Alumni Profile: Ashley Taraban ‘03

Alumni Profile: Ashley Taraban ‘03

Below is one in a series of interviews that profiles our alumni experiences and successes in college and life. This article includes an interview with Ashley Taraban ‘03.

What college or university did you attend after Seattle Academy (or what did you pursue instead?) What did you major in? Did you get other degrees?

I received a BFA from the school of the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston and Tufts University. At the time of my degree, it was not required to declare a major, and so I spent my time studying painting, photography and film making. It’s worth noting that attendance to one’s studio art classes was encouraged, but not mandatory. There was the belief that if you did not like a particular drawing class, you would use this time working on something else. This practice really develops a strong studio art practice (the daily ritual of creating without someone needing to tell you to) and really exposes who has the discipline required for such a lifestyle. Also interesting, the school did not use grades (all academics taught at Tufts did, but studio art classes did not), and in order to determine whether you did enough work to warrant a full semester’s worth of credit, they had review boards. This consisted of two teachers, two students and a room full of all the work you did that semester. Some of the most rewarding critiques of your work came out at this time, and it was one of the best platforms to learn really truly how to speak about your work. I often reflected on how in our small classrooms at SAAS, we cultivated critical thinking in the humanities through openly supported dialectics. It was just part of the everyday experience there, and it really helped develop my capacity to speak about my work as an artist.

What unique experiences have you had since leaving Seattle Academy? Trips, internships, jobs, etc.

This is a hard question! I have a serious case of wanderlust and travel as often as possible. I’d say living in Florence, Italy for my junior year really shaped me and my understanding of myself in the context of art history. Living amongst the vibrant remains of a period, a movement of art and history—the Renaissance—changes the way one understands it. To be amidst the architecture, the palaces and the churches, the language and High Renaissance art was the closest thing to time travel. I began to understand art as life and a vital part of it, and not just art as academic remains of a period.

Also incredible was my time spent living and volunteering in Nairobi, Kenya. Working with a group of artist friends with kids from Kibera, we taught art and the power of the creative voice. We also had the opportunity to go camping in the Masai Mara and see wild elephants (among other animals!). And most recently, my trip to Peru: trekking in the Andes was one of the hardest and most incredible things I have done.

What are your favorite memories from Seattle Academy? What programs, teams, extracurriculars were you involved in while at SAAS? Who were your most influential teachers at Seattle Academy?

Jenny Zavatsky, Tom Hajduk, Steve Retz, Rob Phillips and April Ferry. I can’t even begin to express how much these humans shaped my life. I would go hang out with them in their office philosophizing or gossiping and would leave them post-it notes whenever I had something to tell them. Did not matter what. They were the best. I remember with great detail some of the projects and papers: the philosopher’s debate, studying biases in news sources, writing on how Joan of Arc was a threat to the patriarchy. Really, the academic framework for a lot of what I like to think about now. In terms of activities, I was all about after-school art with April and Youth Legislature with Steve and Jenny. I think it is safe to say I found my way into a lot of the activities unofficially.

Where are you now and what do you do? Where do you see yourself in 10 years? How did Seattle Academy help prepare you for your job today?

I am a practicing artist living in NYC and have been in my current studio space since 2008. I have been working on a number of bodies of work that are really interested in the natural world, mythology, the cosmos and the capacity that visual art has as acting as a catalyst for transformation and the experience of awe. I think I will be doing much of what I am doing now in 10 years but with more focus on exhibitions and large scale works.

I think SAAS prepared me in a number of ways for what I do now. Aside from the obvious exposure to the arts, the science classes (if I hadn’t gone to art school I would have studied chemistry) basically made me completely in awe of the universe. I will never forget the experiment in chemistry when you hold the popsicle sticks soaked in different chemicals over a bunsen burner and the flames turned different colors. For me that was the kind of real life magic that I am so interested in painting.

And the humanities teachers were totally responsible for my love of, well, The Humanities! Serious love for studying philosophy, literature, theology, mythology.