Houston-based painter Cookie Ashton believes in happy accidents—when skillful toil stumbles onto beautiful serendipity. “I love that you can manipulate paint to a point, and then it takes on a life of its own,” she explains. And so, Ashton always makes room for surprises, combining precise applications and free-form techniques to create her dynamic abstract paintings. The results are works bristling with electric currents of color.
This spirit marks a dramatic departure from the artist’s early traditional training. Having studied around the world—from France and England to Mexico—Ashton has a background focused on the technical mastery of realism. But as she honed her own painting style, it intuitively grew more relaxed, eventually dissolving into pure expressions of color and form. “Abstraction to me represents freedom,” explains Ashton of her creative evolution. “It’s a challenge to see if you can create a good painting while bending some of the conventional rules.”
In some cases, Ashton begins her work with an improvised foundation, created by dripping watery acrylics directly onto a flat, horizontal surface. The artist often uses slick sheets of PVC plastic as her base, since its smooth finish allows the wet pigments to puddle and swirl into unpredictable prismatic designs. Once it’s dried, she then begins painting and fleshing out the forms that emerged organically through the pouring process. “One thing leads into another,” the artist says of this layered approach. “I’ll let the colors and shapes inform my next steps.” To build dimension, she also experiments with other mediums such as inks, charcoals and pastels. “Another thing I love so much about abstract work is that you can use every single material and just play,” Ashton notes.
Exploration has also inspired the artist’s foray into new mixed-media with her “Neon” painting series. Collaborating with a fabricator, she incorporates neon tubes, which she seamlessly integrates into the composition of her paintings as undulating streams of light. Ashton, who is represented by Laura Rathe Fine Art, plans to develop these illuminated artworks further using LED technology to create multiple effects. “I’m on a new kick this year,” she muses. Yet wherever the next project takes her, Ashton always feels primed for the adventure. “It’s just been a really fun, fabulous journey,” says the artist of her career. “And the more I learn, the more I love it.”