A wide shot of a ceramics studio, featuring students working with pottery wheels and other tools.

Why I Give

Claire Ashley (MFA 1995)


When Claire Ashley (MFA 1995) was an undergraduate student studying painting in her native Scotland in the 1990s, she did a residency in a small town on the east coast of Scotland where only eight students—two from each of the country’s four art schools—were invited to live and make work in a “tiny wee fishing village,” Ashley remembers. She was creating Rauschenberg-esque assemblages from found objects like fishing nets, expanding the definition of painting beyond what she had been taught. “But when I got back to school, the faculty there were like, ‘No, no, no. This is not art. What are you doing?’” she says. “And I stupidly believed them.”

She forced herself into making art in the rigidly traditional manner she was being taught. “I was thinking about grid painting. Layers and layers of grids, but they became...quite like tartan when I look back at them now,” Ashley laughs. “A very stereotypical Scottish thing!”

After meeting faculty from SAIC, Ashley took a leap and moved to Chicago to pursue an MFA. Soon, she was absorbing the new “plastic, neon, kitsch” American landscape and the boundary-defying work of SAIC’s faculty. Gone are the grids (they are still used on occasion as a pattern). Ashley now makes giant inflatable installations painted with electric colors.

Since graduation, she has stayed closely connected to the School that changed the course of her career. Ashley has given numerous times over the years to the Fund for SAIC, and in 2018, she created an installation for Beautiful/Night, SAIC’s first alum and faculty art auction. Giving back to the School helps more students gain access to the education that changed Ashley’s life decades ago. She has also given to the School as a faculty member, dedicating 26 years to teaching as adjunct professor in the Painting and Drawing department. Ashley continues to teach new generations of young artists at SAIC, challenging them to make the work that matters to them and to go off the grid.