I knock on Aaron Skolnick’s door and am greeted by the artist himself, sporting a vintage sweatshirt and a well-groomed horseshoe mustache. With an enthusiastic hello, Aaron leads me through the entryway past shelves of jars, bottles, and other strange tagged and numbered items, all part of the archive of Louis Zoellar Bickett II, another artist with whom he shares the home.
Aaron wades through piles of clothes strewn about the living room and shuts an open laptop on a nearby table. He has been streaming Netflix while packing for a trip to NYC for the opening of “60 Americans” at the Elga Wimmer Gallery. His painting has already been shipped to the gallery along with the other fifty-nine artists’ fifty-nine works, and he will join them all at the opening reception.
He proceeds to the kitchen to concoct for me what he calls a “Pellegrigio,” which, naturally, consists of one part Pellegrino and one part pinot grigio. He leads me up a flight of steep, narrow stairs to his studio on the top floor of his home. The space boasts old hardwood floors, a fair amount of natural light, and a floral wallpaper border that I can’t help but like. It is only messy in localized clusters but is otherwise fairly minimal. Small pieces of art hang on the walls here and there; some of these are part of Aaron’s personal collection and others are paintings or prints by other artists for sale via New Baroque, an artist collective Aaron manages. We sit, Pellegrigios in hand, and stare out at a deliciously green view through the window behind his strategically placed desk.
Aaron tells me that he begins every day at this desk with a quick warmup drawing. He sets a timer for forty-five minutes, forcing himself to complete one “study” in the allotted time. He does this not only to loosen up but also to force a degree of discomfort upon himself. He enjoys pushing himself to see how much information he can convey with the fewest amount of pencil marks, and through this he often discovers new techniques that he applies to his regular work. Graphite is his warmup medium of choice, but he says that he always faces a constant internal battle between drawing and painting.
Although Aaron’s artwork exhibits an extreme amount of technical finesse and mastery of physical materials, it relies very heavily on the presence of technology. The people and events that he studies can only survive and travel because cameras and photographs exist. I recall his solo exhibition at Institute 193 in 2013, Pick Me Up and Turn Me Round. All of the imagery was extracted from media coverage of the JFK assassination, but Aaron altered these photographs and news articles at his discretion by using using non-photographic materials, adding colors and visual textures, or editing Jackie O out of a picture completely. To him, JFK is a symbol of image control through the careful selection (and, often, alteration) of information for public presentation. Aaron literally paints a cautionary tale about the superficiality of information, the fragility of memory, and the equivocality of truth.
There also exists an interesting translation of information. In addition to creating from photographs, Aaron adds that everything he draws “feels like it was meant to be photographed.” Information weaves in and out of three dimensional “reality” and two-dimensional photography.
It is becoming increasingly clear to me that Aaron is very inspired by 1960s American pop culture. “I love the idea of youths making decisions, decisions that can be so big as to disrupt an entire social structure,” he says. I can see evidence of him adopting the same attitude toward his artwork, making decisions about what to include or edit out of the photographs from which he creates. He departs on a rave about Hell’s Angels, Andy Warhol, and Woodstock as I take a peek at an in-progress series of paintings and drawings that reinterpret psychedelic posters. I feel like a schoolchild at story time, except that this one involves white wine.
Growing up, Aaron devoured history books. He still turns to books to find new bodies of works. He may go to the library to research about topics that spark his interest, or he may leaf through one of the several books on art and/or history on his studio shelf. One such image that has inspired an entire series is that of a burning cross at a KKK rally. Aaron finds the image not only to be visually stunning but also compelling for its content. He is amazed and horrified that such a very large group of people ever united in an effort to erase an entire part of humanity. The original image, he says, showed a KKK member in full white, hooded garb. But in all of his own reproductions he has chosen to omit this figure, instead allowing the cross to speak about religion, violence, symbolism, and historical context.
One of Skolnick’s cross pieces was recently selected to be part of a group show at NYC’s Louis B. James Gallery. The exhibition, titled “Colors,” explores the mental and emotional response to both the presence and absence of color. Aaron’s work will be on exhibit until July 31, 2015.
—Cat Wentworth, Director