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Student Artist Explores a World of Female Gender

August 25, 2010

EIT Hawke’s Bay final-year degree student Ashton Northcott is hoping for a resurgence of “frilliness” within the art world. In fact, she’d like to see a modern acceptability to the concept of “playing ladies”.

Women libbers may not consider Ashton’s practice politically correct but she is taking her stand, she says, as a contemporary female artist. Adopting a fun and cheeky attitude, she acknowledges the past while excitedly anticipating the future.

A recent exhibition of her Ashton’s work staged at the Hastings Community Arts Centre celebrated her take on gender, expressing the notion of female control and attempting to restore female loss of imagination.

The exhibition, entitled Ashton’s Army, was staged for the 21-year-old as the 2009 winner of the prestigious David Fine scholarship awarded by the Hastings Community Arts Centre Trust. Ashton, however, chose to widen its scope by inviting some 40 other fellow EIT arts and design students to take part.

The scholarship honours the memory of the eponymous David Fine, a former Chairman of Creative Hastings and of the trust, which purchased the handsome building in which the Hastings Community Arts Centre is housed.

The essence of the works exhibited by Ashton is found in the interwoven theme of the domestic, where she uses a feminine aesthetic as a mode of exploring current female concerns.

Her intricate handmade works may adopt a mocking tone, yet they preserve female obsession, tradition and ritual behaviour. They calmly explore the behaviours of women in society, the home and the world of fashion.

So the artworks evolve in a feminine realm, speaking to women’s struggles and past and present triumphs.

“They are equally occupied with my private secrets and desires,” Ashton says. “It becomes of world of its own and bursts into life – even more so when no one is looking.”

Slaving over detail, she constructs “subtle dramas with delicate flamboyance”.

Ashton describes her art practice as an absolute passion, a world she has entered into or even created.
“Like the females populating my wonderland, I am hostage to fantasy, indulging in every moment, with no fundamental need to escape.”

Originally from Central Hawke’s Bay, Ashton boarded at Sacred Heart College in Napier. In 2007, she was based in Norfolk, England, where she lived and worked while also travelling through Europe.

She started a Bachelor of Fine Arts at Massey but will complete EIT’s Bachelor of Arts and Design at EIT at the end of this year, having found Hawke’s Bay a more enjoyable place to study.

Dr Suzette Major, EIT’s new Head of School, Visual Arts & Design, says it’s really exciting to have students like Ashton who bring a depth of thinking and maturity to their art.

Ashton intends to enrol for the Graduate Diploma of Teaching (Secondary) programme at EIT as “a stepping stone to something else I might do down the line”. She is also keen to maintain her focus on art – ” trying to get it out there”.