charles ash western union

Charles Ash is a native of the desert southwest. Born and raised in Phoenix, went to school in Tucson, lived in Las Cruces and has been living and working in Santa Fe for the past 35 years;  a true “desert rat” born and bred.  In addition to his artwork, Ash is a practicing Architect with the firm Allied Arts.


“I am in heaven living and working in New Mexico and especially Santa Fe”  Ash goes on, “The massing, colors and textures of the pueblos are reminiscent of modern architecture in the twentieth century.  The layering of the masses is a hall mark of southwest architecture and one of the elements that translates into Ash’s work.”


“I love the variety of landscapes and being able to drive 20 minutes to trails leading into wilderness areas.  When you arrive at Northern New Mexico, you immediately understand what has drawn artists for the past 150 years. Most of all the blending of the three cultures: Spanish, Native American and Anglo gives me so much to draw from”


Growing up, his parents were avid and rather eclectic art collectors; contemporary, traditional, sculpture, Native American and East Asian were all part of his environment.  He was exposed to the forms and colors of Spanish, Native American and especially the architecture of Frank Lloyd Wright.  He was always drawing and during high school he took every art class available to the point that his art teacher allowed him private studio time. 

It wasn’t until Ash attended the College of Architecture at the University of Arizona in Tucson (with its curriculum that heavily emphasized sketching and drawing) that he

discovered the art and architecture, motifs, paintings, culture and minimalism of Japan.  It was at this time that he took a watercolor class taught by Al Smith…. and immediately fell in love with watercolors.

Initially of course the images created were architecture of the southwest; adobes, pueblos, western settlement and architectural renderings. Ash then developed figurative works that express a dynamic quality; using the figure as an opportunity to introduce color and motion.  After moving to Santa Fe, he started hiking up into the wilderness, finding a comfortable rock and painting what was before him.


         lilacs in santa fe

        “Lilacs In Santa Fe”


“I love the way your paintings look as a whole, but I especially admire your facility with painting light (and shadows) and depicting wonderfully textured skies.


His work draws from the forms, colors and experiences of the desert Southwest; an enjoyment in the act of painting expressing a simpler, more casual approach to life. Ash creates watercolor paintings that capture shadow, form and space; an approach where he relies on the quality of light and shadow to give a bold quality to his work.  He loves working quickly with paint, looking for the spontaneity and happy accidents that occur with a rough watercolor paper.

Abstract images started from working with monotypes, a printing process that allowed him to deconstruct an image, explore pure color and expressionism.

Then in 2014 started painting-a-day series using loose watercolor washes quickly over a very rough paper with a Japanese writing brush; which the minimalism parallels my architectural practice.  As part of the minimalism he has started to experiment with "Bokusho" the art of abstract expressionism through the medium of Japanese calligraphy. While the forms are not intended to be 'writing' the expressive marks produced retain all the power and fluid grace that Shodo (Japanese Calligraphy) exhibits.


“I enjoy the ability to express myself using a large Japanese brush, ink, water and good quality paper whether that is hot press, watercolor paper or rice paper. I find Bokusho stimulating and it is a huge challenge to let go of all my pre-conceptions of what I want on the paper and to just let it happen in front of me.

    highlands II

    Highlands II

     “The dude can paint”

Other influences are the architectural designs of Nicolai Fechin and John Gaw Meem and the Arts and Crafts movement.  Of course, living in one of the top art markets in the world has provided a trove of inspiration and new ways to delve into art making.

Ash was the past president of Santa Fe Society of Artists and has been recognized by the City of Santa Fe "Muchas Gracias" for design in Downtown/Eastside Historic District.

Installations of his work as part of the New Mexico “Art In Public Places Collection  “include Valencia County Meadow Lake Community Center,   State Police Headquarters Gallup, Hobbs Medical Center, New Mexico Department of Labor, New Mexico State Highway & Transportation Department Santa Fe.

One of his works was chosen as part of the room décor in all spaces in The Phoenician Resort, Scottsdale.

     winter storm

    “Winter Storm”


“Just occasionally a series of paintings pulls you up short. They are so arresting that you want to linger and absorb. This happened to me the other day. I was lucky enough to stumble upon a small painting by Charles. It was the barest hint of a landscape in greys and earth tones. Dry brush (actually a Japanese writing brush) on rough paper with a little wet in wet to add nuance. Deceptively simple, arrestingly beautiful. I spent the best part of a whole evening looking at Charles' painting-a-day series. Lingering on one, returning to another. An economy of colour and execution that brought the landscape to life. I shall be visiting Charles' site regularly from now on and you should too if you wish to see beautiful watercolour by a master of the art. Charles' vision of the world is truly wonderful.”


In addition to being an artist and architect, Ash has been a background actor for 5 years where I have been featured 4 or 5 times, mostly westerns.


“I was part Owner in a bed and breakfast in Las Cruces, where I also had a small catering service.  Restaurant and cooking are part of the family history from 18th century inns in Pennsylvania to a grandmother having a railroad restaurant in Salida, Colorado, another grandfather having a restraint in Denver and my older brother a James Beard awarded chef.”  Family history is important to Charles and the fact that his ancestors homesteaded in Colorado in the mid-1880’s is an element of who he is.


“The reason for the name of my firm “Allied Arts” relates to all the “arts” I am involved with… art, architecture, acting, cuisine.”


Ash will always continue to grow, experiment and of course have fun. Expressing his love of the desert southwest with its myriad of forms, colors, moods and expressions.

       wilderness colors

        "Wilderness Colors”