At this point, simplicity can seem like a tired mantra or an admonishment, an extra layer of guilt heaped over our misdirections. Isn’t it enough that our cluttered thoughts keep us up at night? Do we have to feel bad about it, too? So it’s especially heartening that for Seattle-based stylist Ashley Helvey, simplicity is something else entirely: a look so easy that it serves as encouragement. “A lot of the imagery I’m inspired by online is just a piece of fabric or a cinderblock,” says Helvey, who is editorial creative director for Totokaelo, overseeing everything from photo shoots to social media. “They are really simple things that you could actually execute. Having a simple aesthetic is actually pretty tangible.”
This month, Helvey — who is also behind the inspiration blog Hunter Gathererer — made the leap from images to physical forms, translating the thoughtful arrangements that have been catching her eye online into real life, and with accompanying instructions. Her #IRL show at Seattle art space Love City Love, which opened March 27, is a reminder “that anyone can have access to the beauty they see in the world,” says Helvey, who transitioned from expressive textile work into plaster casting and sculpture about a year ago. If making and seeing are intimately connected, why shouldn’t the ease of looking at imagery on blogs and Tumblrs flow into an ease with creating content? “People seem to have become more engrossed in collecting images online than making them. I hope my work inspires people to start making again; an image can be as simple as a plastic bag tacked on a wall.”
Even more important than the objects themselves, though, is how they are arranged in the world, and the sensitivity to whatever it is that gives a grouping of objects vitality. “I suppose what surprises me most sometimes is the unintentional arrangement of objects in tchotchke shops, Asian markets or dollar stores, or the way people group their shampoo bottles or medicine cabinets,” Helvey says. She points to Leonard Koren’s book Arranging Things: A Rhetoric of Object Placement, with illustrations by Nathalie du Pasquier, as an inspiration: “I think it’s the accessibly of those arrangements that resonate so deeply within me — we all have access to a wooden clothespin, an apple, a rock and a plastic cup.”
In other words, Helvey is less concerned with the preciousness of objects than with their relationships to one another and to us, and she finds the most beauty in function. “I’d rather have a beautiful towel that I dry my body with everyday than an expensive chair. Maybe if I sat in that chair everyday I would come to appreciate it, but I use a towel more often.” After all, maybe simplicity isn’t about fussiness or a totally staged life — “that’s so frustrating; I’m so over it,” Helvey says — but about learning not to get too attached. “I don’t think I’ve kept many things for more than a year. We all change so much, and I’m constantly liking new things and letting go.”
Su Wu is an arts critic and the proprietor of the blog I’m Revolting.
Today on the site, we're giving you a peek inside Seattle creative Ashley Helvey's home and studio, but we also wanted to show you the results of the work that was being created there during our visit. Last week, at Seattle's Love City Love art space, Helvey debuted an exhibition with possibly the best name — and best concept — we've heard to date: "#IRL (internet shorthand for 'In Real Life ') is Helvey's exploration and reflection on being an artist in the age of Tumblr, Instagram and the reblog," the show text reads. "With the vast array of technological opportunities we have to broadcast our identity and redistribute images of art and design, at what point do we create our own content? #IRL presents work created by Helvey, that references images and works from the internet, many of which have been re-posted on her blog, HunterGathererer. These works, brought together under Helvey's distinct aesthetic and material sensibility, reject the lament that there is really nothing new. Instead, this exhibition celebrates the impact of technology and social media and its wealth of imagery as direct inspiration for creating real and tangible art objects.'"
People always ask us about the American design scene, and for the longest time, inquiring after American design was just shorthand for trying to figure out what was happening in New York. It’s not that design wasn’t happening in other places; it just wasn’t happening at a scale and with a voice that would make it cohere into something bigger than itself. But oh, how that’s changed in the last five years. Ask us about American design, and we’ll talk your ear off about the amazing ceramics coming out of Los Angeles, or the interesting material experiments happening in Chicago, or Jonah Takagi, who’s singlehandedly making “D.C. design” happen. But the city we’re really, really excited about right now? Seattle.
Every creative scene has an unseen hand, the type of person who seems to know everyone, touch everything, and generally act as the glue holding it all together, all while falling just below the radar of the average outside observer. In the Seattle design world, Charlie Schuck fits that profile to a tee. A photographer and the proprietor of the former brick and mortar storefront Object — which he filled with commissions by designers from around the Pacific Northwest — he not only produces stunning product shots for locals like Totokaelo, Iacoli & McAllister, Ladies & Gentlemen Studio, and Filson, he also curates exhibitions, like the recent pop-up Future This Now and an upcoming museum survey of regional talents. He's so committed to his role, in fact, that when we approached him about doing a story on his own work, he came back with the idea to do a photo essay on everyone else's: "A still life series of personal items that speak to the influences of Seattle creatives," he says. "Objects from those who produce objects."