, “I maintain my artistic integrity in the development process, they buy the original artwork, and they fly me to their happenings when they launch a new product from my designs.”
If painting, furniture, and home goods design for billion-dollar companies weren’t keeping Longshore busy enough, she also loves to create art films and live performance art. Her muse in this realm is her friend Nissa Teissier, whom she met a few years ago when a mutual friend suggested Teissier visit Longshore’s studio to ask for a painting donation for a post–BP-oil-spill fund-raiser for Gulf fishermen. Ever since, the two speak several times a day and Teissier has posed for, among others, the painting She Said It Needed Salt. With New York City as a backdrop, Teissier wears geisha makeup and a kimono while eating a one hundred dollar bill. “I’ve never done anything like this before,” says the mother of three young children, ages eight, six, and twenty months, the youngest of whom is Longshore’s godson.
The avant-garde films the two make together offer a creative outlet for Teissier and provide, through the relationship, a sense of family for Longshore. Shown at this year’s New Orleans Contemporary Arts Center SweetArts Bash, Longshore directed Teissier in a multimedia installation called Muse, in which Teissier is seen in a large glass box blowing up balloons until they pop or piercing them with a sharp screw to make them pop. Teissier says the motivation was to symbolize the nurturing of something that, despite the best intentions, can still explode.
Longshore says of Teissier, “She is a flow of positive female energy that makes me brave.” She thinks aloud, “I’m seeing what an incredible mother is really like. She’s like watching a radiant light walk into a room. I’m really amused by her ability to handle that in a graceful, beautiful way.”
Longshore has famous people among her collectors. Among them are actresses Blake Lively, Salma Hayek, and Penélope Cruz; actor Steve Zahn; New York Giants quarterback Eli Manning; New Orleans media mogul Bill Metcalf; race car driver and entrepreneur Chapman Ducote; his wife, Kristin, who is, among other things, a lawyer and an author; and most recently, Fran Hauser, president of digital content for Time Inc.’s Style & Entertainment and Lifestyle groups. Hauser is one of Ad Age’s “Women to Watch” and oversees digital operations for all the women’s brands at Time, Inc. In addition, Longshore’s paintings appeared in the honeymoon scenes of The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn - Part 1, and last year during Art Basel week in Miami, Longshore was one of sixty artists selected by luxury fashion house Chloé for a sixtieth anniversary celebratory show titled Chloé Attitudes Inspired at the überhip Soho Beach House.
Longshore gets as charged up about the owners of her paintings and furniture designs as she does about being a full-time working artist. She still has Salma Hayek’s check and remembers how the two met. Longshore was at a birthday party for cinematographer J. Michael “Jimmy” Muro’s daughter when she met Hayek, a new mother then, who was in town filming. She remembers being asked by Hayek to teach her how to paint, which she did, and thinking, “Yo, you played Frida Kahlo!”
Revisiting the mothers and mothering undercurrent, Longshore delights in mentioning that Blake Lively and Salma Hayek both brought their mothers to her studio-gallery. Other patrons include collector Bill Metcalf, who has multiple Longshore paintings in his Shawn O’Brien–decorated New Orleans home.
“When I saw the painting Money Shot,” Metcalf says, “I had to have it.” It hangs in his kitchen. It’s an image of a woman spread eagle, slathering dollar bills over her naked, high-heeled self.
Longshore ponders what the future holds for her. She says, “I can’t just stick to canvas! What’s next? Jet skins, yacht skins, to be the next artist on a line of Louis Vuitton specialized bags, and to develop a new art film where an older trophy wife is …” Longshore details her interpretation of how, on film, she would portray the training of a younger trophy wife.
When she imagines having billions, the wish list includes everything from the purchase of an Ashley Longshore-customized private jet to buying land with a barn and chickens in the yard. Her jet would be sparkly red, of course, the same ruby red as Dorothy’s slippers in The Wizard of Oz, and the plane’s tail would be that of a cat. The name of the jet: Thunder Pussy.
Longshore loves an audience, whether it’s a real audience of friends, family, or clients, or an imagined audience, and she loves mugging for the camera. She is in her element when she’s on, which is always. She laughs uproariously as she imagines aloud her arrival at the airport to an uncontrollable awaiting crowd: “Oh my God, Thunder Pussy’s here! Thunder Pussy’s here!”
At thirty-seven, Longshore says, “As I have more experiences in life, I have more faith in the universe.” The more she balances that patience for what inevitably comes her way, that desire for instant gratification, and that passion to create, there’s no telling what lies ahead. She has a loving man in her life, photographer Michael Smith, whom she adores. Despite all the bravado, she gives in a bit to her feminine side and says, “I haven’t opened a door or driven a car in I don’t know how long, and I love it.” Longshore relishes how attentive her fiancé is. “Everything good in my career and in my life truly started when Michael came into it. When you find true love, there is a certain peace and strength that happens. Michael's love makes me brave and, most of all, happy. He is the color in my life!”
She stands up and recites a list of those things she’s felt a sense of responsibility to oversee. “I have a great fiancé who’s a terrific dad to his kids. Done! Dad’s happily remarried. Done! Little sister’s off to live in New York and working in high fashion where she belongs. Done!”
Never having had a desire for children of her own, she sits back and laughs at her own maternal instincts toward those closest to her and says, “It’s like the kids are at school now and I can finally get some work done around here.”
She smiles and suddenly remembers that she was talking about herself. She ticks off how good life is. She says, “I paint … I love what I do and get paid for it. Done! Celebrities buy my artwork. Done! I design for a large brand-name company. Done!” And she can add being featured internationally to the list, as Longshore’s art has recently made its way into galleries in Antwerp and Zurich, Switzerland.
Other projects in the offing include new art film ideas, creative development of a big branding event in the Hamptons this summer, attendance as the celebrity guest at VIE’s Meet Me at the Red Carpet on June 8 during Digital Graffiti at Alys Beach, and a return to one of the fairs during Art Basel week in Miami.
One thing is certain: if she doesn’t already own it herself, there will be a private jet somewhere in the world that gets the Thunder Pussy skin-and-tail design, and Sarah Ashley Longshore will likely cop a ride on it to some tropical island destination for an “inspiration” trip.
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