Claire Ashley, Jeff Huckleberry, and The Happy Collaborationists at The Icebox


Claire Ashley is a Scotland-born, Chicago-based artist who fuses sculpture and painting with a smattering of the absurd. For her latest piece, distant landscapes: peepdyedcrevicehotpinkridge, Ashley has created a series of inflatable sculptures that fill The Icebox Gallery at Crane Arts, transforming the space into a lively and cartoonish environment. Walking around the space, my husband and I decided that the forms reminded us of cloud-watching; the nebulous shapes potentially evoke any number of references. Speaking with Ashley, she confirmed that some of the forms are deliberately naturalistic (horse and cow, for example), while others are intentionally more ambiguous. Even Ashley’s title is meant to be at once both analytical and non-analytical, conveying and inviting any number of possible references.

One of the greatest pleasures of the show is exploring the many ways in which the sculptures interact with one another in the space. With its highly dynamic forms, the work seems to rejoice in a sort of happy chaos.

Claire Ashley "distant landscapes: peepdyedcrevicehotpinkridge" Installation view
Claire Ashley, distant landscapes: peepdyedcrevicehotpinkridge Installation view

For Ashley, motherhood is an inspiration

Ashley draws inspiration in part from her role as a mother. In their early iterations, the puffy forms of her sculptures came from Ashley’s protective maternal instincts. Since then, Ashley’s approach has evolved in a way that embraces the energy and silliness of young children. In a personal touch that adds emotional heft to the show, Ashley cuts the forms for each piece from a template of sorts loosely based on the blueprints from her home.

Claire Ashley/ Happy Collaborationists- Performance shot
Claire Ashley/ Happy Collaborationists- Performance shot

The Happy Collaborationists bring Ashley’s work to life

The dynamic, zany energy of Ashley’s inflatable sculptures is further underscored with their incorporation into a performance by The Happy Collaborationists (“Happy C”), a curatorial collective featuring performance artists Anna Trier and Meredith Weber.  Donning two of Ashley’s inflatable sculptures, the pair move and dance around the Gray Space adjoining the gallery to upbeat music.

Although brief, this performance encourages personification of Ashley’s sculptures, as though they were some kind of funky new creatures gallivanting in a world of their own.

Ashley’s painting/sculpture hybrids challenge the traditional notion of what defines a painting, an idea Happy C underscore in their performance. Just as a beautifully rendered painting can seem to dance on the canvas, Happy C succeeds in promoting the idea that a painting can literally become a dynamic object while still retaining its beauty as an artistic object.

 Claire Ashley/ Happy Collaborationists- Performance shot
Claire Ashley/ Happy Collaborationists- Performance shot

Jeff Huckleberry explores the challenge of artistic creation through intense yet humorous performance

Jeff Huckleberry’s performance, “8th Rainbow,” follows the performance by Happy C in the Gray Space. Huckleberry, a member of Mobius Artist Group and the artistic director of TOTAL ART, began his performance without introduction; he simply began laying out his various props, which included wooden boards, paint, a belt sander, a box, two cases of beer, and balloons.

Unaware that the piece was beginning, the chatter in the audience did not die down immediately, making the moment when Huckleberry doused himself with two Big-Gulps filled with rubbing alcohol, followed by two cans of coffee grounds, especially striking.

Jeff Huckleberry- "8th Rainbow" performance shot
Jeff Huckleberry- “8th Rainbow” performance shot

What followed from there was a series of actions that, while assaulting the senses in a ridiculous and entertaining manner, seemed also to grapple with the profound challenges artists face when attempting to create their work.  This was clearest when Huckleberry filled his pockets with beer bottles and wrestled with an armful of long, wood boards.  As he was rolling back and forth through the space, clutching this bulky mass, I empathized with him;  Huckleberry seemed to be actualizing the process of wrangling an unformulated creative idea into something tangible and workable – perhaps the most difficult task an artist faces.  Huckleberry personified this struggle with humor and whimsy; my husband and I found ourselves grinning constantly during the performance.

Jeff Huckleberry- "8th Rainbow" performance shot
Jeff Huckleberry- “8th Rainbow” performance shot

The artists create a successful, accessible collaboration

This is not the first time these artists have collaborated and it shows – each piece complemented the other in interesting ways. My husband and I left the gallery that night laughing and chatting excitedly about the show, eager to  see more.

Neither of us have much experience with the performing arts, but the performances that took place in and around Ashley’s vibrant sculptures felt exciting, engaging, and accessible. Ashley, Huckleberry, and The Happy C ably show that art can grapple with very real issues and come from personal, meaningful places but still be approachable and even highly entertaining.

It’s wonderful to see art with a jubilant sense of humor that doesn’t shy away from the silly in life.

Jeff Huckleberry- "8th Rainbow" performance shot
Jeff Huckleberry- “8th Rainbow” performance shot

distant landscapes: peepdyedcrevicehotpinkridge will be on display at The Icebox in the Crane Arts Building until May 31, 2013.

The gallery schedule is as follows:

May 15-17 noon-6

May 22-25 noon-6

May 29-31 noon-6

Sunday, Monday, and Tuesday by appointment via

All images credit to Claire Ashley. Video from Claire Ashley’s past collaborative performances, can be viewed here.


claire ashley, jeff huckleberry, the happy collaborationists, the ice box



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