Aron Wiesenfeld is an incredibly talent painter and illustrator. Born in Washington D.C., he grew up in Santa Cruz, California. He has a number of solo and group exhibitions under his belt. His work has a sad truth to it that comes through particularly in the eyes of his subjects. They’re haunting but in a way that draws and addicts me without effort. The man himself is well spoken, intelligent and witty, read and see for yourself.
Tell us about growing up in Santa Cruz, California in the late 70s and the 80s.
It was a very small, accessible town, even for a kid. There are no freeways or malls, so I could walk or ride my bike anywhere. It was great.
Do you think living in Santa Cruz has effected your personality and your art?
Probably. I had a lot of freedom when I was younger to do what I wanted, which could be lonely, but the good part was I could let my imagination roam free.
As far as the town itself, I think the subject of my work always takes place in Santa Cruz. I knew it so intimately from a young age. Even though I haven’t lived there for 20 years, many of my dreams take place in the house I grew up in. I think the place has made an indelible mark on my unconscious.
How do your emotional response differ when you are painting and when you are drawing?
Drawing is more direct, I don’t have to think about color or brushes or mediums, etc. so I think it’s more emotionally direct. Also I think color can be very distracting. Drawing, especially charcoal, in which one can make big shapes easily with a chunk of charcoal, has got to be one of the most primal forms of expression.
Which suits your character, your personality, more?
I love both painting and drawing. Paint is very sensual, there are so many things oil paint can do, so many textures depending on the thickness and the application, and so many interesting effects that can be had with layering paint. On the other hand, I really like monochromatic scenes like overcast days and black and white photographs, so I think drawing was always a good fit for me. When painting I usually use color to underline the important elements. My favorite way to use of color is to differentiate one thing from the rest of the composition, like a pink sweater against a grey sky.
Which are you better at? Why? What are you doing to remedy that disparity?
I don’t know, really. I depends on the piece. Some pieces just need to be done in charcoal, not paint.
What are the differences between canvas and paper as mediums for expression? How do your thoughts translate to each? How do they feel physically?
I touch the paper with my hands a lot when drawing, to rub things in or push them around. Actually touching the charcoal and paper makes the experience more immediate, and in my control. I imagine sculptors feel the same way. I rarely touch the canvas when painting, partly because I use lead paint, but also because brushes and rags can do what I want them to, so painting on canvas is a step removed.
Discuss “The Oath Breakers”. Who are they? Why are they in the snow?
I prefer to leave specifics to the viewer, I think those kinds of explanations could ruin it. A painting like that was intended as an invitation to fill in the rest of the story.
Where were you emotionally when you painted “The Well”?
My wife was about to have a baby. I worked on the painting for 3 months, and she gave birth to our son when the painting was almost done. I can see the emotions of excitement and anxiety about the impending unknown that I was feeling at the time when I look at the painting.
Who is “Ana”? Who is the boy in the photo that she’s holding? What is her face saying?
My great grandmother. The boy is the Prince of Rhodesia. Her face is saying, “I wish the Prince of Rhodesia hadn’t died in that tractor accident.” Now you try.
What’s in the bag “William” is carrying?
A lot of smaller bags.
There is a lot of cold weather, a lot of snow in your work, what does that say about you personally? Is there a cause for the theme?
A snowy landscape is an empty place where a subject can be observed out of it’s usual context in order to really be able to see it. A gallery works the same way. I also like that snow is always new, and will melt, so it’s a very temporary environment… maybe that’s the sense in which it’s personal… I’ve always been painfully aware of how transitory things around me are. Snow is also great graphically because almost anything will look darker than snow, like drawing on a blank piece of paper.
How you got your work into the Arcadia Gallery in New York? How did you approach them? What can you tell aspiring artists seeking to have their own work shown/seeking publicity?
I was showing with a gallery in California called Timmons Gallery. Steve Diamant (the owner of Arcadia) became aware of my work when he saw an ad that Timmons had put out, and he eventually invited me to show with them. I’m really happy to be with that gallery.
My advise to aspiring artists: don’t try to please anyone but yourself. Don’t make decisions based on lack of time or money, even though you probably lack both. Have a dedicated time and space to do your art. Treat it with the same discipline as any ‘real’ job: paint for X amount of hours per day, even if you don’t feel like it. Don’t look at other artist’s work too much. Try not to be egocentric. When you are ready to show your work, you will probably need to start at the bottom, just like any other business, so don’t feel bad about showing with a small local gallery, or wherever. Ideally someone there really likes your work, and that will motivate you to produce more, better work. Some books that I found helpful were “Art and Fear” by Bayles and Orland, “Taking the Leap” by Kay Lang, and “On Writing” by Stephen King.
Sometimes I think it would be really cool to hold my own skull, to look at it and know “this is my head”. But that’s not possible. What odd or weird thoughts have you had recently that you wouldn’t necessarily have the chance to just up and talk about?
I just watched The Godfather again, and I was genuinely worried that Al Pacino wouldn’t find the gun in the bathroom. Obviously the gun has always been there when I’ve watched the movie before, but for a few seconds I thought, what if it’s not there this time? That would have been awesome.
What is your favorite time of year? Why?
Around October. I love when the day has been so overcast that it starts to get dark at 3pm.
What are you working on right now? Artistically? Personally? Metaphysically?
Artistically, I’m starting work for my next one person show. I have been sketching a lot, and thinking.
Personally, I’m trying to make more time for things that aren’t strictly necessities.
Metaphysically, in the sense of abstract and philosophical thoughts, I find they arise when I’m working. My work is the place I go to escape my prosaic, daily concerns, and daydream.
What was the best day this month and why?
I don’t know what day it was, but a woman told me one of my paintings made her cry.