In the Studio with Torin Ashtun (Quarantine Edition)
Since she was a little girl, model/artist Torin Ashtun has practiced releasing emotions through creativity. We hung out with Ashtun via Facetime to take a look at her art practice amidst the global pandemic and discuss why 2020 is the year of vulnerability and letting go.
Tell us about yourself, how would you describe your art?
I was born and raised in Long Beach. That was all I knew until I turned 18 and went away to college in Atlanta. I learned and experienced a lot there, then came back and started the silhouette paintings that people are most familiar with. All of the paintings represent stories. They may represent a time in my life, a moment or a feeling I couldn’t get over, and what those emotions would look like to me. I originally used the abstract figures to tell stories from my point of view without people knowing exactly what the paintings were about. I wanted to express my emotions and experiences while having people focus on the colors and geometric shapes in my pieces.
Tell us about your studio.
My studio is my apartment. Everything is white and I have big windows. I have some gold furniture and a huge mirror. I like to keep a nice ambiance for myself while I’m painting. I usually paint on stretched canvas, but with the quarantine, I haven’t been able to get new supplies, so the painting hanging behind me is on canvas I cut from a roll.
Is painting your main art practice?
Painting definitely is my focus, but I also like to sew and design clothes and furniture. Right now, I’m working on illustrating a comic book with the same silhouette figures from my paintings. But painting is my main focus because it’s the most accessible to me and I feel like I can let my emotions flow.
Do you have a creative process when it comes to planning your pieces?
I paint until I feel satisfied. I won’t try to force an idea out, but usually, once I start, a piece will take about two days. Typically, I’ll begin with the dominant shapes in the paintings. I don’t sketch out my paintings usually, so starting with the biggest shapes helps guide the flow of the rest of the painting. Then I’ll bring in the smaller figures which often represent deities and energies around me I don’t have control over. Lastly comes in the environment, so the other colors, lines, and shapes, that balance out the composition.
Who inspires you?
When it comes to creating in general, I look up to my mother. Since I was a kid, she created everything with her own two hands. I have many siblings, so she would make everyone’s clothes. She also created a few little businesses, selling potted plants and starting a jewelry line. I admire how she never cared what other people thought about it. She has really inspired me to just go for it when I have an idea, just create because that’s what I do naturally.
Has working in a self-quarantine environment impacted your art practice?
It has definitely allowed me more time to create. Since I also model and extend myself in so many directions in my day-to-day life, sometimes creating new art can feel like I’m on a time limit. On occasion, I’ll have an idea and won’t have time to get into it right away, so I’ll have to sketch it down and save it for later. Now being in the house all the time, when I have an idea, I can get straight to it. I’m thankful for the time I’ve had to record myself painting to show how natural the whole process is for me.
Do you feel like your modeling career has affected how you perceive your paintings?
I would say since I’m the same person doing both, they inevitably have some crossover. When I’m painting, a more introverted part of me is coming through and when I’m modeling, a more extroverted part of me is present, so in the different fields, you’re getting different content.
What are your goals for 2020?
In 2020, I want to release paintings I feel attached to. I want to show at art exhibits to sell those paintings, just let them go completely. I also plan to publish the first issue of the comic book I’m working on, “The Art of Cap” (short for captivation). That’s a very personal one for me because it talks about my life growing up, being a kid in a homeless shelter, and my family dynamic. When it comes to projects like that, it can be easy to feel the need to continuously edit, but I see 2020 as a year for vulnerability, so I’m working on finishing that up and letting it go. My goals haven’t really changed since January, but rather have further cemented the need for me to be vulnerable this year.
PHOTOGRAPHER + EDITOR: Chloe Cusimano
MUSIC: Najeeb Jones
Stay tuned to Milk for more studio visits.