Photos by Isadora Pennington.

He might be the nicest artist in Atlanta. Ashley Anderson, with his bushy beard and warm, inviting personality, has been one of the city’s most prolific and multifaceted artists since he moved here nearly 14 years ago. 

His works span a number of mediums, including illustration, watercolors, acrylics, screen printing, graphic design, murals, 3D works, cyanotypes, and even a mug series he calls ‘Death Metal Santas’ that he produces around the holidays. Central threads that unite his varied artworks are an affinity for video games, pop culture icons, movies, a robust sense of humor, and a deep fascination with art history and philosophy. 

Shinobi Marilyn

These days, Anderson frequently participates in artist markets in addition to online sales via social media, graphic design work for clients, and the occasional gallery show. One of Anderson’s most iconic styles is what he calls “pixel work.” These pieces are frequently interpretations of classic subject matter such as still lifes of flowers, bowls, vases, as well as recognizable faces from pop culture. He renders these images using a grid system and carefully chosen color palettes into pieces that are reminiscent of 80s videogame graphics. In contrast to the loud, sometimes chaotic, and always moving nature of these games, his paintings are quiet and contemplative both in creation and observation.

“Growing up in Sandersville we didn’t have a lot of options to buy at the local Walmart for Nintendo, so I kind of went crazy that following year,” explained Anderson. “I was downloading tons of games and playing them but also thinking about art history and philosophy in my classes and it started to all swim together. I started to see how you could use these images to talk about things that had nothing to do with video games but would be attractive and accessible.”

Coke cup doodles

One example of this correlation between fine arts, pop culture, and videogames is his Marilyn Monroe series. The pieces which he rendered using his grid system came into the public eye even more when the High Museum of Art purchased three of his pieces in 2014, displaying them prominently just off the lobby during the special Andy Warhol exhibition in 2017. As Anderson explains it, the works, which he calls Shinobi Marilyn, are a play on Andy Warhol’s portraits of Marilyn Monroe styled as if they were created for a SEGA game.

Anderson has also recently been churning out a number of bumper stickers and shirts that are both screen printed and hand drawn. They often feature a recognizable character such as Garfield or Charlie Brown which have been modified, and in his word, “recycled,” to present a different and humorous message. 

Movie poster art for Plaza Theatre

“Jokes,” said Anderson when asked how he chooses his subject matter. “If something’s funny I’m more likely to do it.” Often these images go viral and his designs have been picked up by fans from near and far. A design he created of E.T. giving the finger ended up being reproduced as a painting on a port-a-potty, and his 3D pixel gun idea was remade and produced en masse both locally and as far away as Mexico. While sometimes the stealing gets to him, he remains mostly unbothered. 

“As long as they are clever or funny, I am totally cool with it,” says Anderson. “There’s recycling, and it’s a joke. But I also understand where I fall in the chain of the life of an image.”

The dining room of Anderson’s Cabbagetown home that he shares with a roommate has been nearly consumed by artwork, tools, and supplies. On the table is a screen print press set up to create his newest design of a UFO with the letters ATL on it. Nearby, signs and prints lean against a shelf that is stacked with Santa mugs, books, paints, and brushes. An assortment of sketchbooks on the kitchen are filled with his doodles dating back to middle school. 

Art is Anderson’s life, and it pervades every aspect of his existence. From sketches of people he sees on MARTA to a series of literally hundreds of Coke cups he doodled on during his time working at Fellini’s Pizza on Ponce, he is constantly creating art. He even let me in on a little secret project that he is doing for reasons yet unknown to him: crafting miniature bones out of tin foil wrappers from burritos that he orders at restaurants. He has boxes full of them, and he’s not sure how, if ever, he will display them. These bones are just another creative pursuit, another hobby, another manifestation of his love of creation.

Whether it’s for pay or for pleasure, Anderson takes joy in making artwork and has no plans of stopping. “To some extent I believe that if you get an idea, it’s your responsibility to do something with it – to realize it. You never know what it is that you’re going to make that’s going to resonate with people. So, to some degree that frees you to do whatever you want to do, and it’s always more attractive innately if you’re having an authentic reaction.” 

Follow Anderson on  Instagram @pressstarttobegin.

Isadora Pennington

Isadora Pennington is a freelance writer and photographer based in Atlanta. She is the editor of Sketchbook by Rough Draft, a weekly Arts newsletter.