Growing up in a Mexican-American household, artist and University ofTexas senior Ashley Tristan was surrounded by her culture. Rich traditions like breaking piñatas at parties and hearing stories of lechuzas – witches who disguise themselves as owls – are all a part of Tristan’s childhood memories, which she heavily incorporates into her work.
In the Art Building at UT, Tristán is sitting against lockers in a quiet hallway, talking about her earliest interest in art.
“I guess I really started liking it when I was a kid because I wanted to get into animation for Cartoon Network and Nickelodeon.” She stops and laughs a bit. “It was a super ambitious kid-dream.”
Now, instead of animated aspirations, Tristan’s focus has shifted to a subject that’s closer to home. From her “kid-dream” about being a cartoon animator, Tristan now uses her artistic abilities to illustrate her childhood and start conversations about culture. She says that in her schoolwork she uses the Mexican/Latino lifestyle as away to talk about various subjects. “Mostly dealing with like childhood or poking at stereotypes, going through political movements and things like that,” she says while she leans her head against the lockers.
“That’s what I’ve been working on at school and I like it, I’ve developed my style [towards] that.” Tristán cites specific pieces of Chicano art, such as “Sun Mad,” by Ester Hernández, and performance groups, such as Asco, as highly influential on her work and style.
Though she’s worked in different mediums, from sculpture (in the form of stuffed “bunnymen” and homemade piñatas that end up smashed) to painting, her medium of choice is printmaking, which furthers her exploration of Mexican culture because of its ties to the Chicano activist movement. When it was necessary to make protest signs and political posters, printmaking was affordable, therefore making the distribution of flyers and signs to a wide audience easier.
In addition to the cultural and political ties that printmaking has, Tristán mentions that she enjoys going through the process of making prints and that printmaking is another way of adding character to her work.
Citing Tristán’s ability to raise awareness about issues regarding cultural identity, her peers and fellow artists appreciate the influences and cultural aspects of her work.“I appreciate the educational aspects of Ashley’s work and her efforts to bring awareness to issues such as racism, appropriation, immigration, etc.,” says Alexis Gardner, a fellow art student and friend of Tristán’s. “She enjoys learning about her culture, and I think it brings her a lot of joy and pride to share that with other people.”
People also identify with her incorporation of her childhood growing up in a Latino household. Fellow artist and friend, Anastasia Miller thinks Tristán’s mix of personal experiences and her Chicano culture is something that stands out.
“Her work comes from a very personal place — her own self-identity and past — and I think it is courageous of her to continually try to get at something deeper and share the essence of her culture, through her eyes, with her viewer,” Miller says.
While the bulk of her work is political, the core always goes back to Tristán’s roots and childhood. “…Mostly what I always stick around is to my childhood and things that have to do with childhood.” Tristán says. “Every now and then there are, like, whimsical things going on .”
Her professor, Sandra Fernandez, says that while the roots of Tristán’s work remain the same as they did at the beginning, they’ve developed something new over time.“I think it has turned into something more interesting, which is having a point of view and a little bit of criticism, not accepting everything as it is. She’s not only reproducing her experiences, she’s recreating it,” Fernandez says.
The hallway is quiet as Tristán passes the rows of lockers and walls displaying student art pieces to pick up her most recent series of prints. It’s part of an ongoing series that puts a twist on traditional Mexican bingo cards, or Lotería, by changing images to incorporate more women and infusing a political sensibility. The print Tristán takes out of her drawer is a re-imagining of the card for the hand, la mano. Instead of a single hand, there is a picture of a woman protesting, her hand raised in a fist.