[Editor's note: Over the next three days we'll be recommending artist studios and galleries we think readers should visit during Bushwick Open Studios this weekend, providing interviews with selected artists and organizing our picks into handy AFC maps you all can use to get around. We know the size of this event can be a little overwhelming. Hopefully, our work will make navigating the Bushwick terrain a little easier.]
It looks like Aaron Williams focuses on material but he doesn’t. He’s a master with a can of spray paint, and his surfaces always seem carefully considered, even when working with garbage. This is the natural bias of Williams hand, which is deft even when removed from the process. In his recent work, Williams crumples up landscape posters and swimsuit models pin ups and coats the surfaces with paint. These pieces are defined both by his economic manipulation of paint and the photographic scraps Williams decides to leave untouched. Here and in earlier work, Williams mixes atmosphere, melodrama, and illustrative sci-fi balls of light to create a genuine sense of ephemeral power.
NAME: Aaron Williams
STUDIO LOCATION: 1717 Troutman St., #330
BUSHWICK OPEN STUDIO HOURS: Saturday/Sunday, June 2 – 3, 12 – 7 pm
TIME IN BUSHWICK: 10 years (3 years at 1717 Troutman)
SHARED STUDIO: No
OTHER: Williams owns a framing shop, 2112 Frames, based in Bushwick.
Light is a recurring thread throughout your work, whether it’s a mirrored sculpture, a painting of fire, or beams of colored spray paint against black. Could you tell us a little bit about that? Are you interested in different effects of different forms of light (sunlight, starlight, firelight), or is it more the general idea?
I think it’s more of a general idea. A few years ago, I did a bunch of pieces that included images of fire. I gravitated to the dual nature of the subject; it’s equally beautiful and terrifying, destructive and a necessary part of natural growth. These pieces were in a show called All The World Is Renewed By Fire and the work spoke a lot about destruction as an integral part of the studio practice.
I also like the immediacy of certain materials to speak about a subject. A rudimentary blending of spray paint can create an affect of fire while still asserting it’s material qualities; one is always aware of it being spray paint. Mirrored plexi is sort of the ultimate 2d surface; it essentially has no surface and is dependent on its environment to create one. There’s sort of a collapsing of light in a material like that- light isn’t just necessary to see the piece, it becomes the piece.
In my recent work, I’m still dealing with many of the same ideas of destruction as a generative force as well as a simple approach to materials.
Are you into sci-fi at all?
I am a big sci-fi and horror fan. My mom was big into both so I probably got it from her. Both genres basically tell the same stories as any other genre (stories of love, death, fear, possibility) but I like the capacity of sci-fi and horror to discuss big questions in ways that aren’t necessarily tethered to everyday vagaries of life. There’s a lot of room there for personal interpretation and creativity. I love uncompromising, big money affairs (The Thing, Prometheus, etc.) but low budget can often be the best, where inventive methods have to be used and plot and visual inconsistencies often create a weird, organic type of effect.
Seems like you pull imagery from many different sources. The most recent series on your site are on book pages, with images of rock stars, planets, and the cosmos. The light-consumed Freddy Mercury photo, floating in a black space, hands crossed over his chest, seems particularly appropriate. Would you mind telling us about how you look for source material?
All of my source material right now comes from book pages and posters, populist imagery. It’s all cheap materials, used books and bargain posters, things that have very little physical value but have great cultural or emotional currency. I’m interested in the differences between a hand-made mark and a photographic image, particularly one that has the popular appeal of say, a music or film star. It becomes an abstracted image, an idea of a portrait rather than an actual portrait. In the same sense, a famous picture of the Alps can become an idea of a landscape, rather than a singular, personal record of an experience. The subject matter allows me to make pieces about a portrait or landscape and this critical distance allows me to move more freely in manipulating the imagery. This distance also opens up interesting questions and weird visual directions for me in the studio.
Can you describe how your posters are made? Do you work with a purpose or objective in mind?
I have a few things going in the studio that require different working methods. Generally, I start by trying to destroy part of the image by tearing or crumpling, asserting the physicality of the paper over it’s role as a photographic carrier of information. I then either tear the top layer of paper in some sort of pattern which reveals the non- photo paper underneath or I spray the page at different angles which makes a visual record of the act of destroying. The painted pieces get mounted flat onto museum board, then onto a specially designed panel. I usually can’t totally see the piece until it’s mounted flat and there’s often extra work required at that point.
There’s a balance of how much photograph to leave in the piece and sometimes the image gets obscured completely. Ultimately, I try to work as economically as possible and find some sort of relationship between the two. By using very cheap materials and simple image-making techniques I want to keep everything as transparent as possible and see if I can produce something that is greater than the sum of its parts.
What music do you listen to in the studio?
It differs but I listen to a lot of metal and rock, as well as some classical. I have satellite radio in the studio and I often listen to the comedy channels. I find myself laughing a lot in the studio which is weird, considering how serious I can be about my work.