The Chatham Arts Council is investing in artists through our Meet This Artist series, introducing you to 12 Chatham County artists each year in a big way.
The fine folks at Hobbs Architects in downtown Pittsboro are powering our Meet This Artist series this year. Architecture is art, and the Hobbs crew values art in our community.
Take a look. Meet your very inspiring neighbors. Meet This Artist.
When you meet a teen full of talent, generosity, and positive energy, it can make you feel so hopeful for the future. Ashley Perez is one of those teens. With a wide smile and a warm and adaptable spirit, Ashley gives without hesitation, and uses art as an outlet, which she calls her “happy hobby.” Read more about this talented artist with a very bright future!
Tell me about yourself.
I just graduated high school. It was such a ride because right before freshman year, I moved from Chapel Hill to Siler City. I was definitely an angsty teen about the move. But then I thought to myself, “I have to open up my wings. These things happen in life. Things just come at you, and you just gotta go with the flow.”
When we got to Siler City, I decided to be very productive and get involved with the community. I started volunteering with OLP (Orgullo Latinx Pride), which is a leadership program that focuses on helping Latinx high school students. OLP helped me get involved with my community in community service and civic engagement, as well as build leadership skills, which was great because I want to be a good mentor for others. I’m now more confident than ever.
Sometimes at OLP I tutor peers who need help in math. I love helping people out. That’s something I enjoy doing because bringing a smile to someone’s face is just everything. It makes my day because it makes me feel like I am a person who can bring joy to their life.
I really love math so I’m majoring in mathematics next year at Elon. When I saw that they were offering me a full ride, I started crying, and I burst into my mom’s room to give her the news. My whole family was so happy for me because I was at my lowest during the early days of the pandemic.
The pandemic ruined my sophomore and junior year because I had to do a lot of things online. I struggled so much. I honestly hated my room. I ended up pushing myself my senior year because I wanted to make sure I could graduate. I take a lot of pride in my education – I wanted to give it my all. When I graduated I was so happy.
But my escape has always been art. I tried my best to learn anatomy because I love drawing people. Everyone’s so different — I like to capture people’s facial features and their personalities. During quarantine, art became my way of escaping. My siblings like my art, too. My brother likes to brag about me. He’s like, “Oh I have a sister who knows how to draw. She’s so good at art.”
When did you first start becoming interested in art?
When I was growing up, drawing was always something I loved, and has always been my escape. I love drawing people, even though they used to look like potatoes with sticks as arms and legs and little branches for fingers. When I was entering high school, I found out there were art electives. I was like, “That’s a thing?!” I wanted to sign up, but with my extra core courses so I didn’t usually have space for electives, which was a bummer because I wanted a time for myself to just enjoy drawing. But I rarely had that time to myself. I’ve always felt like I’ve had this pressure of focusing on education because my parents didn’t go to college or finish high school. My sisters went to community college, and I’m so proud of them for that because I look up to them. I was like, “Okay, if you guys can do it, I can do it too.” I thought if I could do more core classes, I would be more advanced and show my parents that I can do it and that I can push myself to do better. I wanted them to see their future education through me. That’s how I saw it, and that’s why I pressured myself to take advanced math and advanced English classes. But during my freshman year at Jordan-Matthews, I decided to give myself a break and take an art class.
I started taking art and it was the best thing ever. Oh my gosh. It wasn’t just painting and drawing—it was pottery, taking pictures, spray painting, and other forms of art. I’d never worked with other art mediums before. I was like, “Wow, this is crazy — I get to learn through art.” I loved the time I had with it because my teacher, Ms. Mateen-Mason, was very supportive of me. She was like, “Ashley, you’re really good. You could sell your art.”
But when sophomore year came around, I couldn’t fit art into my schedule any longer with all of the core classes that I was taking. I had to think about my family because I care so much for them, and I want to provide for my mom and dad because they’ve done so much for me. So I had to choose the core classes over art. Art became more of a happy hobby.
I don’t really have all the art materials I need at home. I have a plastic palette but it’s a little bit small — there’s not enough room to mix my paints. Sometimes I get resourceful and use a big piece of cardboard as a palette, and then I use extra cardboard to lay on my floor. I can’t paint on the floor without cardboard under my painting because my mom gets so scared that I’m going to get paint on the floor. She told me I could go paint in the yard, but it gets so hot!
Sometimes it feels like a lot of work, but you know, it’s a whole passion. I like to listen to music when I paint because my mind gets busy and loud. I need to get in the zone. When it comes to music, I like a little bit of everything. I like all forms of music. Musicians are artists too, just in a different way.
Tell me about your winning t-shirt and poster design for the Juneteenth celebration here in Chatham County.
Our OLP director, Selena Lopez, asked in the program’s group chat if anyone was interested in making a poster for the Juneteenth event as part of a competition. At first I was like, “Oh my gosh, what if other people have really good art? I don’t wanna ruin their moment. And what if my art’s not good enough?” I was just so scared. But then I decided to just do it. I started with some sketches. At first I was gonna do a whole person’s body, but I’m still learning about anatomy, so thought I’d better not. But I think I’m pretty good at drawing people’s faces. My program manager told me that it was best to do it as a painting so I grabbed the biggest canvas I could find and pulled an all-nighter to do it.
I ended up being named as the winner. They paid me $50 to use my design for the posters and t-shirts. It’s still very new to me to receive something; I’m so used to giving, and I don’t really expect to receive anything in return. It’s like, “Oh no, your smiles are all I need.”
At the event, I had a booth with other pieces of art that I’d done. I was really nervous because for me, this was a new way of presenting my artwork to the public. I did manage to sell one, and I was so happy! I also found out the day before the event that someone was going to buy my Juneteenth painting for a hundred dollars. I was like, “Oh my gosh, what?!”
How did it feel to sell a painting?
Honestly, I was a little bit sad at first not to be able to keep it, but then I remembered that I wanted to share my art, especially in support of others. And that painting for Juneteenth was definitely a piece designed to support others.
Do you feel like you’re going to continue in your art in some way in college?
I’m going to major in math, but I want to minor in art because I didn’t really get that much of an opportunity to focus on art in high school. I’m not going to let it go because I really love it. There’s a lot of math involved in art, too. I think about that a lot, especially with architecture or graphic design.
When I was in high school, sometimes I would think about whether I should go to art school, but I eventually decided against it. I was mainly afraid of the idea of being graded on my art. Because how can you grade art? If it’s something that makes someone happy, isn’t that enough? It’s someone’s inspiration or creativity. It’s their own uniqueness. If they like it, they like it, and if someone doesn’t get it, it’s okay.
Who inspires you?
I feel like everything kind of inspires me in a way. My parents and siblings have done a lot for me. My brother is my cheerleader. Everyone at OLP is like family – they helped me in so many ways. I really take in the feeling of being loved and cared for. That’s all I really need to keep going. The more people I know and the more smiles I see, I’m like, yeah – that’s the right thing to do. That’s my thing.