How Jo Ashby, a girl from landlocked Brum became one of the country’s leading seascape artists
Growing up in the landlocked Midlands wouldn’t seem the perfect backdrop to becoming one of the country’s leading seascape artists. But Jo Ashby has a habit of bucking convention all her life. Born in Moseley, her love of the sea came from the many, very regular trips to the beautiful coasts of Wales and North Cornwall as a child with her parents. With both mum and dad being artists and art teachers, it is no surprise that Jo has followed in their brushstrokes – eventually! But becoming a professional artist didn’t come via the most direct route!
“I went through the typical teens rebellious thing,” she explains. “I thought I go into anything but art. I tried psychology and then spent my time back-packing to ‘find’ myself.” It wasn’t until she’d ‘calmed down’ a bit that Jo realised that her natural love of art couldn’t be ignored or denied.
She returned to Birmingham and post-graduate art education before finally taking the plunge to become a full-time professional artist. Next month she joins fellow artist and close friend Majella O’Neill Collins to return to her home city in an exhibition of their work entitled Two Distant Views at the Royal Birmingham Society of Artists.
Both artists live on Sherkin Island, a tiny gem just off the south-west coast of Ireland. The stunning beauty of the island has made it a hub attracting artists across a huge range of creative mediums from around the UK and beyond. Jo lives there with her partner Mick, but she maintains strong connections with Birmingham, is a regular returning visitor and is an associate member of the RBSA.
“Birmingham is my city and even though I live on Sherkin, I’m always yearning to return to home,” she says. The exhibition at the RBSA showcases Jo’s beautiful interpretation of the West Cork coastline. “Exhibiting at the RBSA brings my life full circle, as Birmingham is my home town,” she says. “This exhibition is a wonderful opportunity to reveal Sherkin to a wider audience and share our affinity and connection with the sea.”
Jo is fascinated with the effects of the elements and nature on the sea. She has a deep love of drawing and mark-making and is always seeking the changing effect of light and wind on the surface of the water. The impact of wind is something which can be seen clearly in Jo’s work. “Different conditions and seasons change everything,” she explains. “In autumn I get obsessed with trees bending over in the wind. I winter I’m obsessed with the water surface and the movements caused.”
Jo works in acrylic which involves laying down a drawing and then gradually building up layers of glaze. The days of lugging around materials has long gone – Jo goes out walking with lots of little sketchbooks to jot down ideas. Her work in her studio happens in the mornings when the light is at its best, and she’ll work on five or six pieces at a time. The exhibition in Birmingham will feature between 40 and 50 works by the two artists, who have been working towards the event for the past year.
“Art is the soul of the community and it’s so important that organisations like the RBSA flourish,” said Jo. “ I’m getting all political now. It is crushing how the arts are being squeezed out of the curriculum in schools. People wring their hands about the lack of emotional intelligence in our communities, but studying the arts is where emotional intelligence comes from.”