Beautifully-rendered and atmospheric, Aron Wiesenfeld’s latest body of paintings reminds us how adept the artist is at creating scenes of suspenseful distinction. With the precedent of following the artist’s work set in Hi-Fructose Vol.14, Vol. 22 and online, we were invited into his studio to gaze into Wiesenfeld’s progressively mysterious world. His latest suite of paintings, titled “Solstice” will be shown at Arcadia Contemporary in NYC from September 18 through October 3.
In these new paintings, Wiesenfeld created in a somewhat different manner, allowing the environments to have the primary importance before adding any characters to the scene. Created in his San Diego, CA studio, these new works concentrate on the fragile state of mortality. The artist is mindful of death, with the awareness that one can be reborn into the cycle of life – the evolving symbol of a migrating soul. With words scarcely able to do the work justice, we recommend viewers see the paintings in person or check out Wiesenfeld’s latest book, The Well.
Aron Weisenfeld in his studio.
It’s wonderful to see these new paintings, which appear to be paintings focused on seasons, change and some migratory event. It seems that there is some sort of a shift in this body of work from your previous shows in some ways, is that fair to say?
Thanks a lot! There were some things I did differently this time. My paintings usually start with a sketch of a person, but these started with ink wash drawings I had done of drizzly, foggy scenes with no people. I liked the mood in them, and I wanted the paintings to echo that. The people were added as the paintings progressed, which is probably why the people are generally smaller, and the narratives tend to be about the relationship of the characters to their surroundings. It’s one of the things I like about old Chinese paintings, there is so much space and atmosphere that the dramas of the characters seem insignificant.
Another thing I did differently this time was working on all of the paintings at once. It helped me to think about them as a group, and I liked that I could progress on the ones I wanted to on a particular day. The only down side was when the show date was getting closer and I didn’t have anything finished.
Preparatory ink wash study.
It appears that the characters are shown facing away from the viewer, away from the work’s edges and into the scene. Is there a specific reason for this separation?
I think that came out of the environments being of primary importance to me. Showing the person from behind was a trope of some of my favorite painters, Friedrich and Hammershøi. The character becomes a cipher, or a stand-in for the viewer.
What does the title “Solstice” mean to you? Is this a reference to the passage of a season, or some wider meaning attached to the movements of the mysterious characters within the works?
To me it evoked ancient, pre-Christian, even pre-classical religions, like the Druids, Stonehenge, etc. Things we know nothing about. I like the mysterious, ritualistic connection with the word. I tried to research it, but there wasn’t much to be found. I was reading a history of Christmas, which said that probably nobody really knew when Jesus was born, but since there was already a winter solstice holiday in Rome called Saturnalia, the Christians just shoehorned Christmas into that. And the Romans had previously done the same thing with Saturnalia to a pagan December holiday feast that existed because people had to slaughter their animals if they couldn’t feed them through the winter. Each era’s myths and rituals seem to take liberally from the previous ones, so there is this continuity that goes far back into history. It’s the meaning I get from the title, and something I wanted to express in the paintings.
There appears to be a movement, a migration even, occurring in these pieces. Are the paintings representing some sort of exodus, movements of people leaving an area or preparing for an event of some sort?
Life is so fragile, and death is always near. That was part of the meaning from the title “Solstice” too — that there is death, but then there is rebirth, in a continuous cycle. I find it comforting to think about death that way, instead of as just an ending. In answer to the question, I think migrations typify that cyclical nature of life.
In many of your works, the characters are looking across a divide, whether it’s a body of water, a road, a gap, or some other kind of break in the landscape. Is there significance to that?
Those gaps have metaphorical meaning. It’s a divide between worldly reality and another place. That place could be called spiritual, or metaphysical, but the most important characteristic is that it’s not here it’s there. And since a painting is static, the girl looking across the river will always be looking across the river. It’s an unreachable destination.
It also appears that the individuals within these scenarios are fairly oblivious to their environments, or to the objects nearby or even looming over them. To what do you think we owe that effect — are the characters specters of some long-ago residency, dimensional echoes of some parallel universe, or possibly just dreamy inhabitants that are under a spell of some sort?
I like all of those! It might sound like a cop-out, but all of those ideas are valid. I have my own ideas about the story behind each painting, but I wonder if I say what they are, will it invalidate other people’s stories? Paintings and stories should have unanswered questions, as long as they are interesting questions, of course. It allows the viewer to collaborate in the story. I thought the show “Lost” was great for that reason. Each week it suggested bizarre possibilities, and rarely explained them. It made the experience totally unique. It would have been a disservice to the audience if all things were neatly tied up at the end.
You seem to have a rich stream of ideas and depictions of scenarios that have a definite mood and tone. How do you decide which ideas become large paintings and which ones are smaller? Does the idea present itself with that answer or do you have to work it out along the way as you prepare the canvases?
I work on un-stretched canvas so I can change the dimensions if needed. Most ideas seem to work as medium sized paintings. When I had the initial idea for the largest painting in the show The Orchard, I knew it had to be big. There is something that only a very big painting can do, and only when seen in person, which is to give the illusion that one could physically enter the painting. But big paintings take so much time — it’s a huge commitment.
As well as having an entirely new body of paintings and a solo exhibit, you have your first collection of works published recently, is that right? Will that book be available for your show and will you be there to sign them if so?
Yes! It’s titled The Well and is a lovely hardcover edition. I’m really excited about the book. It’s amazing to have this very well-produced physical document collecting a group of my paintings. If anyone brings the book to the show, I’d be happy to sign it of course. The gallery will have them for sale too, and there will be a book signing on Saturday, September 20 from noon to 2 pm, also at Arcadia Contemporary.
Thanks for spending some time with us. One last question, what does the future hold for you and your paintings? Are there any other exhibitions or events that feature your work that we should know of?
I have a large painting in a show with an incredibly talented group of artists at the Long Beach Museum of Art. The show is called “Masterworks: Defining a New Narrative,” it’s up from October 23, 2014 to February 1, 2015 and features 14 of the current movement’s top talents showing one large-scale painting each. After that I’m looking forward to taking a camping trip, and other things that will be outside my studio. Thanks a lot.