PERFORMANCE, PAINT AND PAGE

Artistic notions compete for an alumna’s attention

By BILL SUPINSKI ’11

When she was younger, basketball and acting dueled for the affections of Ashleigh Sumner ’02. Acting won, with Sumner earning a degree in theatre arts from Western Carolina. She now is a working actress, living in Los Angeles for the past seven years. She has had guest appearances on “CSI,” “Crossing Jordan,” “Dawson’s Creek” and “Criminal Minds.” This year she appeared in six episodes of the NBC television show “The Event” as the character Eva, assistant to the character of Vice President Jarvis. She also has worked in theater and film, including the lead in “And Then Came Lola,” a 2009 tribute to the 1998 film “Run Lola Run” and a movie the Boston Phoenix called “a fun ride.”

A passion for acting hit Sumner early, when the North Carolina native was on a trip to London with her mother. After seeing a presentation of “Les Misérables,” she left the theater thinking, “Wow, this is what I want to do.” During high school, she played basketball and participated in drama but fully committed to acting when an injury sidelined her basketball career.

These days, another passion vies for Sumner’s attention. Since she’s been living in Los Angeles, Sumner has turned to fine art, finding solace in the “solitary process of painting.” Her work incorporates bold, abstract expressionism that “attempts to incorporate the implied visual of densely populated, urban landscapers with the raw, gritty texture of industrial areas,” Sumner said.

In a 2010 article for American Contemporary Art magazine, Sumner, who grew up in a rural area outside Charlotte, recalled a childhood with a mother who made “extraordinary efforts to expose her children to the arts.” Her mother “refused to order cable TV,” instead encouraging her children to entertain themselves with art. During the writers’ strike of 2008, Sumner began showing her work, and the response was quick, including commissions, solo exhibits and awards. Within a year, she was supporting herself as a painter. She displays her work on her website, www.sumnerartstudio.com.

Are fine arts and theater arts Sumner’s yin and yang? Perhaps, but lately she’s had another yen, as well, this one for the literary arts. She has completed a screenplay and is shopping it around.

Bill Supinski ’11 was an intern with the WCU Office of Public Relations in spring 2011 and earned his degree in English with a concentration in professional writing.