Aaron Smith – interview (April 2012)

…a modern Southern Californian
artist who creates handsome, old-timey
male images with his brush and paint.


How long does it usually take for you to complete one of your pieces? And, tell me about the process from start to finish.
Well, these days my technique is very direct; almost aggressive. Because of this I never know for sure how long a painting will take to complete. Some paintings may take just a couple of sessions of three or four hours, while others may sit in the studio for months. Sometimes there’s more pondering than painting. As far as technique, I always lay out a full palette, painting with bristle brushes directly onto gessoed wooden panels. I really want the process to be evident in the finished pieces. The success or failure of my paintings hinges quite a bit on knowing when to leave a mark and when to cover a mark.

At what age did you first pick up a paint brush and could you describe your training if any?
I have a twin brother who’s also a painter. We both were always drawing. I guess Owen and I were ten or so when we did our first oil painting together as a gift for our mom. Fairly lame stuff. After High School, my brother and I went to art school to study Illustration. It was a few years after graduation when I decided to pursue Fine Art.

Is there a distinct difference between your work and that of your brothers? Do you both use the same materials?
My brother and I both paint figuratively in oil, but otherwise our work is pretty different. His work is more narrative, with strong influences from the WPA period, while mine is more iconic with a closer relationship to Modernism. Owen draws really well. His exaggerated figures have a robust and dynamic quality. I think I’m more interested in color and paint application to create interest.

Hows was life for a talented and creative artist growing up in the town of Fremont Ca? Was there much inspiration there
for you?
Fremont is a pretty quiet suburb in the San Francisco Bay Area. In the early years, the place was pretty rural. Luckily for me, my parents would take the family into the city each weekend. I remember being awfully intrigued by the clones of the Castro and Polk Street. Big walrus mustaches leave me pretty nostalgic. Fremont itself? It mostly inspired me to leave the place.

Would you consider yourself a troubled artist who can at times run on emotions or are you more of a creative thinker who moves clearly through?
Oh, I suppose depending on the day, I might find myself edging towards one of those extremes, but I’m not very troubled. I’m honestly not very invested in moving too clearly through the process either. If I can maintain an edge that doesn’t make me crazy, I’m doing things right.

Did you see yourself living in a major
city like San Francisco, Los Angeles or New York?
Growing up, I was always thankful for BART as a way of getting into the city. After living in Los Angeles during art school, I moved to New York for a couple of years. That’s where I finally came out. To think I lived in NY pretty much celibate for nearly two years before the “big reveal”… What a supreme waste! Anyway, I then moved back to LA where I’ve been since. I couldn’t live anywhere without a robust gay community or art scene.

You have a definite old world kind of style. Would you consider yourself
a “dandy”?
I admire contemporary dandyism, and I have my occasional moments, but I’m too preoccupied with painting and such to ever have myself that put together. I leave it to friends like Nick Wooster to do us all proud. It’s pretty obvious I suppose, that I have quite a beard fetish, and I have more vintage hats than I probably need, but most days I’m in jeans, plaid shirt, and the same Red Wing fireman’s boots I’ve worn for years.

Are you inspired at all by the whole  steampunk movement?
Steampunk isn’t really a direct inspiration. I guess we share much of the same source material, but I guess my point of entry into the nineteenth century came from a nerdy identification with the era’s artistic milieu. I’m more Bloomsbury Group than Jules Verne.
Are some of the subjects you’ve painted creations from fantasy or based upon an actual person?
The most recent paintings are inspired by the 19th century portrait photographs I collect. Mostly they’re of unknown subjects, although I have painted some images of British and Russian Royalty. They function as fantasy in that they become sort of surrogate self portraits. They also speak to thoughts about how men often build and maintain identity through ritualized conventions of self presentation and adornment. Tribalism is very present in my thoughts as I work.

Have you painted any female imagery or are you male specific?
I’ve painted a lot of female figures over the years, but I’ve been concentrating on images of masculinity in the last two years or so.
If someone would like to view your paintings, where could one go to see them in person?
I’m represented by Sloan Fine Art in NY. Alix Sloan also does a couple of art fairs a year. I occasionally host viewings at my studio in Eagle Rock CA…

What kind of support system do you have within the artist community in Los Angeles and are you represented by any galleries in Southern California?
I have scores of artist friends here, which is very important. Painting is a fairly solitary activity otherwise. I recently left my long-time Los Angeles gallery. They were very respected, but I’ve been interested in connecting with a more progressive collector base for some time.

Do you have a someone special in your life from whom you find artistic some of your inspiration?
My husband Tom is very supportive. He really gets it, even though he’s not in the Art World. We’ve been together for 16 years. The stability of a solid relationship allows room for risk taking in the studio.

For me your paintings  do evoke this kind of early 1900’s European feel (which I love). Have you shown your paintings in Europe and if so, what sort of response did you receive?
I have such a strong emotional relationship with Europe in that era. Showing in Europe would be like coming home in many ways. It’s a goal.

Have you ever or do you have any plans to paint male nudes? Bearded of course!
I have and I will! It’s my desire to make work that contributes to the greater artistic dialogue, but still represents my sensual point-of-view. Making those things work together can be difficult in a world that can at time relegate sensual male imagery into an artistic ghetto. I think by leaving my LA gallery, I was giving myself some space to make some ambitiously frank images of male beauty.

Is there one person, someone famous, who’s portrait you would like to paint? Who would that be and why?
Well, I’ve already painted George V and his cousin Czar Nicholas II. Damn they were hot! I also painted George’s older brother Prince Albert Victor. As far as living people? I’m planning on painting my friend Nick Wooster. My wish list includes Scott Matthew, Tom Hardy, Adam Kleeberger, Jeffery Costello and Robert Tagliapietra, Angelo Flaccavento… Actually, I’ve been corresponding with some of these guys, so who knows?

When it comes to the male form, what physical traits do you find sexy?
Hmm, how to decide… Masculinity at it’s core is sexy to me. It’s very inspiring. I appreciate all kinds of sizes, colors, textures. In other words, I can’t decide wha my favorite traits are…. Being married has given me the luxury of admiring men from afar. Of course, being an artist gives me an opportunity to STUDY the male form. Life could be worse.

Topic: Random

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