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Arizona artists rep the majesty of the desert in life and art

June 14, 2021

If you’ve ever seen an Arizona sunset the state motto: God enriches comes as no surprise. Arizona is a hub for breathtaking copper landscapes, the mystical sun that you have no option but to surrender to, and an art scene that is devoted to showing AZ in all its wondrous glory. As you walk through Phoenix, Arizona’s largest metro, the murals match the vibrance of the state’s culture, sacrificing nothing creating a treat for your eyes that will have you thinking about The Grand Canyon state for days to come.

The state legalized adult-use marijuana back in November of 2020, a monumental victory for the people of Arizona. A whopping 60% of the state’s residents voted to end prohibition paving the way for the U.S southwest quadrant. There is no doubt that the state’s strong cultural identity and the artists who bring it to life played a role in this historic moment. 

Leafly had the opportunity to collaborate with 3 of Arizona’s leading artists: Ashley Macias, Clay Halling, and Nyla Lee to create rolling trays that are uniquely Arizonian. Each artist brings their own out-of-this-world style, whether it’s through uncompromising use of color, limitless depth, or surreal imagery. Here we catch up with these 3 artists to discuss inspiration, Arizona, and of course, cannabis. 

Q&A with the artists

Leafly Staff: What inspires your work? 

Ashely Macias: Many things. Nature, people, emotional elements, and experiences. A lot of work is intended to speak on more internal and metaphysical ideas. The idea of connecting as a whole with everyone and nature. Bringing life full circle. 

Clay Halling: I take a lot of inspiration from early 90’s skateboard graphics.

Nyla Lee: So many things, unique Faces, beautiful Arizona sunsets, the way light interacts with objects. Just fun lighting in general, Neon colors, 70s era esthetic, synth-wave. I am inspired by the moods colors can make when together, That ambiance feeling. Definitely want to convey that through my work. 

Leafly Staff: When did you make the commitment to pursue art? 

Ashley Macias: As early as I can recall. I didn’t have a full comprehensive idea of what that would mean but I only ever imagined my true existence being one of creating for those around me and out of pure joy. The commitment to art has always been rooted in my soul since an early baby bird.  

Clay Halling: I’ve always made art throughout my life, but started working professionally as an illustrator in 2015.

Nyla Lee: It’s always been something that has been there my entire life. Something that I  just have to do, even when I want to give up. So I feel like it’s fair to say, I’ve been committed to art since I was a kid. but when talking about [a] career sort of commitment that was in 2017. I finally started taking it seriously enough to become full-time.

Leafly Staff: What does it mean to be an Arizona artist?

AM: It means speaking for a community not everyone is aware of yet or seeks to experience when coming here. Being an artist here means telling a story about my community and the beauty that resides here. To be an Arizona artist here means to appreciate the many experiences and magic that exists in these surreal landscapes. It means seeing the beautiful sunsets and sunrises and appreciating the good weather. Being an artist here means I get to absorb the amazing people here who represent the best parts of what it means to be an Arizonan. To be an artist here means I get to be a part [and] do something very special that people will understand in time to come. I am a part of the desert here

CH: As I grow and change and take influence from other places, I’ll always have love for the desert and still call it home.

NL: It means boiling in 115 degree summers, warped canvases, sunburns, and exploding spray cans. But what it really means is being a part of a history. We are still a growing city and I love our community here. I am proud to be an Arizona artist.

“Cannabis has always been a source of healing and opening up our creative constructs.”

Ashley Macias

Leafly Staff: What role does art play in Arizona, specifically?

AM: It demonstrates growth in the community and represents a culture that exists within the desert here. Art is continually thriving to its full potential and inspiring PHX residents and those visiting PHX. Art makes the culture and sings a powerful voice to come as the city grows. Art is inevitable and vital to our city and community. It allows voices to be heard. 

CH: With all of the new construction constantly happening, murals and public art are becoming more and more crucial to keep the personality in cities like Phoenix, as they grow and change.

NL: The art in Arizona represents our community, culture, voices, it brings people together. A foundation of representation to the voices of the people. 

Leafly Staff: What role does cannabis play in your artistic process?

AM: Cannabis brings me to a familiar place on the playground. Ease and goofy playfulness. Cannabis really helps me ease into my creative zone and enjoy laughter with my comrades. Just going with the flow and feeling a process of creativity and healing in one space with those I love or in my own element. 

CH: It’s a huge help getting me to sleep. 

NL: It is something that allows me to really dive into myself. Some days it’s hard to get out of my head, so it slows me down just enough to get me into a flow state. 

Leafly Staff: Art has an incredible power of social impact, how do you think art can further destigmatize cannabis use?

AM: I think cannabis has always been a source of healing and opening up our creative constructs. I think putting out art and being transparent whether it’s creating art around cannabis or for oneself will speak for itself. Cannabis shouldn’t be treated as a secret. It’s perfectly natural, beautiful, and has stood the test of time. It’s here to stay. 

CH: Art can be an impactful way to spark conversation. Works that address stigmas or normalize cannabis use can create a dialogue about these things and leave an impact on people in ways they may not expect.

NL: I know Cannabis truly helps so many people in the world. It’s a medicine with so many healing properties. I believe art will help push that, showing it doesn’t create couch potatoes, it doesn’t make you lazy, or crazy. It can make you creative, pain-free, social, be an anxiety relief, and etc. I hope art can help rewrite that.  

Ashley, Clay, and Nyla speak truth to power whether it’s communicated through their art or through their words and all three artists aren’t stopping any time soon as they make waves on a national level. Each brings their own distinct sensibilities to art-making and how to best represent the transcendental experience of being in the desert. Buy their work now to watch it appreciate in value while it brings warmth and life into your home. Hell if buying a piece of art is not in the cards for you now, may we suggest lighting one up and scrolling through their work to be transported, for even just a moment, to the magical Arizona desert. Check out where to find Ashley, Clay, and Nyla below.

Alyssa Yeoman's Bio Image
Alyssa Yeoman

Alyssa Yeoman is a comedian, writer, and producer. They co-host Leafly's podcast The Roll-up, manage the site's social media presence, and host Seattle’s Moth StorySLAM.

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