The first thing that strikes you right off the bat when in the presence of Ashley Thompson and Laura Gomes is how seemingly different they are. When I turned up for our interview at Häagen-Dazs (yes, girls hold interviews over gourmet ice cream – surprise, surprise) Ashley was right on time, perfectly put together in a neat cardigan, fresh light makeup and hair immaculately pulled back with an elegant, romantic side twist. Laura arrived a short time later, artfully dishevelled, hair in a messy chignon atop her head and looking 100% the effortlessly chic bohemian artist.
As we chatted over our 500-calorie goodies, the differences between them became ever more apparent. To begin with, their creative processes are at two completely opposite ends of the spectrum: Ashley maintains a strict 8 – 5 work schedule and is a self-proclaimed creature of routine who can’t skip her beloved afternoon runs, whilst Laura laughingly admits that she’s more of a scatterbrain and works at all hours, sometimes getting only two hours’ sleep if inspiration keeps her hard at work until the wee hours of the morning.
Then of course, there’s the obvious difference between their art – Ashley is a painter, working primarily with oil paints and focused on landscapes and seascapes in particular, whereas Laura makes bold and intricate jewellery using mainly bronze and silver under her business name, Micha Gomes Jewelry. Whilst Laura gets inspiration for her work by gathering hundreds of images and drawing reference from social media websites like Pinterest and Instagram, often getting ideas from dreams and her mind’s own unceasing enthusiasm for her craft, Ashley draws her inspiration from long days at the beach, taking mental snapshots of how it feels to experience natural beauty of such a breathtaking scope. Yet despite being opposite in so many ways, these two young women have been collaborating and working together closely for the past year to bring their upcoming exhibition entitled Élan to fruition. So, what brought them together? And what made them believe that their work could be mutually complementary? Well, once you delve beyond the surface of their varying creative processes and the fact that one is a jeweller and the other a painter, it quickly becomes clear that there are a great many common threads between the inner drive that fuels both women as well as between their own intentions for their work.
The fateful night that served as the catalyst for this partnership was the launch party for the venue Drew Manor in 2013. Both artists were working in unrelated fields at the time—Ashley in advertising and Laura in event planning—but they were invited to show some of their work at the launch. They both showed pieces they had worked on while studying in their respective art schools for university, but when they spoke that night, both were struck not only with a deep appreciation of the other’s work, but they instantly realised that they were both in the same place creatively: as Ashley puts it, they were “in a bit of a rut”, not working on their art and not doing what they truly, wholeheartedly wanted to do with their lives.
Both women had returned home to Trinidad from art school for some time, and as Laura explains, “Coming from a creative environment in art school where everyone is so supportive to a place where people don’t understand and can be so close-minded about the possibilities of making your art into a career can be very frustrating… it’s hard. There are very few avenues for young artists down here, especially if you’re moving away from the traditional art forms: painting and drawing.”
However, having the opportunity to show their work reignited their enthusiasm and gave them a burst of the confidence that had perhaps been waning before; and receiving the effusive feedback of people “in the right places” as Ashley puts it, suddenly opened both girls up to the idea of abandoning their professions in pursuit of their art. And then, of course, there was the fact that they’d found in each other an automatic support system and source of motivation. Thus began the partnership that will culminate in this week’s exhibition.
From then on, their collaborative work has been ongoing, and as their work progressed, the similarities between their seemingly different work began to blossom. Perhaps without even realising it, they both strive for a shared vision and goal: they both want to bring something fresh, new and unique to the table; they want to move away from the traditional ‘Caribbean’ aesthetics associated with painting and jewellery to create their own uniquely identifiable niche. As Laura explains, “Metal and paint are so different, but there’s still something so similar in both our concepts. Paint is soft and fluid, and for me, metal is hard, cold and industrial. There’s that contrast of the harshness of the metal and the soft brushstrokes of the paint.”
