Ashley Gragg is only 17 years old but she has already made her presence felt in the art field on a statewide level after earning a first place finish in the category of colored pencil-realistic at the Arkansas Young Artist Association competition in Little Rock earlier this year.
Gragg, who will be entering her senior year at Pine Bluff High School this fall, was able to develop what has been described as a natural talent thanks to being noticed by longtime art instructor Virginia Hymes.
“Before high school I looked at art as just something to do,” Gragg said. “Mrs. Hymes brought it out of me. I didn’t know that I had much talent. She wants me to pursue art in college.”
Hymes is effusive in her praise of Gragg both as an artist and as a human being.
“Ashley is a bright young lady, very smart,” Hymes said. “She is one of those persons who is very curious and a critical thinker. She is very caring and she is someone who thinks before she speaks.”
Hymes said Gragg shares of a love of animals with her passion for art.
“In the 10th grade she talked about wanting to be a veterinarian but once she started art class her eyes just lit up,” Hymes said. “She has a thing for animals and art. She is just a blessing to have in class. She is one of those kids who just light up the room. When you give her an assignment she wants to do more.”
Gragg said art has become a way for her to visually express the everyday lives and challenges of her generation.
“I get inspiration from the circumstances that my friends go through,” Gragg said. “Of course I also find ideas for my art from my own experiences. I practice every day even if it’s just doodling. I don’t really see it as practice because it’s something I love to do.”
Gragg said her work can best be described as expressionism.
“I find a particular subject matter, then interpret it in my own way and express it on paper,” Gragg said. “My favorite media to work with is colored pencil. I get a lot of inspiration from the work of Leonardo Da Vinci.”
Gragg said her family supports her art.
“At first they thought art was risky,” Gragg said. “But now they want me to pursue it and they give me support.”
Gragg’s mother. Tracie, is proud of her daughter’s accomplishments.
“She has a lot of people that pay her to do artwork,” Tracie Gragg said. “She even did a piece for a church that took up the entire living room. My husband [Larry Gragg] and I encourage Ashley in what she is doing. We want her to go as far as she can with her art.”
Tracie Gragg said she is pleased with the notoriety her daughter is enjoying.
“It’s perfectly fine,” Tracie Gragg said.
Lenore Shoults, executive director of the Arts & Science Center for Southeast Arkansas, is impressed with Gragg and her work.
“Ashley is exceptionally talented,” Shoults said. “Besides her artistic talent she is someone with a great intellectual depth who draws upon issues relevant to young people today for her projects. She really does us proud.”
Gragg’s work recently was featured in the 2013 Pine Bluff High School Art Exhibition at the Arts & Science Center along with that of other talented young artists.
Shoults was happy to see the level of support Gragg has in her life.
“She happens to be a lovely young woman,” Shoults said. “She is obviously so loved because whenever she exhibits she is accompanied by her entire family and her friends. She always has a large entourage with her.”
Gragg will be president of the Art Club this fall and is also her senior class president. She has a 4.02 grade point average and runs track.
This summer she has been painting murals in the hallways of the Patterson and Trice buildings on the PBHS campus.
When asked about goals for her senior year, she listed several.
“I plan to stay at the top of my class, produce the best artwork that I can and get noticed in statewide competitions,” she said.