I rescue, salvage and recycle other people’s words.

Browsing through garage sales, street markets and used bookstores I search for interesting, preferably discarded, old books. When I find a good candidate I explore every page.  Like an archeologist I hunt for the words that speak to me with new meaning. Intuitively, one word at a time, they turn into a kind of haiku or philosophical poetry that I can call my own.

At some unpredictable point along the way, in my mind, the images start to invent themselves. Using colored vellums, graphite and or India ink to highlight or obscure my words; I create the image of that invention. Though I strive to make each document visually engaging I find it is the words that I value most.

The majority of this work comes from several different copies of The Essays of Ralph Waldo Emerson printed from 1887 to 1927. Something about working with these pages quietly reminds me that a part of our culture is about recycling ideas.

Will Ashford

Artist’s Statement

Recycled Words

More . . .

Art is often described as "timeless" at the same time as it is considered definitive to a particular era.  This art, however presents a more compelling temporal "can of worms" in that:    it brings the past (the text and the pages themselves) into the present where it becomes not just a medium but a collaborator in the creation of something new with hardly any indication of the period in which it was created using themes, imagery, and materials that can be presumed to remain relevant long into the future.

This series of works is contemporary without making any particular reference to the era of it's origin.  The statements and thoughts found on the page have been there for decades and will still be there for decades to come.  They have not been changed in their collaboration with the artists pen, pencil, or vellum.  Thus, the art and the words are joined in their timelessness.  Are books timeless?  Well, maybe not... but words are.  Perhaps due to a subconscious awareness of that fact, this art involves words on an individual basis, without referencing their involvement in the dated statements on their aging pages.  Nor does it reference current events, motifs, or technologies that would tie it inextricably to the social, technological or historical context in which it is created.

The images and their words remain abstract enough in their partnership that their collaborative messages should remain as relevant to future viewers as they are compelling to today's audience.  For instance, two prominent themes in the series can be labeled "art about art" and "the self."  Can either of these themes be bound to a particular time or place?  The only prerequisite for "art about art" is the existence of art and the only prerequisite for art about "the self" is the existence of individuals.  Where either of those contexts begins and ends is anybody's guess.

Consider the blank canvas.  It is timeless in it's nudity and dated in it's soiling.  Whereas the pages involved in this series are dated BEFORE they are worked with but their words emerge with a new life in new statements and images, thereby affirming their immortality through art, as art, in art.  At the same time as the words find a new context, so do the statements that they were originally found in find a new context in which to be considered... and therein lies what seems to be an infinite loop of contextual reinvention that can be called most simply, "timelessness."

What drives me to create such works?  

Perhaps the answer is far simpler than one might think.  Like the earliest petroglyphs were the inevitable conclusion of man discovering simple pigments and having access to cave walls, this almost seems to be the inevitable conclusion when a self-aware, literate artist has access to bookstore shelves.  It's a bit more sophisticated than a hand print and some crude depictions of game hunting but perhaps it's the same in spirit: a depiction of the cerebral survival of man in a world of thoughts running wilder and faster than ever before across the great planes of the internet; which exists outside of the shelter these pages can provide when needed.  In this correlation, the spirit of man is revealed once again to be as timeless as ever.