By Hollie Deese
Photography by Jenna Henderson
Ashley Trabue has something to say as an artist, and while it might be uncomfortable for some, her goal is to ultimately make people feel more comfortable in their own bodies and with their own emotions through her art.
Raised in Bowling Green, Kentucky, Trabue began coming to Nashville to see live music as soon as she could drive, and after becoming acquainted with Belmont University through friends, she got a scholarship to attend there and graduated in 2012.
Like many creatives, she had always been drawn to the arts but felt it wasn’t a viable career choice. Even her grandfather, a draftsman by trade, found himself waiting until retirement to fall in love with painting and photography. “I would grow up visiting his studio, and art was just always in the background,” she says.
Today, she is a full-time artist and coach, fully embracing her creative nature.
One style she works in is nudes, combining her abstract eye with the beautiful nature of all women’s bodies. Expanding her interest in portraiture, she was able to process the treatment for her eating disorder through her painting of women, meditating on and embodying the idea that bodies are inherently beautiful.
“At the time I couldn’t look at myself and feel like my parts were lovely, but I could take photos of my friends and see their like curvy bits and think, ‘oh my God, they’re beautiful. I’m going to paint them.’”
And so painting nudes became a bridge between loving other people’s bodies and learning to love her own.
“I don’t think that everything’s beautiful, but I definitely think that everything is worthy,” she says. “That makes a difference. My work used to be a lot more wrapped up in being a certain size or a certain shape. And gradually over time, I shed that and came to embody this ideology that it might not be society’s versions of beautiful, but it’s beautiful to me, and the whole of me is worthy — I can feel beautiful regardless of whether the mirror showing me stuff that I’m uncomfortable with.”
She also likes to take back the burden women have borne in the art scene for so long, their bodies as portrayed by men. Portraying women from a woman’s perspective isn’t sexualizing them, unless that is what they want to explore. It can be an expression of the wholeness of women, not just their looks.
“We were taught to be abusive to ourselves, and this is our survival mechanism — because the more bulletproof we are, the more perfectionistic we can be, the safer we feel. That’s a valid coping mechanism, but it doesn’t always serve us,” Trabue says.
When Trabue is working with a woman on a custom piece, she thinks about what the woman wants to cultivate in her life. “Because a lot of women are putting themselves last, are choosing other people over themselves,” she says.
One woman she worked with had a chronic illness. Her relationship with her body was very wrapped up in functionality, so that art project was all about channeling grace and acceptance. For other women it is about having their bodies be more than a punching bag for perceived imperfections.
“Our bodies carry our emotions,” she says. “They carry our traumas. They carry our memories. And it can be easier just to pick on our bodies than to deal with the wounds that exist and the stories and the trauma and the things that are living inside of our tissues.”
Trabue moves away from figurework for her abstracts, but she says it is all connected — the body is the vessel, and the abstracts are the feelings inside that vessel. Getting her internal anxiety out on paper, creating and drawing, eventually transformed her anxiety into a scared creature that she was able to control, through art.
“The thing I’m realizing more and more is that I feel passionately about helping people live more artfully, with more joy and vibrancy,” Trabue says. “We are living in these oppressive systems that squish you down, and you forget who you are and you forget your worth. These pieces are tokens that can hang on people’s walls that remind them of their worth.”