The works of Aron Wiesenfeld sow an insatiable intrigue through the thoughtful moments of his subjects. Both familiar and ambiguous, his pieces invite us to experience their moments of uncertainty, on backdrops with a mysterious glow. Aron’s storied paintings and drawings often portray beautiful female characters, isolated in surroundings that radiate in the twilight. The ambiance presents a curious dichotomy, with imagery that is both romantic and vaguely ominous. Aron’s pieces tell undeniably epic stories through images.
“…I think the most interesting thing is to show a character right before the moment of decision, before the journey begins. The paintings are about staying within a moment of uncertainty, in which all possibilities are still open.”
Aron’s works spark wildfires in the imagination with all the intrigue of a dramatic fairy tale. So, it is an incredible honor to have interviewed this talented artist.
Aron, how did your career as an artist get started? Did you grow up making art?
There was a lot of art around when I was growing up, and paintings on the walls. My grandmother was a very good watercolor painter. My first love was comic books. I started copying comic books, and then drawing my own. When I was about 12, I was determined to one day be a real comic book artist.
Do you have any special training or formal education in the arts?
I went to art school in New York after high school. I probably would have chosen a different school if I could do it over, because I wasn’t into the abstract and conceptual art being done there. I left early to go into comics. At age 24, I went back to art school at Art Center College of Design in California, which was a much better fit. That’s where I studied painting.
One thing that is so striking about your pieces is that they feel like snapshots of mysterious and epic journeys. Each subject broaches so many questions for the viewer, by interacting with their environment, especially with nature. Is there an overarching significance in that?
As far as journeys, I think the most interesting thing is to show a character right before the moment of decision, before the journey begins. The paintings are about staying within a moment of uncertainty, in which all possibilities are still open.
I’ve noticed that in each piece, your subjects, as well as the environment surrounding them, give off a very emotive aura. What inspires you to portray these images? Is there always a story going on in your mind, or are they based on real people and circumstances?
The subject matter is something that develops over time. Occasionally an idea will spring to my head that will work as a painting, but that’s an exception. Usually it starts as just a notion- something interesting, but lacking. It needs to be combined with something else to become an “idea”. I usually have a dozen of those half-baked sketches around, waiting for something. Then being able to know when it is a good idea becomes very important. I think as an artist that you have to train yourself to pay attention to your own instant, emotional reaction to things.
Without spoiling the mystery, can you tell us a bit about your technique? How are your pieces created, and how long does each take to finish?
A medium sized painting might take a month. I do different things, but here’s my average painting procedure: tack a piece of unstretched canvas to the wall or a board, paint it a warm color, and let it dry. I draw onto that with white chalk, and then loosely sketch over that with raw umber oil paint. If there is a large figure, I’ll paint the form of the figure with lead white, exaggerating the light areas because they will get darker in the color stages. When the values and composition look okay, I’ll switch to the full color palette, depending on the painting. The nice thing about having a foundation of values underneath is that you can try things with the color, and wipe it off if needed. The following days are spent adding thin layers of colors, getting it a little further along each day. That description makes it sound very orderly, but there are plenty of times that I have to make drastic changes, or start over.
Your artistic approach seems to be very multifaceted. At once, it seems each subject is styled in a graceful, painterly vein, while the light in each image is fantastically real. It seems that the light, and the hue you choose in context to it, are almost photographic. Is this a purposeful choice, and do you use photography in your process?
I want the settings to feel very specific, and I want the characters to be not specific, almost like empty shells. Sort of unreal and real. Sometimes a photo is the initial inspiration for a painting, but I mostly paint from imagination. There are usually some specific details that I need photos for, but I don’t want the paintings to look like photography. In that sense I find it helpful to keep the computer on the other side of the room, so I have to walk back and forth to the painting.
Can you talk a bit about your evolution as an artist? How has your work changed over time? Have your techniques changed? Has your style developed in any ways that would have surprised you before?
I want to be surprised by my own paintings. If it’s a good painting, it almost always took a path I wasn’t expecting. I feel more like a midwife to the paintings than a creator.
When I was starting out I had some ideas about the type of work I thought I would be making, based on some of the artists I was looking at. I wanted to do large paintings with thick, painterly brushwork. As I learned more about myself and what I was really most interested in, those notions became irrelevant. It’s usually more appropriate for me to make smaller scaled, more detailed paintings.
What is your life like currently? Are you a full-time artist?
Yes. On a typical day, I work from about 8am to 3pm. The rest of the day is spent with family, or reading, walking, watching movies, sketching, etc.
What is your studio like?
I work in a small bedroom of my house. It has a big easel, a small desk, and a lot of unfinished paintings and sketches around.
What are the biggest challenges you’ve faced on your artistic journey, and how do you deal with them?
Lack of confidence, especially when I was younger, which was expressed as perfectionism. That’s been my biggest struggle to overcome. It took time and a lot of conscious effort to be comfortable with the fact that not every painting is going to be a masterpiece. Sometimes “good enough” really is good enough.
What are the biggest rewards for you in producing such beautiful works?
What a nice question, thank you. My favorite part is the initial sketching of an idea, initially getting it on paper to tell the story, and visualizing it as a composition. That’s the most fun for me because it’s making something out of nothing. After that, turning the sketch it into a finished painting can be difficult and tedious. The finishing stages are often more about preserving what is already there and not screwing it up. There are other enjoyable parts, but that first stage is the best.
I see you have had extensive solo exhibitions, a well-developed online presence, and even two beautifully designed art books. Which medium do you feel best represents your intended impact?
I think books. There is nothing like standing in front of the actual painting, but you can’t visit the Tate every day. I like the intimacy, and tactile quality of books. I always saw art in books. I love that you can hold an artist’s entire life’s work in your hands.
What is the name and significance of your most prized piece or series? What was going on in your life, or your way of thinking while you were creating it?
That would definitely be a painting called “The Well”. I worked on it for 3 months, while my wife was pregnant with our son, and after he was born. I see the emotions I was having at the time in the painting, particularly the sense of wonder and fear of the unknown.
What can we expect to see from you in the future? Any new projects, shows, travel, or books? What’s your next challenge?
I’ve started a story in pictures that I would like to make as a book. it’s sketched out and I’m starting the artwork for it. Also there will be a new show of paintings in 2018.