Ashley Mary embodies the rainbow — in work and in spirit

The Minneapolis-based artist and designer spreads her colorful work around the Twin Cities.

Artist Ashley Mary

Matthew Hintz

Artist Ashley Mary

Liv Martin

You may be one of her more than 46,000 Instagram followers. Maybe you bought a planner at Anthropologie, a yoga mat from Manduka or a makeup bag from Target with her artwork on it. During your daily commute, you might have glimpsed a colorful bus stop in Uptown that she single-handedly painted.

One thing is certain: Ashley Mary has been busy at work building her rainbow empire. 

The Minneapolis-based artist and designer is known for her colorful canvasses, bold designs and flashy personal style — all of which have attracted attention from global companies and Instagram users alike. 

It wasn’t always this way. In her former life, Mary attended Hope College, a private, Christian liberal arts college in Michigan, where she received degrees in communication and religion. After completing her undergraduate studies, she returned to her hometown of Edina and worked at a church for five years.

Back then, art was just something she did on the side.  

“Out of school, I started doing collage work right away. I was just doing it for fun, but I was getting enough people asking me to make them things that it had a snowball effect. From there, the ball just kept rolling,” she said.

Now, almost a full 11 years after she began painting, Mary is equipped with a Master of Arts degree in graphic and web design from MCAD. Her life could not be more different. 

Today, Ashley Mary spends her time traveling to paint murals in cities around the country, posting updates on her Instagram story, creating commissions for a host of different companies and, of course, spending time with her dog Ren.

Mary’s life philosophy is simple: she surrounds herself with color, positivity and good karma. Her Instagram feed alone captures the entire color spectrum. 

“My art has always been colorful. That’s never changed,” she said. “I feel certain energy when I’m around certain colors – they can be happy, peaceful, joyful.”

In addition to her ever-present color scheme, Mary’s work often features Matisse-like graphic shapes and intricate patterns. 

“I’m really interested in the energy that we have as kids. I’m drawn to the shapes I use because I think they’re universal. From a young age — since we’re babies — we understand shapes,” she said. 

Mary is the opposite of a perfectionist when it comes to her work.  

“I really celebrate subtle nuances and what some people might call a ‘mistake’ in a work,” she said. “For me, that’s the part that’s the most interesting.”

Even her personal style embodies her colorful artworks. Her wardrobe is filled with bright pinks, oranges, blues and yellows.

“She almost looks like a piece of artwork herself,” said Erin Kate Duininck, a collaborator and friend of Mary since 2009. 

“Physically she’s very tiny and spritely. That always strikes me because her personality is so big, her work is so big and her way of being in the world is so big.”

Recently, Mary collaborated with Metro Transit on a community outreach project christened the “Color Pop Bus Stop.” Painting non-stop for nine hours, Mary transformed the Uptown bus stop just in time to perk up the community before winter. 

The idea came from Kathy Graul, Metro Transit’s social media strategist and a fan of Mary’s work. “It’s something positive that we could bring to the community in a temporary, fun, playful way,” she said.

Mary, who loves any chance to interact with the community, was eager to jump on board.

“[Graul] said, ‘Will you come and do your thing on a bus stop?’ That is like music to any artist’s ears — when you’re not art-directed in an experience it’s so special to be given the reins to do whatever you want. It was an adrenaline rush,” Mary said. “Everybody who came in had the best energy and was so thankful … like ‘Oh, finally some color up in here!’” 

Visitors came by the bus stop to get selfies with Mary, and one fan stayed in the bus stop for a few hours to read a book and watch Mary paint. 

Mary has remained humble and appreciative throughout the growth of her artistic prominence in the past few years. Her main goal is to create art that makes people smile. 

“When you come to my work, I hope that there’s a sense of playfulness and a sense of light that you experience,” she said. “The story I’m trying to share is one that anybody can connect to. It’s not for a certain category of people. It’s not for a certain age or gender. I want anybody to come to it and for it to feel familiar and good.”