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Ashley Paulk: Finding value in limits
The artist often adapts to his medium rather than the other way around

ABSTRACT ART is visually interesting enough as it is, but throw in some unexpected chemical reactions and eye-popping colors and they become even more captivating.

“When I Say It Out Loud, It All Falls Apart” is a collection of 30 of Ashley Paulk’s mixed media paintings, up now at the Butcher.

All of Paulk’s paintings are a combination of bright colors and a unique texture. On his canvas works, the thickness of the paint creates that texture, but his paper works are where the mixture of media gets interesting.

Some of the paintings look like they’re still wet, framed before they were dry. Others look like, and are, a chemical reaction, with the colors bending away from and swirling into each other.

He points to a piece that resembles a potato sliced open. “With this polymer, I was really attempting to get some of this purple in here, but it totally isolated itself, so I worked around it.”

That’s common for Paulk’s work on paper—the medium forces him to adapt.

“The mediums don’t always react the way I think they’re going to, so sometimes I end up with something completely different,” he explains. “Ink wash on this type of paper reacts differently than on canvas, but it’s also the colors I want to use, so I’m not as concerned with the medium.”

Paulk typically works on canvas but branched out to paper when he found himself in a cramped living situation.

“I didn’t have the kind of room for canvas because my wife and I had a roommate,” he remembers. “So working on an 18”x24” was a lot easier. I could do it in the living room. I kinda ran with that for a while because I was getting the hang of working on paper.”

Though the reactions of Paulk’s media on the paper are compelling, he notes that the experimentation might be a onetime thing.

“You have to think about your choices a little harder since there’s more room for error,” he says.

“Paper is not as forgiving. On canvas, you can go over it again if you want to. [Paper] was different, but it’s fun. It’s nice. I’m not comparing myself to Jack White, but in his earlier works with the White Stripes, the first albums they limited themselves to certain chords, certain timeframes on the entire album to force something. I think restricting yourself to something that’s not necessarily your comfort zone is healthy.”

This body of work is, for Paulk, like a brain dump.

“These paintings explore the imprecision not only of language but of symbols, how you and I never assign precisely the same meaning to any word or image, despite the whole of human communication being built on us agreeing about the meaning of a thing,” Paulk says. “These are paintings about the meeting of minds, the failure thereof, and the frustration that fills the gap. I think we all want to be understood, but also in the mundane everyday sense of being understood.”

The title comes from the Netflix show “The OA,” about a blind girl who comes back from a seven-year disappearance with the ability to see.

“[The title] is spoken by the protagonist when she is trying to describe something she experienced,” Paulk says. “It’s really dramatic storytelling—it’s not linear. It’s her trying to communicate what happened to her, and then when she spit that line out, I was like, whoa. It’s that kind of frustration and misinterpretation of trying to explain oneself that I tried to channel into these paintings.”

Paulk’s experimentation with media and use of eye-popping colors will remain at the Butcher through July 17.