Ashley Lukashevsky on Finding Her Voice Through Anger, Frustration, Fear, & Hope
Interview by Mike O'Donnell / Editor
Ashley Lukashevsky’s illustrations are unabashed expressions of empowerment, visual dismantlings of double standards, and exemplars of encouragement for unheard voices from every corner. In our interview below, the Los Angeles-based artist tells me how her work is an authentic, unadulterated expression of what inspires her most, why the pointed messages in her past work and personal projects make it much easier for her to align with future like-minded clients, and what she expects of her fellow artists. “Use your voice, your hands, and your eyes to work for liberation. We are more than content generators to push product. I’m not saying that you can’t do the latter (I certainly do!) but you can do more.”
You just collaborated with Planned Parenthood on a series of illustrations. What excited you most about this project?
I’m always really excited to illustrate around issues that I would already be exploring in my free time. What spoke to me was the way that the team at PPNYC works to center people of color, and queer and trans communities. PPNYC does such a powerful job of stressing that reproductive justice expands far beyond abortion and birth control. The government dominates our bodies through leglislation that is gendered, sexualized, and racialized, and the conversation around our bodies cannot ignore that.
This seems like a perfect union of artist and client. Are there certain steps you take to collaborate with clients whose values align with yours?
I think that for the most part, clients know what my values are (I think it’s pretty easy to tell) and typically reach out because of my message. I’m not going to illustrate a label for beef jerky, or some white guy’s brand of mustache wax. Typically brands and organizations are coming to me because we already align on core values, and that’s really exciting on my end!
Have politics and social commentary always been part of your artistic voice? Or do you see this as part of your evolution?
I didn’t fully understand the connection between justice and art until the 2016 election cycle. I had first gotten into graphic design in order to amplify the messages of social movements, but I neither understood art’s role nor put it into practice until then. This was certainly part of my evolution. It was when I started to air my anger, frustrations, fears, and hopes about our collective future that I found my artistic voice.
Do you feel an artistic responsibility to take a stance?
Absolutely. If you have the skillset to create impactful work, use it for more than creating content for corporations. We all operate in this highly capitalistic society, but you don’t have to always move through the world that way. Use your voice, your hands, and your eyes to work for liberation. We are more than content generators to push product. I’m not saying that you can’t do the latter (I certainly do!) but you can do more.
How do you navigate providing creative support to certain underfunded organizations without giving away your work for free?
I do both discounted rates and pro-bono work for grassroots organizations that I believe are doing crucial work. This is where my heart lies. Working with brands can be exciting and I take on that kind of work to make a living as an artist. Doing commercial work is also what allows me to do the discounted or pro-bono work to support social movements. I don’t see donating my skillset to visually bolster justice initiatives as diluting the economic value of my work. What’s really the point of something that’s just pretty to look at? I think that people who can craft messaging and powerful imagery have a moral imperative to work towards something larger.
What would be your dream project or job, or is it already on your resume?
My dream project right now would to scale up to a giant mural on an external wall. I’m definitely not there yet, but I would like to be one day.
Who or what inspires you to illustrate?
I’m inspired by people who are doing liberation work. Community organizers, healers, justice seekers. I just want to amplify and support them.
What’s something you’ve learned on your creative journey that other artists should hear?
Shit is not linear. Operate in a state of abundance. I remember being scared ALL the time that work would dry up. It paralyzed me. And then, all of a sudden, things were flowing. Just keep moving, keep creating, and continue to work from a place of love and abundance.
What do you want to see more of in 2019, artistically or otherwise?
More love. Less injustice. Abolishment of the prison industrial complex.