“You do you just don’t” – Leeds Met

It is hard to make out exactly what I am looking at – the blurred shapes and
diffused colours seem to be hinting at something just beyond my grasp

Event: “You do you just don’t”
Venue: Leeds Met
Date: 12th December

It is hard to make out exactly what I am looking at – the blurred shapes and diffused colours seem to be hinting at something just beyond my grasp – but before I can make it out, the slide changes, and another image, this time clearer, takes it place. A series of chains suspends what looks like molten clouds of mercury and lead, all of it hanging precariously against a warm tawny orange background. This is the title piece for 42 year old student Paul Ashton’s ‘You do you just don’t’ exhibition at Leeds Met University, and instantly recognizable as one his most striking works. Made using mouldy paint, the whole collection is a return to what Ashton calls the true purpose of art, the aesthetic. “I wanted to make things that looked beautiful, and pretty; things that were nice to look at.”

His work, however, is on the whole much more than simply “nice” to look at. Everything seems to be vertically suspended, channelling a curious tension reminiscent of Dali. He has chosen to project his work in a sequence of slides onto various half constructed walls, which forces audience and art to interact with interesting results. “I like the way the architecture of the room informs the art and the way people view it. just like in everyday life, really,” he muses. Indeed, the pieces almost come alive when someone moves in the way of the projectors, instantly distorting in shape and shade, momentarily wrapping themselves around the unaware person, who quickly
scuttles out of the way.

The projectors are placed in awkward places on purpose, to encourage this sort of interplay. Just as in life, our environment dictates how we see the things around us, and sometimes we must shift our viewpoint in order to see the full picture, or at least to gain a different perspective. Art, Ashton claims, is a chance for man to step back and observe, to stand still amongst all the rush and point out something beautiful to the world.

To demonstrate this point, he draws my attention to a TV in the corner of the room. For 70 long minutes, it plays a recording of Ashton sitting still in a chair with a piece of bread in hand put halfway into his open mouth, and his other hand resting on his leg. Although apparently motionless, when you look closely, especially towards the end, you can see his hand trembling, his mouth drooling, even his body swaying. In an attempt to get us to notice the small things, the artist freezes himself, proving instead that motionless objectivity is impossible to achieve.

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