Interview with Aaron Nagel

Coming this Tuesday, January 10th is a co-curated print release from 1xrun and Creep Machine. The print entitled “The Calming” is by Aaron Nagel and is 14″ x 20″ on 140lb French Archival paper, signed and numbered in a max edition of 60. In lead up to the print release, Aaron was nice enough to answer some questions for a new, very in-depth interview here on the site. The image shown below is of the print that will be released tomorrow (right here) at 1xrun, and the rest of the interview features some random images from some of Aaron’s past shows.

Creep Machine: Your a self taught artist, which is very impressive when looking at your work, but music was another path you might have taken. What was it that made you choose painting over music?

Aaron Nagel: I spent years pursuing music and touring with bands, long before the idea of pursuing art as a career even occurred to me. With the bands…the idea of pursuing a career in music started to get in the way of playing music because we loved it. There was a point where we had been touring for so many years that we lacked the energy to keep at it at that level…without some degree of success. We could support ourselves on the road, but only long enough to live a couple months back home before we’d have to go out and make money again. That was fine when I was younger, but even by my mid twenties, the idea of touring for 6+ months out of the year started to become really undesirable. Plus, there were so many factors in whether or not a band “makes it”, that were entirely out of our control, which became really frustrating. Basically, at some point we realized that if we wanted to be in a band, that we would be in band, and we would function in that band exactly how we wanted to, without any consideration for the career aspect of it. That made playing music much more fulfilling, but removed it from the potential careers list. I was getting more serious about painting at the time the band thing was wrapping up, so I decided I’d try to make it my focus, at least for a while. It’s just as hard to make a living painting than it was playing music, but I feel like i’m much better at it, I have more control, and am entirely fulfilled in my career choice…regardless of how successful I am or will be. It’s a good feeling.

Creep: You have stated before that you are an atheist, however your work draws inspiration from many classical, religious elements. Can you tell us what this iconography means to you, and how you have applied it to your style?

Aaron: I’m not sure that iconography means anything to me. I think that’s one of the reasons I try and make my own; to create something that has the presence of iconography, the power and grandeur, while signifying something that I can actually relate to, that does actually mean something to me. The iconography that influences me is entirely visual, I love the imagery and in many cases, the artistry is unparalleled, but the stories and characters they portray mean nothing to me personally. It’s all nonsense…but very pretty nonsense.

Creep: The female figure has always been a source of inspiration to artists which has given way to the idea of the “male gaze”, that the figure is an object placed there for the viewer. Yet the women in your work look powerful and strong, engaging the viewer. Can you tell us a bit about women in your paintings, who they symbolize.

Aaron: I paint the women I do and pose them the way I do because I’m trying to convey power. I freely admit the power that some women have over me is significant, and to me, that power makes a perfect stand-in for god, or something else godly. The women aren’t posing for the viewer…or for me, i’m trying to get them to take on that power, and appear entirely unaffected by the audience, environment, etc.

Creep: Many contemporary artists draw inspiration from pop culture, and infuse this imagery in their work. Yours is very classical in design. Who are some of the contemporary artists that you admire, and which ones have influenced the direction of your work and how?

Aaron: I’m not a fan of pop-art and am not huge on pop-surrealism, so the contemporary artists I admire and that influence me don’t generally pull from pop culture either. as far as living artists go, I’m very much inspired by Alex Kanevsky, Kim Cogan, Micheal Hussar, Jenny Saville, Sean Cheetham, and tons more. They all inspire me to paint better, and each probably influence my painting in their own way that I’m not entirely conscious of. I certainly will sometimes try and paint more like this artist or that artist, generally in studies, just to see what works with where I am as a painter at that moment. It’s a great resource, and I would hope makes me a more versatile artist.

Creep: You started using acrylics and moved on to oils. What is that you love about the medium, and what were some of the obstacles you needed to overcome to get to where you are now?

Aaron: Oils just really work for me. I love how simple they are; pigment and oil, that’s it — but at the same time; the depth of color, the range of color, mediums, brands, surfaces, additives…it can get hugely complicated. But they can be controlled, and there’s hundreds and hundreds of years of examples as to what can be done with them. I love that potential, and that I confidently feel like I will always have a lot to learn about oil painting. I don’t think anything compares to a really well executed oil painting. As far as obstacles go, I’m constantly finding new ones and having to work through them, many of which will reoccur as I get more critical of my own work and as I improve. Generally I feel like my obstacles are technical, that I’m not rendering flesh accurately or over-working certain areas. I used to be very much intimidated by painting faces and hands and would focus on painting bodies. I’d add elements or compose the piece in a way to try and hide the areas I was afraid to paint. Painting figures, especially portraiture, requires a lot of confidence. Confidence at least so that you can make it to the point in a painting where things start to not look horrible. It took me quite a while to figure that out and I would stop myself, or ruin the piece long before it even had a chance of looking right. I’m constantly struggling with that balance; being confident enough in my execution to not shoot myself in the foot and stall, but critical enough to know that I could always have done better.

Creep: I have always been interested in the process artists us to create work. For those of us that geek out on that, can you give us a short rundown of one your paintings from conception to completion?

