Checking in with DJ Ash Nowak

Sticking to it

Ash Nowak keeps busy. As one half of DJ duo Haute to Death, Nowak spins all the best punk, disco, and New Wave hits at their monthly party at Temple Bar. Last weekend, she and Haute to Death partner Jon Dones played as part of the formidable Charivari festival on Belle Isle. ("They booked us separately as Ash and Jon, instead of Haute to Death, which has never happened before," she told me days before the event. "So I'll be playing as my brand-new 'DJ Ash Nowak' pseudonym that I didn't even know I had!")

But aside from DJing, Nowak is heavily involved in the visual arts as well. Lately, she's participated in Grand Rapids' ArtPrize, Miami's Art Basel, and Emergency Nothing, a New York-based art exhibition about the Haute to Death experience. She's currently a resident at the Red Bull House of Art. I met up with Nowak (full disclosure: a former classmate of mine) to learn more about her latest artistic schemes, including a low-key show as part of Motor City Brewing Works' This Week in Art series.

Metro Times: You're showing collage work at Motor City Brewing Works, right? Do you usually work that way?

Ash Nowak: This winter I started doing collage work. Before that I was doing a lot of really noxious encaustic pieces and paintings that were bad for my nervous system! [Laughs.] So I started doing these collage pieces just as a way to keep myself from getting brain damage. It ended up being a really nice sketching exercise to work within such limited parameters of just, like, my horde of magazines I've amassed over the past 20 years. So it was kind of a mental health activity-slash-recycling project that turned into something a little more colossal. There's 20 pieces, but there's four prints of each, so there's going to be 80 total available for people.

MT: Are you also doing collage for the Red Bull House of Art show?

Nowak: No, I'm going to be painting again, which I'm really excited about. In the past few years I've been taking photos of painted signs from around the city, because they're really dope looking. I have a Tumblr and an Instagram (Painted Detroit). I'm not a sign painter by any means, but I like the idea that language can look like what it sounds, or what it represents. So I'll be doing a lot of paintings that say different things that come out of my mind sometimes that are good enough to write really big. And hopefully have other people love them too.

MT: Whew! Anything else?

Nowak: There's also the Detroit Tattoo Project. I'm working with these two artists from Lexington, Kentucky. I'm the project manager for them. They have a renowned poet from the city — in this case it's Jamaal May. They did one in Boulder, Colorado, and they did one in Cincinnati. They pick places that they feel are sister cities to Lexington. May's is from here. He teaches all over, and he's got a ton of accolades. He wrote this poem, it's kind of like a love letter to the city. I like to think that I'm well-read, but it's a long time since I've cried from a poem. I got really emotional. It's very raw. I think that word gets thrown around a lot, but it was really inspiring and hilarious. You can tell it has that sort of self-deprecating commentary that someone who's lived here for a long time uses. So the poem gets blown apart into 250 three-word phrases that city residents will get tattooed on their body. You can get it as big or small as you want. You get it tattooed on your body, and then we photograph it and we'll make a video that will read through the whole piece. We're about halfway so far for volunteers who are donating their bodies for this project. We have a Knight Arts matching grant — we're still raising money to meet our deadline.

MT: And Haute to Death is still an ongoing concern?

Nowak: We're still at Temple Bar. We'll be there forever, ideally. We just started doing a residency at Craft Work, which is called the Craft Work Social Club. It's the first Thursday of the month. It's a different environment, it lets us play more chill music that we like. Temple Bar is like our home office. I guess most most DJs would call that a "residency."

Nowak's collage exhibition, Welcome to the Issue, opens from 6 p.m. to 11 p.m. on Wednesday, Aug. 5 at Motor City Brewing Works, 470 W. Canfield St., Detroit; no cover. More information on the Detroit Tattoo Project available at