Since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, life as we know it has changed in too many ways to count. Weekends once enhanced by live performances, new restaurants, and world-class museum exhibits have been scaled back to smaller pleasures such as Netflix, takeout, and carefully curated Instagram posts. But no matter the circumstances, art—in any medium—has the power to lift us up, and this power continues to prevail through even the most trying times. Today, no modern creator is dedicated to spreading that joie de vivre quite like pop artist Ashley Longshore.
As a student at the University of Montana, Longshore picked up a watercolor painting kit one morning and didn’t put it down until the evening. The self-taught artist has been painting ever since. “At that moment, I found this unbelievable joy, this love in my life that I was addicted to immediately, and I just had to do it,” she recalls. “I’m an anxious person, so it was a way for me to take my energy and create something that was a tangible representation of time in my life, which made me feel productive and at peace.” It is this positivity that inspired some of Longshore’s earliest paintings, which include massive portraits of Frida Kahlo and Audrey Hepburn. “Having those images of great women around me was powerful,” she explains. “In my mind, I would talk to them, like crazy artist stuff. There’s a synergy there; it’s exciting and motivating and fun.”
Photo:COURTESY OF ASHLEY LONGSHORE
If you haven’t already come across Longshore’s work, her latest book, Roar!: A Collection of Mighty Women, provides an excellent introduction to the ebullient Louisiana-based artist. This gorgeous coffee-table tome features portraits of 57 incredible women, ranging from ancient Egypt’s Cleopatra to present-day tech innovator Whitney Wolfe Herd. Many of these images have been shared on Longshore’s personal Instagram and displayed at her independently owned gallery and the Diane von Furstenberg flagship store in New York, which houses the original collection of paintings. A darling among the fashion set, Longshore worked with von Furstenberg to curate the collection of women featured in both the exhibition and the book. “Diane is such a lover of women and brought great energy to the room,” explains Longshore. “She introduced me to some women that I wasn’t really familiar with, like Hedy Lamarr, Lee Miller, and Martine Rothblatt. There were a lot of women that aren’t household names who have incredible stories. It isn’t so much about what they accomplished, but the shit that they got through.” With their life journeys in mind, Longshore creates her portraits filled with vibrant color and fantastical elements. It is her unique way of honoring these phenomenal women.
In fact, Longshore practices what her art preaches. Inspired by Dia de los Muertos traditions, she pays tribute to many of the women who she has painted by creating an altar of flowers, lighting candles, and celebrating their spirit throughout the month of October. “When I wake up every morning, I get my cocoa and light the candles, then check on the flowers and honor of these women,” she explains, showing me her display full of marigolds interwoven between her portraits of Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Kahlo, and Hepburn. “I’ll be adding more—I just put these up yesterday—but it’s important to me that we honor them, love them, support them, and talk about them to preserve their legacy.”
Given that the subjects of her portraits span centuries, I can’t help but inquire who, living or dead, Longshore would like to meet if given the opportunity. She doesn’t skip a beat before supplying the answer: Maya Angelou. “Back when she was younger, she was scared of the power of her own words and then grew up to become the greatest orator,” gushes Longshore. “The way she saw the world, the way she captured pain and could express her thoughts, it was such a gift.” Of course, as she is an artist, Longshore’s short list also includes art collector Peggy Guggenheim, essayist Susan Sontag, and entertainer Josephine Baker. As for contemporary women, Billie Eilish and Lizzo recently made the cut. “Talk about authentic, incredible women,” she exclaims. “I love that they’re unapologetic and that they know they may not be for everybody, but they are true to themselves. May we all have that much fearlessness.”
Photo:COURTESY OF ASHLEY LONGSHORE
Outside of her vibrant portraiture, Longshore is a delightful character herself. A burgeoning “enfant terrible” among living artists, she finds joy in being a bit audacious or occasionally perverse. “It’s been hard times for an optimist, you know. There’s a lot of really serious things going on, and everything isn’t always fucking fun, but it doesn’t hurt to uplift each other and inspire people to go out there and kick some ass,” she divulges. In fact, this is her philosophy when it comes to marketing her artwork—and herself—on Instagram. Longshore’s feed is always colorful and often funny. She recently posted a photo of herself wearing her “big-girl panties,” sharing her jovial and uplifting personality with her fans.
This sense of self is apparent not only in Longshore’s art but also in her personal style. An accessory lover, she wears layers upon layers of jewelry (“I sleep in all of this!”), and she assures me that pearls can make any outfit: “Just put a jacket over black pajamas, add a cute pair of sneakers, toss on some pearls, and you're ready to roll.” However, Longshore’s ultimate fashion weakness is sunglasses. No joke, she has a sunglass closet like Elton John. “It started when I didn’t have any money. I would save up until I had like $300 and would buy a new pair of sunglasses. It upgrades everything; you feel like you have on a brand-new outfit,” she says. Longshore is drawn to oversize styles but admits she’s “one of those crazy people” who buys sunglasses without trying them on. Her current obsessions include over-the-top styles by Anna-Karin Karlsson and a new pair of everyday Tom Ford shades.
Photo:COURTESY OF ASHLEY LONGSHORE
Since Longshore is a portrait artist, I am curious about what elements she would include in a painting of herself. “I’m all about legs and hair and attitude and titties,” she jokes. “I know every woman has attributes that are her favorite things and are just flawless. I love my hair, and I love my life.”
This sentiment is, perhaps, the essence of Longshore. “I wear a necklace that says ‘I would fuck me,’” she confides with a wink. “It’s actually my handwriting. I had written it on a piece of paper eight or nine years ago, and my sweet pea (fiancé Michael Smith) took it to a jeweler and had it made into a gold necklace with diamonds. That was my Christmas gift one year.” I can’t help but laugh, then gawk as she brings the gorgeous bespoke piece of jewelry closer to her camera lens for me to see.
With the holiday season just around the corner, celebrating the people in our lives and lifting each other’s spirits is certainly top of mind. A diamond-encrusted necklace with an explicit message probably isn’t in the cards for everyone, but a copy of Longshore’s exquisite Roar! is certainly a gift that will bring joy and inspiration to those we hold dearest.
Roar!: A Collection of Mighty Women is currently available for preorder and will be released on November 23.