Aaron: The abbreviated version: I generally will go into a photo-shoot with some rough ideas, or I’ll come up with rough ideas and book a model that I think may work. The concept and mood of the painting is very much based on that shoot though, so collaboration with the model is a huge part of it. I usually shoot the model in my living room and then spend days and days going through the pictures. I’ll then do a digital comp of the image so I can figure out layout, canvas size, and if i’m going to add any additional elements to the piece that weren’t a part of the actual shoot. I’ll then sketch that comp onto the canvas, either straight up, with a grid system, or if the painting is giant, a combination of a grid and carbon transfer. i’m becoming less dependent on the sketch as I get more comfortable “sketching” with paint, so I’m gradually trying to do without it and go straight into painting. I’ll then tint the canvas, so I’m not working on a stark white surface and so that I will have some tone underneath the paint. Once all that prep is done, I actually start in with the painting. I always paint the face of my figure in that first sitting. I like working with wet paint and hate having to go back into a face to rework areas, so that first session is really important, and can last 8-14 hrs. Once the face is done, I’ll progressively move down the body, working from background to foreground. Hair and background is generally done at the same time I work the figure, in a manner at which I can keep as much of the paint wet as possible (this is to facilitate working on edges). Once I have a base layer of paint on the entire canvas, I’ll go back into everything with glazes until it looks right.

Creep: Some listen to music, watch movies or talk radio, what is the environment like while you are painting?

Aaron: I always listen to audiobooks. always. Ever since I was a kid, I’d listen to books on tape whenever drew or did anything creative. Still do. I get through quite a few.

Creep: After writing about art for the past 5 years, I have noticed nudity in art is still something people stray away from and something many artists touch upon very rarely. It was something that was very common in classical art. What are your thoughts on the way nudity is seen in art, especially in the US.

Aaron: Oh man, I could go on about this for hours. It’s insanely frustrating that there’s such a stigma attached with nudity. The fact that it has such a prominent place in art history just makes it more unbelievable that it’s such an issue today. People seem to be overly concerned about what others are doing, especially if it’s something they don’t understand. I can only attribute to good ‘ol American arrogance, and that so much of this country is stuck in this weird conservative thought vacuum, where evolution is a “theory” and the “family” needs protecting. Which is isn’t to say it’s the right that’s screwing things up, I’ve seen some pretty serious arguments about my own work between women on message boards…addressing whether or not i’m a chauvinist and painting sex objects, or whether i’m painting the female form because it’s beautiful. I’d hazard to guess both sides of that argument identified as left-leaning feminists. I appreciate that there is a dialogue, and everybody is entitled to their opinion…but sometimes I wish people would take care of their own shit. I was just recently banned from Facebook for 24hrs because somebody took offense to a painting of mine. It’s so nuts that it’s hard to get really angry — these people are so far from rational thought, who has time talk sense into them? The irony is that I’m actively engaging in heresy, and I haven’t had a single religious person on my back about it…they all get caught up on the nudity.

Creep: Your latest print, entitled “The Calming”, is a limited edition being co-released by 1xrun and Creep Machine. Can you tell us a bit more about this image and the creation of it?

The concept behind “the Calming” was a long time coming. I’d been painting my models hands for a while but had always wanted to experiment with conveying some sort of vaguely religious symbolism with that paint. Logistically, I had to wait until the right time to attempt it though. It required a model willing to let me paint her torso with quite a bit of black paint, and the composition felt like it needed a really big canvas to work. I finally got into it in November of 2010, and while larger paintings usually take me really long, this one went relatively quickly. I think start to finish was about a month, and considering it’s almost 5′ tall, was pretty quick for me. Most paintings don’t go as smoothly, but I think the concept just really worked and I had a really clear idea of what I wanted it to look like the whole time. The model is my friend Nikki, who I had painted 5 or 6 times already when I started working on this one, so we work really well together. She’s a fantastic model and unlike many I’ve worked with, is totally into the art of it. It’s still one of my favorite pieces.

Creep: What are some of the projects your have prepared for 2012, and any secret info you don’t mind sharing?

Aaron: Actually, at the moment I have very little planned. I’m sure I’ll be doing some group shows here and there, but I don’t plan on starting to work towards another solo for a while. I did a lot last year — something like 22 paintings in total, and I really feel like I need some time to practice, work on some new ideas, and get better. Right now, I plan to just work on quick studies, and experiments, and will probably be back with another solo show early 2013. Keep an eye on my blog though, I’ll be posting my studies as I go.

Thanks Aaron. I’ll be watching the blog for sure, and if you haven’t done so already head on over and subscribe to his feed and newsletter for all upcoming news and events.

Also, make sure you check out 1xrun this January 10th if you are interested in this print. The quality from 1xrun is amazing, and I have a feeling this print will go fast.

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    1xRUN Blog - Aaron Nagel – The Calming
    Jan 10, 2012 at 1:29 am

    […] The concept behind “the Calming” was a long time coming. I’d been painting my models hands for a while but had always wanted to experiment with conveying some sort of vaguely religious symbolism with that paint. Logistically, I had to wait until the right time to attempt it though. It required a model willing to let me paint her torso with quite a bit of black paint, and the composition felt like it needed a really big canvas to work. I finally got into it in November of 2010, and while larger paintings usually take me really long, this one went relatively quickly.  See the full interview at Creep Machine. […]

  • Reply
    Jan 10, 2012 at 6:04 pm

    […] also did new interviews with both Creepmachine (here) and 1xRun (here) to accompany the […]

  • Reply
    Jan 20, 2012 at 10:07 pm

    This was probably the best value print out there in a long while.

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