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After 2,300 daily self-portraits, Asheville artist has unique sense of self

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The public is invited to another session Wednesday, Dec. 4 from 4 to 6 p.m. at Asheville Art Museum. It's free for members or included with museum admission. (Photo credit: WLOS Staff)

In today's selfie society, artist Ursula Gullow prefers a more low tech method of capturing the person in the mirror.

“We’re doing self portraits,” she said recently to Asheville Art Museum visitors. “So what do you think? Do y’all want start your own?”

“Ooh, these are gonna be so cool!” said Gullow, who believes sitting down with strangers is a step on her artistic journey of self reflection.

“You start to see little changes happening and probably in a way you wouldn’t normally,” she said of the difference in everyone’s appearance with each passing day. “I started doing this interactive experience because I’ve wanted to explore the boundaries of self portraiture.”

The public is invited to another session Wednesday, Dec. 4 from 4 to 6 p.m. at Asheville Art Museum. It's free for members or included with museum admission.

Gullow said people should look at themselves more often, and not in a critical way.

In 2013, she started a project she may never finish. Inside the museum, folks can see the many faces of Ursula.

“This is kind of odd, I don’t even see my face anymore,” she told News 13.

The A-B Tech art instructor asked her students to do a self portrait, so she decided to take on the challenge herself.

“So it was awkward and challenging and kind of fun,” she said of her first piece.

80 of her portraits are on display, part of the Appalachia Now! exhibit. They were created with paint, markers, charcoal, and collage.

The one constant-- is Ursula.

“In the end, I decided I wanted to do it again so I did it again the next day, and I think I did it again the next day,” Gullow remembers. “And then at some point I think I realized that it would be a great practice to do it every day.”

She missed a few days, but Ursula’s captured most of the past six years of her life.

“I’ve calculated I have around 2,300,” she says of her vast volume of self-portraits.

Along the way, Ursula made it a point to change up backgrounds.

”Looking in the mirror, I’m the model as much as the creator, so I’m always moving," she explained. "And that’s a fun challenge, that’s why a lot of the pictures tend to look somewhat distorted.”

Each one took an average of 20 minutes. All of them are dated, with a start and finish time.

“It’s really important to me that I’m looking at a live image of myself and not at a photograph,” said Gullow.

The red-nosed Ursula paintings bring back chilling memories.

“That was when I lived in my old apartment and I had a studio, and it was very cold,” she said.

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There’s one piece in her art studio.

Her husband, Jason Holland, also makes a cameo.

Part of the challenge people face is embracing who they are without judgement.

“Often people question why I’m not presenting myself more perfect I guess,” she said.

At public appearances, she makes composite portraits with the help of strangers, and what they come up with gives them a unique sense of self.

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