THE ART OF WOODWORKING WITH ASHLEY JOSEPH MARTIN

 

Today at LES, we delve into the world of art and woodworking with Ashley Joseph Martin, who has mastered the complexity of both professions. Based in Pennsylvania, Martin utilizes a unique process to create contemporary vessels, sculptures, and lighting. Through traditional hand carving and modern woodworking, he creates texture in his pieces that invoke natural and architectural forms. 

 

1. Tell us a little bit about your background and how you came to the world of woodworking?

I have been connected to wood as a medium for as long as I can remember. My father was a cabinet maker and I can recall spending time in the shop with him as a child, pulling wood from scrap piles and making assemblages and towers. I also always enjoyed hiking and camping, and learned woodcarving in the Scouts. For most of my life, carving was a consistent hobby, but it wasn't until after graduating college with a degree in aviation that I was exposed to works by studio craftsmen, like Wendell Castle, JB Blunk, etc. I was so amazed by their application of woodcarving in furniture that I  became obsessed by the possibilities of a more sculptural take on traditional woodworking.I quickly decided to change paths and pursue a life in craft. I have spent time working for other craftsmen in various shops/studios but I consider myself largely self taught. I continue to learn and grow out of my Philadelphia based studio.

2. I have always been particularly drawn to the intersection of art and woodworking for the home. You bridge that gap so beautifully with your pieces. What is the inspiration behind your work?

Originally, I wanted to focus on furniture because I like that every piece is humbled by a set of parameters making it both aesthetic and functional. Eventually it occurred to me that carving is the most enjoyable element of woodworking to me, and I feel that can be so well expressed through smaller objects.. I enjoy bringing that sculptural element to all forms of home goods, but I believe a vessel allows for the greatest opportunity for artistic expression with just a touch of functionality. Essentially the idea of an object being both beautiful and functional is, in itself, the inspiration behind the designs.

 

Textured Walnut Boulder

Ashley Joseph Martin

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Spiked Walnut Vessel

Ashley Joseph Martin

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3. What are some of the biggest challenges you have faced in the evolution of your artistic career?

Finding time to explore, experiment, and expand my artistic repertoire is always a challenge. Making good work requires so much time and space which can be so difficult when balancing all of life's demands. Also connecting with the right audience that understands and appreciates what you do. It's not as simple as making a post on social media and hoping the right people are connecting with it. At times that process feels ambiguous and even mysterious. It takes a lot of vulnerability, trust, and communication that can be emotionally draining.

 

4. Tell us a little bit about your personal artistic style? Do you have any specific philosophies that you look to when beginning a new creation?

My approach to design is largely driven by the material involved and the process required to shape it. Wood is a very unique material, it is not static or uniform and requires a deep relationship to work with it. I aim to explore forms and textures that work in collaboration with the material and exhibit its qualities in a unique way. I believe that by having respect for an organic medium and a dedication to traditional techniques, I am able to say to the viewer “this object is alive and it was made by hand”.

 

5. Your products have such a raw organic quality to it. What is your relationship with wood  and why did you choose this material as your primary medium?

I am connected to wood in a lot of ways. There is a personal and emotional history that is so deep I can’t imagine working with anything else. With that history comes a depth of knowledge and respect that can only be expressed as a form of love. More generally, I think it's beautiful to work with something that not only comes from a living thing but also continues to move and breathe long after the tree has been felled. A wooden object has a special ability to encourage one to reflect on their relationship to nature and reminds us that we are not separate from the natural world but very much a part of it.

6. What is one thing you wish you could tell your younger self?

To take my time and appreciate every phase of the journey, but most importantly to trust myself.


 

Textured Acorn Vessel

Ashley Joseph Martin

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Grooved Walnut Bulb

Ashley Joseph Martin

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7. What are your favorite inspirations you find in the natural, every-day world that really transform your art?

Of course there is no limit to the beauty nature possesses. The woods are a sea of inspiring texture, color, and forms but the city is also so full of inspiration. Whether it's an architectural feature, a human relationship, or a weird object discarded by the road, everything has the potential to spark  a new and interesting idea.

8. Over here at LES, we are amazed by your ability to create a textured object with architectural elements out of raw wood. Does achieving this outcome in your work require anything different that another sculptor may not have?

I incorporate hand tools as much as possible. Each hand tool creates a unique texture. I am certainly not the first or only person to apply hand tools to wooden forms, but there are fewer and fewer who are interested in taking on such a laborious approach. Personally, when I see a piece of art, I can't help imagining the artist at work and I am always looking for clues for the tools used and the technique applied. I hope I inspire that in others.




9. Your pieces have such a signature and quality look to it. Besides wood, what other materials are you curious about bringing into your studio?

I am constantly imagining myself exploring other materials. I am obsessed with all forms of traditional craft. The more ancient the materials and techniques, the better. I have been thinking a lot about weaving lately. I feel like the rhythmic nature is not dissimilar to carving. However, I believe there is still more I can learn about working with wood and I think it may take a lifetime, so for the time being I am doing my best to stay focused.

 

10. Do you have a last step in “finishing” an artwork or collection?

I think of photography as the last step. It’s not the most enjoyable to me, as I don’t have as much confidence in it, but it is satisfying to spend time just appreciating the work and trying to capture its essence to be shared and documented.

 

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