Six Artists, Six Perspectives
Six emerging artists from Aspen and the Roaring Fork Valley, exploring various disciplines, are defining what it means to be an artist today.
Ajax Axe was a devoted fort builder as a kid. It was through building forts that she found she could create a fantasy culture and step into that imaginary world, an idea that continues to inform her art: from photographed quixotic sculptural works to found object statuary depicting religious deities from a futuristic society. Growing up in Saratoga Springs, N.Y., Axe was surrounded by creative people: Her father was a writer, and her uncle was a sculptor. And along with fort building, she was also fascinated by Africa. Axe studied at The American University in Cairo, Skidmore College and Harvard, then spent seven years as a freelance journalist for publications such as Colors Magazine. The Aspen Writers’ Conference brought her to Aspen in 2008 and again in 2010 before she embarked upon a two-year exploration of Sudan, thanks to a National Geographic Young Explorers Grant.
When she returned to America in 2012, Axe came back to Aspen and got the itch to make things again (she had minored in sculpture at Skidmore). Anderson Ranch Arts Center was the perfect place to explore her interest in taking philosophical and conceptual ideas and making them into physical objects.
“Idols, shrines and temples are some of the oldest and most enduring examples of art and culture, and the mnemonic power of an object worshiped as the embodiment of some unseen truth transcends all eras and civilizations,” Axe writes in an accompanying statement for a recent exhibition at the Gonzo Gallery in Aspen.
For Axe, the medium becomes the message. Assemblage is not a typical process for her. However, in exploring the idea of what will be left behind from our consumer culture and what, in the future, a post-apocalyptic, nomadic society might worship, she focused on human garbage, determined to transform something meaningless into something seen as valuable. She is now exploring the idea of making performance pieces, playing with the narrative of everyday reality by transforming people in public places. “It’s so simple to play with people’s heads and get them to open up and to think more creatively,” she says. “Wear a mask in public, and it changes the narrative around you.”
Axe hopes to create a forest tribe that people can experience. Her studio, 5 miles out of Aspen on an unimproved dirt road, seems ideal. She describes her space as a childhood fantasy of a cross between a tree fort and an Ewok village—a place where she steps back into her anthropological futuristic fantasy culture. In her forest tribe, Axe will be able not only to convey, but also to help others experience, the innate sense of mystery about our place in the universe. Axe’s work is on display this summer at the Gonzo Gallery, upstairs at the Boogie’s Building (534 E. Cooper Ave.); online at gonzogallery.com. For studio visits email firstname.lastname@example.org. –LG