Though she's only been tattooing for just over three years now, OL Ash is already making a name for herself through her unique take on traditional lady heads and pinups. Coming from a background in textile design, she uses her knowledge of and passion for early 20th century fashion and popular culture to give her illustrations of lovely ladies an intriguing and vintage twist. While all of her female figures are sexy, they visually assert their independence in an outspoken way as well.
Ash didn't always intend on being a tattooist, but now that she's doing it, she believes she found her calling. Earlier in her career as an artist, she studied textile arts, but because her designs were too radical for the clothing and interior decorating industries, she decided to venture into the world of body art, and doing so has allowed her creativity to flourish. “I’ve tried to express myself in a lot of different ways, through fabric and other mediums, but I find tattooing the most rewarding because it fits naturally with my artistic vision," Ash says. "I feel as if I’ve finally found my match."
Ash's stylized pinups are a mixture of old-school American traditional designs, 1930s fashion sense, and 21st-century attitude. She renders them in bold lines and shades them brightly, almost exactly in the style of oldtimers like Sailor Jerry or Ed Hardy, but the way she uniquely outfits them makes them more than mere eye-candy.
"I never expected to do so many pinups," Ash says. "It’s not what I thought I'd focus on. Though I do enjoy drawing female figures while also contradicting stereotypes." Her illustrated ladies are indicative of the similarities and differences between women's ability to express their sexuality from one generation to another. Though pinups and lady heads historically grew out of the male gaze, now artists like Ash are subverting it in unexpected and meaningful ways. Her work embraces the natural beauty of the feminine form, but it does in a way that makes you rethink what defines "sexy."
While the subversive nature of her pinups and lady heads is one of their most compelling features, the way that they gesture toward a larger tradition of illustrating female figures in the world of art is perhaps their most interesting facet. A significant portion of her portfolio specifically references 1930s illustrations in cartoons and advertisements. For instance, the strange vegetable lady head mashups from her body of work were inspired by old ads that featured creepy anthropomorphic veggies.
The political connotations behind this sort of iconography is fascinating. Girls depicted as food — something to be eaten — a mask of Betty Boop weeping into a lady head's sparkling eyes. Each one of these pieces has a nostalgically burlesque quality to it, like peering into the past to see what it takes to be a modern woman. "For me, I’ve been watching things like old Betty Boop cartoons since I was little," Ash explains. "I like things that give me a feeling of nostalgia, and that’s also a part of what attracts clients to it. Illustrations of women back then were pushing the boundaries in terms of sexuality, and I want to capture that aesthetic in my work."