We first met Aaron Wrinkle at the Night Gallery, which was hosting his ongoing reconstruction of Douglas Huebler’s 1977 Volvo in its courtyard. Wrinkle had previously deconstructed the former dean’s automobile during his MFA at CalArts. Since then, he has embodied a diverse practice ranging from sculpture to running the gallery Dan Graham – so named after an influential “art dad,” as Wrinkle put it. Curious about what the native Missourian has been up to recently, Art Zealous dropped by his studio in LA’s old Chinatown for an afternoon chat.
Art Zealous: What have you been working on nowadays?
Aaron Wrinkle: I’ve been returning to painting – I used to paint during my undergrad at Kansas City Art Institute. I’m trying to explore two-color relationships in these sort of diptychs where the size of the paintings generally match…
I’m interested in painting in a way that I don’t see much in contemporary painting. I want to challenge what is out there, and their validity and general accessibility.
AZ: So what are you hoping to achieve in your paintings?
AW: All painters have the potential to be the same if they are dedicated. The painting itself is where differences occur – where their motives and interests emerge and whether they relate to viewers. Whether it’s photorealism or expressing ideas, I have tremendous respect and admiration for both because they are both types of refinement.
I am personally more invested in the evolution of the language of painting and art itself. I want these to last and hold up over time and in art history. I want to give back to art itself.
There’s a tactility and meditation in painting, a kind of emotional relay. It adds energy and emotional value. [He points to a pair of paintings.] For example, my smiley faces over there… they’re smiling but kind of pathetic? But they’re trying to be earnest, not placating or cavalier in any way. A lot of these paintings employ simple motifs like faces and other simple things.
AZ: What made you return to painting? I noticed that your website featured mostly been sculptures, installations, and lots of photography. Your previous interviews seemed to indicate a strong interest in Dan Graham, Conceptual Art, and Conceptual artists – is that still true?
AW: I went to CalArts and painting was really not recommended. I took up more performative (ephemeral) engagements, investigating Conceptual art’s challenging of what art is, from running a gallery to curating shows. Recently, I began to realize that drawing and painting are conceptual practices too. I mean ‘conceptual’ in having an abstraction to which information is added like humor or allegory… Conceptual with a lower ‘c.’
AZ: Has any of your interest in Conceptual art or post-modernism in general carried over?
AW: You can’t ‘unlearn’ concepts in terms of context to places and the relationship of art to sites and art history. I simply want the paintings to be site-specific to being hung in a gallery, but in any gallery. It’s not an institutional critique, just that my paintings are non-specific. I am interested in those contrasts in how they relate to sites and art history differently.
AZ: What is your process like?
AW: Well, it starts with my position economically [He gestures at the two plywood paintings on the ground.] I’ve always made art with what I have or find, right now I’m out of canvases and need to find some more. At least 90% of these paintings are on found canvases, and see this? [He points towards a heavily textured smiley-face.] This is roofing tar. I found almost an entire tube… then I liked it so much I went out and bought another to continue painting with.
AZ: Have you always done that throughout the years, and beyond painting?
AW: Yes, I suppose I’ve always been spontaneous – informationally or object-wise. I’m always sourcing from found imagery, finding templates of modern abstraction… I suppose it’s a certain value from growing up in a middle class family. My dad was an auto-refinisher, and I saw a lot of wrecked cars put back together. My redressing a canvas is kind of like finishing a car. I see artists as contemporary workers: blue collar, middle-class. In a way, nothing is more commercial object-wise than somebody’s car or house.
It’s not an institutional critique or anything, just a reality of me making art. I’m very fortunate to be able to paint. [He gesticulates once again towards his walls.] When I’m done with a painting and it is hung, you wouldn’t necessarily suspect its origins. I want them to blend in as contemporary paintings, but stand out informationally from what I usually see. I don’t really see many engaging in painting as beginning from the ready-made, at least not those shown in galleries nowadays.
AZ: As far as sources go, then, what are you listening to? Are you still listening to punk?
AW: Yeah, I guess I used to listen to Sonic Youth and art rock, but my constants are country and my two favorite artists, Devendra Banhart and John Frusciante.
I feel like they are relating similar things to what I want my paintings to convey. They are just very kind, generous, and selfless in their music. Maybe a lot of people see it as trivial, but Devendra’s music has helped me a lot through heartbreaks and things that I didn’t think I would make it through.
AZ: What is it specifically about his music that draws you?
AW: There’s a kind of taboo to emotional music and art, but I think of it as very fortunate thing to have somebody help me celebrate or grieve. My own work helps me process ‘real life’ stuff, and I want that to relate in my paintings… revelations of one’s own emotions that others can identify with. It’s like we are given a light to follow.
AZ: What of print material? What do you like to read and what are you reading these days?
AW: I feel like I’m… I’m not a philistine by any means, but I feel as if I’ve wasted a lot of my life not reading. I’m impatient and end up looking through pictures instead. [He gets up and retrieves two books.] I’m reading these right now.
Raymond is like an art dad, or really, an art brother to me. I feel like his art conveys similarly to Devendra’s, and I have this ongoing zine project with him.
AZ: When is that coming out?
AW: It’s been going on for two years. I’m supposed to be sending over some drawings…
AZ: Do you have any other non-painting projects going on?
AW: I finally got permission to fix the Chinatown pond. It’s a kind of performative gesture, like a gesture of conceptual art. I’m replacing sculptures that are gone – ducks, buddhas, and the shopkeepers are giving me random stuff.
AW: I also have this sculpture terrace project on the roof. I want it to be a kind of public engagement, a kind of exhibitionism. I want people to be looking up from the street and see David – a kind of sign or symbol.
AZ: Have your views on art or the art world changed over the last ten years?
AW: I think that when you first come in, you are naïve and that’s a good thing. Then you get serious and critical and frustrated and angry, and I think the key is to go back to naïve and playful again.
I mean, you still should have an opinion and stuff, but you have to swallow your pride and remember why you started… My views changed on myself [as an artist], I didn’t begin art making to make money, and I just have to remember that.
AZ: Is there one question that you wish would be asked more of artists nowadays?
AW: Hm… ‘Who are you making work for, and why?’ Or perhaps, ‘Are you being true to yourself?’ ‘Are you interested in the possibility of making bad art? Cause it will happen regardless.’
But then again, who am I to say what anybody else should make? I need things to bounce my own art against, and I’m more interested in learning anyways.
AZ: Do you have a dream gallery for representing your work?
AW: [Laughs.] Do galleries have dream artists?
I will say this, however; I think most professional gallerist in the business here is Shaun Caley Regen [of Regen Projects]. She is a quintessential professional and treats me with so much respect even though she owes me absolutely nothing. There’s a reason she’s so successful. I’m also very appreciative and thankful for all of Night Gallery – especially my friend Davida [Nemeroff] for her support of my practice.
We thank Aaron Wrinkle for his time, and he walks me out, grabbing a hat for the 365 Mission opening that evening.