Despite this, the bold vigour of Laura’s jewellery and the ethereal, otherworldly softness of Ashley’s paintings share an underlying theme of femininity and are both suffused with the touches of innate ‘Caribbeanness’ that is often inescapable for most artists born and raised on the islands. Most noticeably, both Ashley and Laura emphasise the importance of evoking a feeling and emotion with their work. According to Ashley, “I would prefer to hear someone say, ‘this makes me feel something’ than ‘oh, that looks great’”; similarly, Laura creates her pieces to make people feel self-assured and brave: “I strive to create something to make the wearer feel confident […] I prefer my jewellery to speak for me, so I’m big on repetitive patterns, and lots of texture and details.” Ashley agrees emphatically, gushing that she’s planning to wear one of Laura’s pieces at the exhibition because it will make her feel confident without a doubt.
This shared appreciation and enthusiasm for each other’s work is perhaps one of the most endearing qualities of this artistic duo that shines through during the entire course of our conversation. No doubt, it’s based on a deep mutual understanding of what they each want to achieve: emotionally-based work that stirs the imagination and moves the soul. One may prefer to light incense and play soft music while painting, and the other needs to have a noisy TV on in the background to keep her creatively distracted, but the fact remains that they are both ultimately aiming to create a feeling that captures a moment, whether it’s a moment of confidence where you feel dressed to take on the world or a moment where you lose yourself in the serene tranquillity of a soothing seascape.
Having intentionally and mindfully collaborated on their work for the past year, there is a tangible bond between them that can only inspire. Their excitement for each other’s art and their purposeful shared effort will no doubt result in two parallel bodies of work that will each serve to bring out the best in the other. Throughout the process of preparing for their showing, they’ve sought feedback, advice and motivation from one another; and in spite of moments of extreme challenge (Laura severed the tendons in her thumb while working in August, requiring her to undergo surgery and two months of recovery), I can feel instinctively during the interview that they’re standing on the cusp of a significant turning point in both of their artistic careers.
Those who will be coming to see their work on the opening night of the exhibition on 4 December 2013 at the Art Society of Trinidad and Tobago can expect to partake in a truly interactive experience, in that Laura and Ashley’s pieces are in no way stagnant or flat. Expect to see two totally different artistic mediums merging together to form a stream of energy and emotion that will set your imagination to work. Whether it is intentional or not, their pieces are about movement. They’re about moving you to feel and taking you to another place: to a delicate dream world or to a place where you are your most beautiful, confident self. They are about the movement of the spirit, the heart and the imagination.
This is perhaps why the name of the exhibition Élan (French for ‘momentum’) is so fitting, as it truly captures the effect of their work while encapsulating the creative impetus that propels these two young artists who I can only describe as two strong inspirational forces taking on the world avec élan.
Ashley Thompson is a painter and art teacher hailing from Glencoe, Trinidad, and she has been creating art (and leaving paint on furniture, walls and floors in the process) for as long as she can remember. Ashley has her B.A. in both Fine Art and Communication from the College of St. Benedict in Minnesota. Her current body of work can be described as a series of atmospheric landscapes, all created with oil paint on canvas. Ashley enjoys being outdoors where she finds her inspiration for her work, and when is not painting, she can be spotted running along main roads, riding her bike or taking snapshots on the beach.
Laura Michelle Gomes lives for the sheen of newly polished metal, the feel of suede against the wrist, the sweet music of jingling bangles and the sparkle of faceted gemstones. In other words, jewellery is her true love and her whole life. In case you couldn’t already guess her profession, Laura is the jewellery designer, metalsmith and artist behind the Micha Gomes line.
She studied at SCAD, where she concentrated in Metals and Jewellery and dabbled in fashion and painting. Inspired by the rich cultural background of her Caribbean island home, Laura’s vision is to create bold, exotic jewellery that empowers a woman, making her feel confident, beautiful and independent.
All photos copyright Amber Rostant www.amberdawn-photography.com