New Orleans–based artist Ashley Longshore has been compared to Andy Warhol because of her obsession with pop-culture figures and relationships with celebrities. Known for her paintings of icons ranging from Audrey Hepburn and Grace Kelly to Abraham Lincoln and Winston Churchill, she also fashions diamond rugs, jeweled butterflies, porcelain plates, blingy trays, sculptures, and bedazzled furniture. In January, Longshore became the first solo female artist to have her work featured in the Fifth Avenue windows and seventh floor of New York’s famous Bergdorf Goodman department store. Her collector clients include actresses Blake Lively, Salma Hayek, and Penelope Cruz, NFL quarterback Eli Manning, and Wall Street’s elite.
Longshore—who was included by Forbes on its 2014 list of the South’s leading female entrepreneurs—combines pop art with high fashion and has collaborated with such brands as Chloe, Anthropologie, and Judith Leiber. Her 2017 book, You Don’t Look Fat, You Look Crazy: An Unapologetic Guide to Being Ambitchous, offers a window into her irreverent personality and pop-art-filled life. The book—whose few printable chapter titles include “The Art of Self-Promotion” and “A Not-So-Desperate Housewife”—opens with an essay in which she proclaims that “I was born different. I was the weird kid who got picked on because I had a big voice and a loud personality, and I insisted on doing things my way.”
She still does, and her saucy style comes across loud and clear in her paintings: in one, Jesus holds a black AmEx card; in another, Wonder Woman dresses in Chanel. And then there are the paintings that broadcast her love of flying privately. The text on one proclaims, “I do not cook, I do not clean, I do not fly commercial.” Another announces, “Not having a jet is so ratchet.”
Brought up in Montgomery, Alabama, Longshore says her father was supportive but hoped she’d meet a really successful man. Her mother needed her husband’s permission to buy anything. Ashley, on the other hand, had an independent streak and decided that she had an opportunity to live out her dreams. When she was 18, she took her father’s American Express card and bought a paint kit, which led to a decision to make art her career.
We visited Longshore’s New Orleans gallery, where she pointed out oversized gold-sequined armchairs, a decorated cardboard cake big enough for her to jump out of, and a display of glittery Judith Leiber–collaborated purses. Many of her paintings hung from the walls, including one the size of a garage door that read, “Little Miss Muffet Became Warren Buffet and Stacked Up Her Own Money, Honey.”
“If we sell that big one, we can get a P.J. to Carmel,” Longshore said, “And this one here is good for a flight to Jamaica.” She had also peppered her conversation with private jet references when we met her a few days earlier for our interview in New York, where the effervescent artist greeted us in her suite at the Plaza Hotel dressed in Brooks Brothers pajamas.
What initially attracted you to painting?
It was a place of escape from the outside world. At that time, there was all this press about Peter Max and Jeff Koons and I thought, “These artists are making $50 million a year and they’re alive.” I’d always thought artists were famous when they were dead. I thought, “I’m going to be the woman artist.”
I wondered, “How can I build this thing and be the double-comma momma [millionaire] that I always wanted to be? How in the hell can I get on that jet?” And now I have huge chairs full of shredded money that say “double-comma momma.” And why not, damn it?
When you started, nobody would pay attention to you. Was it depressing?
F**k, no. What am I going to do? Sit on my sofa and cry—or wake up and make something? If I don’t make something, then I can’t sell something. If I don’t sell something, how the f**k am I going to get on a GIV?
Where do your ideas come from? Do they just pop into your head?
Yes. The other day, I had a conversation with a girl and this phrase came out: “It’s so vanilla missionary.” I love that s**t. I think it’s my job to say what’s going on in pop culture all around me.
You’ve been compared to Andy Warhol. Was he a big influence?
Warhol was painting objects that we could all relate to and I put a lot of that in my own art—Birkin bags, high-heeled shoes, black American Express cards, money, all these things that the media and the culture are telling me I need to make me somebody. I think that Warhol and I have that in common; but Andy was Andy and I am Ashley.
Were you influenced by Picasso?
I loved Picasso. The first one of his pieces I saw in person was The Rape of the Sabine Women. It moved me in a way that I’ve never been moved before. I wanted to paint like Picasso, so I taught myself how to blend colors that way and then one day I just broke free and started painting what I wanted to paint. It’s an interesting step to go from seeing something in your mind to putting it on the canvas; it’s hard, like writing a book. You have to come up with your own method.
You’ve avoided the traditional gallery system.
I am not f**king giving up 50 percent [in fees to galleries]. I encourage artists to see themselves as entrepreneurs. You’re creating an item that people want, and you should be able to keep 100 percent of your profit. Fifty percent is way too much to give up and I think it completely f**ks up the value of the art market. If I go down to the Gagosian or Pace Gallery and spend $3 million on a painting and the artist gets half of that, how much is that painting really worth? How can investing in a middleman make a painting actually worth $3 million? I don’t understand the business model and I don’t tolerate it.
A lot of your art is about consumerism. Are you embracing it or poking fun at it?
