Walking into Ashley Mary‘s Northeast studio feels a bit like walking onto an early 1990’s Nickelodeon Television set – in the best way. Large, bright, three-dimensional objects line the room, whimsical mobiles hang from the ceilings, giant-sized pom-pom pillows, and Ashley Mary’s paintings inspired by her love of collage and color are everywhere.

This kind of childhood nostalgia wonderland dovetails perfectly with one of the primary drivers of Ashley Mary’s artistic process: play. “That energy you have as a kid” is something Ashley Mary says she is trying to cultivate in her work. “That freedom to play, bounce, make a mess – and we lose that somewhere along the way as adults – I’m trying come back to that in my process of art.”

Ever since Ashley Mary was exposed to the process of collage in college, her work has evolved through experimentation. “I don’t want to ever come to my work feeling like something has to look a certain way, because I think I miss an opportunity for something to surprise me.” Using collage as a jumping off point, she started experimenting with paint, first on her collages and then on canvas, using the collage as a guide to influence her work.

More recently, she has jumped off the canvas and started to explore painting on walls through commissioned murals, as well as wrapping her work around a variety of products – everything from yoga mats to wine bottles.  “I love working with other brands and products that I am a consumer of, too… [I like to] figure out new ways to bring my artwork to life with them.” In the last year she has partnered with Minneapolis Vintage Market on a series of photoshoots that involve shapes and colors she is drawn to in an effort to promote vintage clothes.

Ashley Mary’s sense of joy, play and experimentation extends beyond her artwork as well. “The way that I think about life, and how to be the happiest whole version of myself, is how I interact with my paintings,” she says. “They are messy, they are layered, they are a process and they don’t need to be perfect to be delighted in.”

Minnesota Music: Andre Rodriguez, The Shiny Lights
Production Team: Kate McDonald, Brennan Vance
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This story is made possible by the Arts and Cultural Heritage Fund and the citizens of Minnesota.

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Earlier this year, Ashley Mary painted a whimsical mural at Rosedale Center for the mall’s art-themed scavenger hunt. Find out more in “Fancy an Easter Egg Hunt for Art Lovers?”

Speaking of “fancy,” Minnesota comedian, minister, one-time political candidate and all-around happy guy Fancy Ray McCloney offers up his tips “to looking good and feeling better.”

Textile artist Mandi Smethells loves rainbows – and that’s why she has one of Instagram’s happiest feeds. Prepare to be delighted.