Aaron Nagel Interview
You are an established artist whose work has been exhibited at numerous galleries. What is the story behind your first show?
I kind of happened upon it accidentally. I had always intended to show, but was in a perpetual state of feeling I had more to learn before I got my paintings in front of the public. A friend hooked me up with a retail shop in SF’s Lower Haight that wanted to exhibit more contemporary art, I went and met with them, and we planned a solo show. This was in 2008, so I really haven’t been at it very long, but that first show definitely changed the way I feel about exhibiting and forced me to be much more productive in general.
What would you say are the most important tasks when planning a solo exhibit?
Well producing a body of work you’re happy with is by far the most important…and is a constant struggle for me. Every so often I’ll finish a piece that I’m just not happy with, especially when I’m experimenting with content and technique, but it’s hard to have that flexibility if you’re under the gun. Having the work “fit together” is also pretty important, but I think for the most part, unless you’re compiling works from a huge span of time, that will happen on its own.
What was your worst experience during an exhibition? How did you manage to overcome it?
I’ve been in a bunch of group shows, but I’ve only had two solo shows — so far (knock on wood), I can’t say I’ve had any horrible experiences during an exhibition. Having the turnout less than expected, not selling pieces, etc… can be disappointing, but certainly not so unexpected that I would consider them bad experiences. those come with the territory.
What advice can you give to emerging artists who are trying to approach galleries for the first time? According to you, what are the dos and don’ts?
Hmm, I’m certainly no expert, but I think the trick is to sell yourself without appearing that you’re selling yourself. Mainly just make yourself and your art accessible to those you want to see it,
without shoving something in their face upon a first meeting. Find a gallery that shows art that you both admire and that you feel you would fit in with (this is important). Then just make yourself known to them, introduce yourself, go to openings, all very casual — you’ll be supportive of their business, which never hurts when you want them to support your business. Once you’ve established some sort of informal relationship, maybe get them a portfolio or a website, then leave it alone. if they’re interested, they will let you know.
You founded your own web design firm. Has having your own business changed the way you make decisions regarding your art? Can you share some of what you’ve learned?
Hmmm, that’s a good question. I definitely approach my freelance work and my painting in similar ways. regardless of how much painting is a necessity for me personally, my web design work pays the majority of the bills, so in a sense, they are both my living…so I take them seriously. I tend to be pretty hard on myself and spend the vast majority of my waking hours working, but while painting never feels like work, it’s the work I most want to be doing, and the web design makes it possible. I came into web design the same way, as a means to extricate myself from office work — working on websites at all hours (and in the office) in order to slowly have enough business to be self-sustaining. So it’s maybe not having my own business that effects my art decisions, but the act of starting it that most informs the way I handle my painting.
In your paintings, you have skilfully intertwined the female body with various religious topics. According to you, what is the relationship between organized religion and the female form?
Generally, I’m not really sure, it certainly depends on the religion, the time period, etc. As a blanket statement, I’m not sure there’s an overpowering relationship that could apply everywhere. I paint women with religious overtones not to provide some sort of commentary on the relationship between women and organized religion, but because thinking of beautiful women as gods, saints, etc. makes much more sense to me than the world’s organized religions. Theism is totally silly to me, but I can certainly relate to the power a woman can have over me personally, and that’s the closest I’m going to come to believing in an omnipotent higher power. applying traditional religious imagery to women just fits for me. If anything, I am calling attention to the relationship between organized religion and sensible people, be they male or female.
Montrealers can currently view a small sample of your work at Galerie d”art Yves Laroche. Are you planning any new exhibits in Canada or the United States?
I have nothing booked in Canada at the moment, although I’d love to get back out to Yves Laroche for a larger showing some day. Stateside, I have a solo in June at the Shooting Gallery in SF, and a two-person show in LA this September.
Born 1980 in San Francisco, California, Aaron Nagel began drawing as a child and gradually made his way to painting. Upon discovering oils in his early twenties, he became enamoured with the medium and has been obsessed ever since. Although he has had no formal training, he continues to relentlessly pursue a mastery of figurative surrealism from his home in Oakland, CA.
Nagels’ work explores the potential to create a new sort of iconography for the non-believer, with subtle commentary on the trappings of organized religion and theism.