Both. Because it’s so silly but it’s also so fun. It’s a game—you know, get the Birkin, get the black AmEx, get the big house, get the Bentley, get the f**king GIV. What do you do when you master that level? You go on to the next. Or you realize that the greatest thing in life is having a picnic in a field with your friends and laughing like crazy. It’s fun to have stuff, but it isn’t necessarily what defines you.
How do you work with social media?
Being able to have this instant gratification and connectivity to the entire world is intoxicating and beautiful, and we’re just in the beginning of what all of this technology is going to be. Five years from now, we could be doing a hologram interview.
Artists come to me and say, “How do I get more traction on my social media?” It’s not this magic equation. If I have a show and get people to follow me on Instagram, I’m getting people’s email addresses. I’m using this as a tool. And it’s free. When I started, I didn’t have money, so I was going to use anything that’s free to connect to people who might be buying my product.
How do you choose your people subjects?
Sometimes it just pops into my head or I see something. I saw a black-and-white photograph of Teddy Roosevelt and got so tickled at the idea of making his mustache glitter. And then I thought, “You know, Teddy would look really good in a Gucci jacket.”
Your work seems to be largely about our culture’s materialism and people who relate wealth to happiness and power. How do you feel about ostentatious wealth?
I don’t like pretentiousness. My mother’s the most pretentious human on the planet, and that pretentiousness makes me uncomfortable. I am posting images of me in front of the GIV on my social media, and the idea is not to be ostentatious. The idea is to go, “Hey, I am a self-taught artist from Montgomery, Alabama. There are no f**king excuses. You can do this.”
What do you think about income inequality in the U.S.?
F**k that s**t. Start your own business. Make your own money. I live in a country where as a woman I can be an entrepreneur. I can have 20 people on my team and make sure they have health insurance, make sure everybody’s comfortable, making money, and that they have days to spend with their family.
What did the show at Bergdorf mean for you?
How many people hope to be the first female artist with a solo exhibition at the pinnacle of luxury shopping, Bergdorf Goodman? How many artists get six windows on Fifth Avenue and then get asked to redesign the restaurant on the second floor? It’s a huge endorsement. But, my God, it’s America, and anything can happen. I am flying around in a f**king Gulfstream and had my artwork in six windows on Fifth Avenue, and you know what’s funny? The f**king gallery said I wasn’t marketable.
There are many private jet references in your art. Do you own a jet?
Would I want the overhead? Why would I buy it when I could just lease it? That’s a lot of cheese. I love the idea of renting them.
Do you charter or have a jet card?
I charter from different companies. A company just contacted me and said, “Please let us give you quotes.” I think it’s fun to see the different pricing these companies come up with.
How much do you fly privately?
Probably one or two times a month.
And what does flying privately mean to you?
When you are at 43,000 feet and you are 9,000 feet above those commercial flights and you are with these people that you love and you’re popping champagne and you’ve got the new Drake [album] blasting, it’s a high. Being able to fly private is the best drug I’ve ever felt in my whole life, all the way from smelling the gas on the tarmac to walking up those steps or loading up my hound dogs and taking pictures of their little faces peeking out.
It’s so comfortable. I think it’s so tacky to have to go through security and have to take off my pearls and my Gucci shoes. Flying on a private jet is glamorous. It’s fun and not only that, time is my most precious commodity. I am dying to get on a f**king P.J. and get my ass back to New Orleans and not on a f**king Delta flight. It’s just such a treat.
What kind of airplanes do you like?
Heavyweight jets. I love the Citation X, but baby, get me on that G[ulfstream]. I was on a flight to California not long ago and there was a flight attendant who had set up a buffet, and I am like, “We are on a P.J. and there’s a f**king buffet over there.” I’m just grateful. It’s awesome to be in a position to be able to do that and to share it with my team and my family.
Who have you flown with?
I have some very wealthy oil-money clients, also some East Coast hedge-fund-money people. A client of mine sold his business for $968 million. We were in Dallas and he’s like, “When are you all flying back?” And I go, “Oh, we’ve got to fly back tomorrow at 1.30 p.m.,” and he goes, “F**k that, we are gonna party, my jet will fly you back.” So, I mean, why the f**k would I buy a jet?
What’s left for you to do?
Tons of stuff. As an artist, I have an endless amount of ideas for things I want to create, but I also want to help other artists realize how to be entrepreneurs, how to keep 100 percent of their money. And there are some organizations that I want to help. A political figure just bought some artwork of mine. I don’t necessarily share the same political values, so I took the money and wrote a check to a charity in New Orleans, and that felt really good. When you work hard and are grateful and you start to have everything you’ve ever imagined, then you help people.
NAME: Sarah Ashley Longshore (known as Ashley Longshore)
BORN: Aug. 19, 1975 in Montgomery, Alabama
EDUCATION: B.A., English literature, University of Montana
OCCUPATION: Artist and owner of New Orleans’ Longshore Studio Gallery
TRANSPORTATION: Private jet charters
PERSONAL: Lives in New Orleans with husband Michael Smith and two basset hounds, Honey Bee and Buttercup. Plays guitar, yodels, churns butter, collects hawk feathers, and raises chickens.