Interview Series: Aaron Nagel

Aaron Nagel‘s stunning oil paintings of nude women for his newest show “Fathoms” hone in on his skill at lighting, composition and ability to capture raw emotion. He photographs his subjects first to claim every aspect of the process as his own. Very close to photo-realism, his portraits of these women against a simple clean background project them in a sort of power position, but with the black sleeves revealing a darker, more morose side. “Fathoms” opened this Friday, May 9 at the Lyons Wier Gallery in Chelsea and will be available for viewing until June 7, so if in NYC, stop by and check out the work. In the meantime, we have a little interview with Aaron about his process and his penchant for nude women.

Q&A

LF: You currently have a show up at Lyons Wier Gallery called “Fathoms”. Can you talk about how you came about the title “Fathoms” and what it means to the work?

AN: “Fathoms” was initially just the name of one of the paintings from the show, a smaller 26″ x 30″ piece that is pretty simplistic in composition. I am especially happy with how the painting came out, despite it’s simplicity…which is something I often grapple with; finding the perfect balance between mode and composition. The mood that I’m most often after… I feel like I got it right in that one. When it came to naming the show, I found it worked pretty well, both because it came to represent the right mood for me, and because it implies a depth of sorts – a vague, possibly mysterious, and dark depth. It just fit!

LF: What historical painters have influenced this body of nudes?

AN: Oddly, I found myself paying closer attention to portraiture for this show than with others. Ingrés’ Napoleon portrait and George de Forest Brush’s “A Celtic Huntress” to name a few. I’m not sure what specifically led me to those two this time around, probably the search for mood again (at risk of becoming repetitive already).

LF: You photograph your subjects. Were you always a photographer?

AN: I hardly consider myself a photographer, although I do shoot all my own reference material. I’ve shot my own stuff ever since I could convince some friends to model years and years ago, and have always felt that if I don’t personally shoot the reference or at least heavily manage the shoot, it’s not “mine” enough.  I also dated a photographer a long while back, and despite the scars, she taught me a lot about lighting, which really improved things for me in respect to the final paintings. I shoot with only the final painting in mind, and despite years and years of practice, I barely have a working knowledge of why pictures look good; I just set up lights, and twist knobs and push buttons until the pictures look like I want them to. Good photos don’t necessarily make good paintings, so I’m not after the perfect image, just the right jump off point for a painting.

LF: You are a graphic designer first, a self-taught painter second. How did the painting come into play?

AN: I taught myself graphic design as well, so it’s kind of all been the same journey. I was a drawer first, then got into graphic design first as a means to translate those drawings into something I could use to promote the bands I was in, then as a source of income. I always did art for myself on the side though, and at one point, I wanted to work big, and painting was a much better medium for scale. That’s how it started – but drawing, graphic design, painting – they all inform eachother. I don’t think of them as separate skills.

LF: What is it about oils?

AN: I think anybody that has seen a Rembrandt portrait, or a giant Rubens, or a Caravaggio, or a gloppy Jenny Saville even, can answer that question. Maybe not in the most succinct way, but they’ll be able to. As a visual artist, I’m not really the guy to answer that on paper, but will I continue to predominately paint with oils for the rest of my life? Very probably.

LF: Last year you had your moving truck with all of your art supplies stolen. Obviously there were some negatives about that, but what were the positives? You got a lot of support from your Indiegogo campaign?

AN: I did get a lot of support from the art community, more than I ever would have thought possible. Being an artist isn’t the most social thing in the world, and aside from the occasional show, I don’t do a lot of face to face hanging with artists, so at times the “community” I’m a part of can seem kind of theoretical. It’s very much a real thing though, and getting such an outpouring of support was amazing, I’m very grateful to be a part of it. On a more personal note, the theft did a pretty good job of ridding me of “stuff”, most of which I would rather have held onto, some of which was very important to me, but still, just stuff. There has been a lot of illness in my family the last few years, so in comparison, anything that doesn’t result in a hospital stay can’t be so bad.

LF: How was your work received at Miami Art Basel?

AN: As far as I know? Pretty well. I tend to not get a super accurate impression of what people think of the work though in general, which is probably fine.

LF: You recently moved to L.A. Are you inspired by the art scene here?

AN: I am actually. L.A. seems a little more art friendly these days than the Bay Area, where I moved from. There’s a great artistic community in the Bay, but there is a lot of tension between the tech people and art people, especially as rents get to the point where artists are forced either into terrible neighborhoods or out of the area entirely. In L.A., everybody does something, mostly related to entertainment, but it’s kind of cool that almost everybody has a hand in something creatively.

LF: What makes you tick?

AN: at risk of listing a whole bunch of things here, probably “control” is an accurate answer. I’m not a control freak, but I do like to have control over what I do on a daily basis. I feel like all the freelance work and painting allows for me to work and live day to day on as much as my own terms as possible, and I love that.

LF: What gets you off, literally or figuratively?

AN: Whoa boy… exercise? That makes me sound the most boring. Cute girls eating bad food? Not much better.

LF: How FAST do you live?

AN: In the parties and babes and drugs corner, pretty damn slow. I’m vegan straightedge, meaning an exciting night out for me is sugar-free vegan soft serve and a ton of coffee. Although I can run fast, and I prefer to drive as fast as possible, so literally, pretty fast.

Aaron Nagel’s show “Fathoms” is open to the public at the Lyons Wier Gallery in NYC until June 7, 2014.

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