Thursday, June 21, 2012

*Dreams Towards Reality*

I'm thrilled to announce that the advance copies of my new book about Andrew Hem, Dreams Towards Reality, will be in my hands in just a few weeks. It will be shipping in early August from Zero+ Publishing, and you can pre-order yours (and get a 30% early-bird discount) from them today!

Monday, June 11, 2012

Andrew Hem's Midnight Battle

If you're in New York this weekend, don't miss the opportunity to see this haunting painting by Andrew Hem this Saturday in the "Sur-Realism" exhibition at Arcadia Fine Arts: Soho. Andrew's largest painting to date, it will be displayed alongside works by Aron Wiesenfeld, Martin Wittfooth, Rick Berry and many others.

Andrew Hem "Protect Your Neck"

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

"Wild at Heart" Closing Reception this Saturday!

If you didn't get a chance to come to Thinkspace last week for the "Wild at Heart" endangered species benefit exhibition, please join us this Saturday between 6 and 8 for our closing reception. There is so much to see, you might want to come again, even if you did make it to the opening!

Kelly Allen "Belladonna"

Dabs Myla "Three Days"

Laura Bifano "Golden Snub-Nosed Monkeys"

Kelly Vivanco "Royal Panda Bear"

Christina Mrozik "Waldrapp Ibis"

David Jien "Clouded Leopard"

Darla Jackson "The Party's Over"

Jason Thielke "African Wild Dog" 

Brad Woodfin "Zik-zik"

Mary Iverson "OR-7, Capitol Reef"

Rob Sato "Untitled"

Rebekah Bogard "Modern Love"

Regan Rosburg "The Harbinger"

Josie Morway "Florida Sandhill Crane"

Sunday, June 3, 2012

Aaron Horkey's Postapocalyptic Pastoralism

I have the great honor and pleasure of presenting you with my interview with the incomparable Aaron Horkey, whose meticulously handcrafted rock posters are truly compelling works of art. Aaron just created a screenprinted poster edition for the "Wild at Heart" endangered species benefit show at Thinkspace, which opened last weekend. The print, entitled "Only Death Is Real," was created using eleven screens — three shades of black, three shades of gray, three shades of lavender, and one each of silver and red — which resulted in a subtlety of detail that rivals many of the paintings in the show. Read on for some fascinating revelations about his background and motivation.

Erratic Phenomena: You grew up in Windom, Minnesota, in sparsely populated Cottonwood County, home to rustling cornfields, gravel roads, swaybacked barns, desolate horizons, and a million million natural things burgeoning briefly and then returning to the earth. Tell me about a day in your life as a boy. Would you go off on adventures by yourself, or did you prefer to explore a more interior world? What kinds of odds and ends did you collect? On a warm sunny day, would you lie in the grass with your ear to the earth, watching the world bustle past on a scale invisible to almost everyone else?

Aaron Horkey: Growing up in the country with no siblings, I was definitely inhabiting my own weird world from a very early age. There were a couple neighbor kids that lived on the farm just down the road, and I had a handful of cousins around my age that I'd occasionally see, but for the most part it was just my folks and I until I started school. I certainly was outside as much as I could be, weather permitting, and I loved to get down close to a patch of ground and see what was happening on a micro level. Considering there are more insects inhabiting one square mile of rural land than there are humans on Earth, there was always some tiny drama playing itself out if I looked close enough. After a certain amount of time in this environment, my eyes were trained to notice any small oddity on a forest floor or field approach and I had no problem quickly amassing a "weird collection" that was housed in my parent's garage. Bones and antlers, bird's nests and eggs, turtle shells, rocks that I convinced myself were fossilized dinosaur teeth, petrified wood, etc. all made their way into this makeshift museum. Looking at the shelves in this room some 25-odd years later, it's very clear that my habits remain virtually unchanged...

"Whale Bone Grove"

EP: When you were young, you spent countless hours drawing animals on butcher paper. Tell me a bit about what you liked to draw. Did you construct large, complicated scenarios or focus intently on enhancing tiny details? Were you always interested in mortality and primal, elemental things? Did you have an impulse toward naming and titling things early on? 

Aaron: My mom and dad have archived most of those early drawings and it's interesting to look back and find common threads with what I'm doing now. The very earliest butcher paper stuff seems to be comprised of animal battles or large groups of animals congregating with one another. Lots and lots of cats as well. Obviously very crude but really fun to look at. I wonder how my hand could ever have been so loose, but I suppose this was well before the crushing pressure of having to constantly perform had clouded my head, and my all encompassing obsessive tendencies hadn't fully taken root. 

The naming and titling and always signing and dating started fairly early as well. I have plenty of examples of drawings marked, "by aaron horkey. I am 4," and so on. Another recurring theme during these early years was starting (but never completing) hand-drawn books. These were almost always dinosaur-related, not story books but informational in nature, and I could not seem to advance beyond the contents page. Subsequently I have a small stack of covers and content pages from that period — strange little ghosts of books.

EP: Your father Bruce Horkey is a cabinetmaker whose business, Horkey's Wood and Parts, has been crafting custom replacement parts for vintage cars and trucks since 1980. Over the years, he imparted his DIY punk-rock work ethic to you. Tell me about your dad's philosophy and what you learned from working alongside him that you have been able to apply to your own life and work. 

