From the Hall Hardware sign in the shape of a hammer, juxtaposed against the blue-and-white Florida sky, to the Dixie Highway and Dyer Road street signs, to the telephone pole and all its wires, to the red-and-white stop sign, WPTV reporter and artist Ashleigh Walters paints realistic still lifes and landscapes of la vie quotidienne.
Now, 50 of Walters’s latest paintings have been collected into a show titled exhibit A: The Art of Ashleigh Walters at the Lighthouse ArtCenter in Tequesta from April 13-22. In addition to her paintings, the exhibition includes her resin and epoxy jewelry pieces and small-scaled three-dimensional objects.
“We’re lucky to have Ashleigh’s works on display here at the ArtCenter,” says curator Janeen Mason, who had been following Walters’s works on Facebook and connected with her through a mutual friend.
“Her paintings are colorful, enjoyable and very representative,” she says. With paintings of grocery store shelves stocked with six-packs of Cola-Cola, Sprite and Fanta, or the baking aisle in Publix with its cookie and cupcake icing, Pillsbury cake mixes and bags of candies, Walters captures a moment in time and a slice of our daily lives.
“Who hasn’t seen these things in real life?” Mason says, noting that she’s especially drawn to Walters’s depiction of the grocery shelves stocked with Marshmallow Fluff and other nostalgic products such as Goldfish, Hellman’s Mayonnaise, Mrs. Butterworth syrup and McDonald’s.
“The Marshmallow Fluff reminds me of my mother,” she says. “I find comfort in this.”
Mason says these nostalgic and everyday items, which include many cultural touchstones, will bring up emotions and memories for the viewers as well.
“Ashleigh’s works evoke a simpler time in our history,” Mason says. “When I see these grocery shelves fully stocked it makes me feel that everything is all right in the world.”
Walters, the main reporting anchor on WPTV, simultaneously earned a bachelor of arts degree in fine arts with an emphasis in painting from the University of Colorado at Boulder, as well as a bachelor of science degree in broadcast news.
She came to West Palm Beach by way of KUSA in Denver and WLTX in Columbia, S.C.
Since joining WPTV, Walters has covered not only local news but the Aurora theater shooting, which happened 20 minutes from her home in Colorado, Colorado’s 2013 floods that caused $4 billion in damage, and Hurricane Isaac hitting New Orleans in 2012.
“My parents always joked that I came out of the womb with paper and pencil in hand,” says Walters, 41, who was creating from a young age. Hailing from a creative family, she had an abundance of art supplies in her bedroom as a child and was always planning her next project.
Her job as a TV reporter allows her entrée to different neighborhoods, cultures and lifestyles. One of her favorite pastimes is to visit an international supermarket and take snapshots of food items particular to certain cultures.
“Just visiting the fish counter alone will blow you away,” she says.
Also on her radar to paint in a supermarket is the meat aisle.
“There’s a lot of weird pinks and emotions going on in the meat section,” she says. “It’s simultaneously joyous and off-putting.”
Since coming to Florida, Walters noted the emphasis on citrus drinks and produce in the grocery stores, something she illustrates with her painting of a bag of Cuties, some half-peeled.
“My mom used to say, ‘cemeteries and grocery stores reflect what’s important to a community,’” Walters said.
In South Carolina, she shot photographs of pickled pigs’ feet at a grocery store – not something you might see in Denver, she says.
“Things that seem ordinary from the inside, can be quirky from the outside,” Walters said.
Walters claims influences from American painter and pop artist Wayne Thiebaud, known for his colorful works of commonplace objects such as pies, lipsticks and ice-cream cones, and American photorealist painter Ralph Goings, known for his pickup truck series, fast-food eateries, diner interiors and countertop still lifes.
“His refined style, subject matter, use of color in unexpected ways and use of repetition resonate with me,” Walters says, who also employs recurring images in her work.
Not one to sit still, Walters typically has 15-20 paintings in various sizes and stages of completion in her home studio in North County. She takes photos constantly, looking for inspiration.
“My aspirations for all the work I’d like to do are enormous,” Walters says. “Sometimes while driving, I’ll see something interesting, stop and take a photo and know that one day I will paint it.”
Some paintings she finishes in a day; others take years.
Walters says what she is most proud of are her “incremental accomplishments” – putting in the work each and every day and seeing it pay off. “Every little breakthrough is an accomplishment,” she says. “It’s more fulfilling than an award.”
Broadcasting from home for six months during the COVID-19 pandemic, Walters used her paintings as a backdrop, which she changed each day. She also led viewers in painting demonstrations and creative crafts in live online broadcasts.
Walters donated one of those paintings, a 36-by-36 acrylic depicting a Publix grocery shelf featuring Florida-made orange juice, and raised $12,500 for the WPTV Food for Families drive, in conjunction with the Palm Beach County Food Bank and the United Way.
Now with her current exhibit at the Lighthouse ArtCenter, Walters will again donate one her paintings, titled Cups for the Center’s Cup-a-thon fundraiser which will go towards a new roof for the 3D Studio, renovations and a new kiln.
And, while Walters’s works have been exhibited in Gallery Biba on Worth Avenue and at Art Palm Beach, the exhibit A at the Lighthouse ArtCenter is her first solo show in a gallery space.
“I love the Lighthouse ArtsCenter,” says Walters, who has taken classes there. “I feel strongly about their history, staff, programs and culture and the fact they offer programs for veterans and children with special needs.”
“I’m honored to be featured in their gallery,” she says. “It’s an awesome place.”
The opening reception for exhibit A: The Art of Ashleigh Walters is Thursday, April 13, from 5-7 p.m. at Lighthouse ArtCenter, 373 Tequesta Drive, Tequesta. Admission is free for members and a $5 suggested donation for non-members. For more information, visit lighthousearts.org or call (561) 746-3101.