Aaron: The fact that my dad was able to build this unique business from the ground up in the "middle of nowhere" (pre-internet, natch) was so everyday and commonplace that I've never felt like I needed to go somewhere else to be successful. If you do quality work and put your blood into something, your audience will eventually find you, regardless of location. It will not be easy, but nothing worth doing ever really is. One of my first regular jobs in the shop was hand-addressing catalogs, which when I started out were essentially 'zines — photocopied and stapled, typeset at the local print shop, camera-ready art — the real deal. I didn't think about it so much at the time, but these little digest-sized catalogs were being sent out all over the country and internationally by the bundle every day — the direct result of word-of-mouth, a little advertising and most importantly, solid craftsmanship. When you specialize in a unique product and the word gets out, there the rest will take care of itself.

Seeing the very real effects of hard work and dogged persistence from day one has had a huge influence on the way I go about doing whatever it is that I do. My dad's dad was also a very hard-working guy, and seeing that in action — across generations, even — just cemented that ethic to do it right and to do it as well as you can with what you have available to you. That to me is the definition of punk, and it has nothing to do with a musical subgenre or uniform and can be applied to whatever, whenever. 

I'd also be remiss if I didn't mention my mom's huge influence on me. Her creativity, illustrative style and hand-lettering were all absorbed into my subconscience long before I was aware of anything, really. Thanks guys, you're the best.

EP: As a kid, you were fascinated by ornate old things like Art Nouveau packaging and ornamentation, examples of which your parents would pick up in their peregrinations around the midwest. Later you began to collect ephemera like turn-of-the-century sheet music and railroad bonds, which often featured fantastically elaborate hand-lettering, seemingly for no other reason than to make them look interesting. What have you surmised about the mindset of that era in your studies of their techniques and obsessions? Why do you think the Art Nouveau craftsmen were so obsessed with incorporating natural forms into their designs? Does their interest in that shed any light on why we are so fascinated with evoking the vanishing natural world in our artforms today?

Aaron: Because it is vanishing, and because people are delving ever-inward into screens and the pursuit of the man-made, I think that natural forms and imagery are only going to become more exotic — the further the disconnect from nature, the greater the urge of the primal id to seek out the warmth of the real. In a nutshell: the industrial revolution begat a proliferation of commodity trading which required ever more intricate and involved advertising and design. The more beautiful and pleasing to the eye these commodities were dressed up and packaged, the better the chance they would be sold. From sheet music to soap to cigarettes to plows, it was the visual that suddenly mattered more than ever. Artistic letterpress printing, Art Nouveau poster art, stock certificates — at the end of the day, it all swims in the same muddy pool of marketing and money. That in itself doesn't take anything away from the work for me, personally — I still get a charge out of seeing any of the above if done with a deft hand and with care. I'm also swimming in those same waters, trying to make something true and straight and watertight, even if it's just a shirt graphic for a doom band. Call me a romantic if you must... 

EP: In your teens, you got hold of an early copy of Can Control, which led to several years of bombing freights with a group of friends from an arts high school outside Minneapolis. Even at its least exalted level, writing graffiti has a tendency to hone certain skills. How do you think your early graffiti practice informed your evolution in lettering? Have you been able to incorporate some of the lessons you learned on the streets in dreaming up baroque alphabets that would almost be at home on a turn-of-the-century stock certificate?

Aaron: A small portion of my graffiti output was legible, mostly on freights toward the end of my short run. With the stuff I was doing, I was only interested in absolute legibility or a complete destruction of the letterform — no middle ground at all. I'm not sure what I was trying to achieve with the latter, other than to develop a style completely devoid of any graffiti influence while still functioning as graffiti. Sounds terribly pretentious, thinking back on it in hindsight, but I wanted the letters to not be any part of the focus, only the style. That's to say if you saw one of my pieces it would instantly register as an Abuse piece, even with no visible letters, if that makes any sense? After a certain point I was absolutely steadfast in my hatred of tradition, which does partially carry through to what I do now, although I've learned to work from the inside-out and with a hint of refined tastefulness, but just a hint.

1997 Abuse piece under a Windom bridge (from Hi-Fructose)

EP: After high school, you stayed in Minneapolis for a while, skating, writing and doing artwork for underground rap labels like Anticon and Rhymesayers. Over those years, you picked up the skills and connections that eventually allowed you to return to rural life and make a living creating painstakingly handmade art. Tell me about the impulse that sent you back to the land. Was there something soul-deadening and emotionally draining about living in the city? When you lived there, did you find yourself always seeking out some ersatz form of wilderness, be it the emerging ecosystem of an abandoned factory or a small enclave of city birds toughing it out in the concrete jungle?

Aaron: I knew my time in Minneapolis was up when I'd be visiting Windom for a weekend or holiday and I'd notice my mood was just slightly improved. I wouldn't say I was beaming by any means, but the fresh air and familiarity of the surroundings and area would do something to untie the knot in my stomach that the city had, over time, put there. On the drive back to Minneapolis, somewhere around Shakopee, I'd know I was getting closer to the shit, I'd start to get agitated and by the time I had parked at the "Rapp House," I was already worked up and wanting to get the hell out of there. It didn't take long for me to realize that the urban environment was caustic — for me, anyway — so I pulled up the stakes and moved back to Cottonwood County, and not a moment too soon. I did spend quite a bit of time exploring abandoned mills and rail yards and generally unpopulated areas of the city while I was there. Definitely felt more comfortable in those desolate locations than in any sort of social situation that people tend to move to cities for.

"Midwestern Heart"

EP: Early in your career, you were a member of the collective that created Life Sucks Die, a short-lived premillennial culture zine that reveled in graffiti, freaks, roadkill, hip-hop, sarcasm and sex. Tell me a little about how Life Sucks Die came about and what you learned from the folks who put it together. 

Aaron: LSD was an offshoot of some of Minneapolis' more interesting and "forward-thinking" graffiti practitioners — basically, dudes I wanted to hang out and draw with that did really great work and weren't jocks. I was lucky enough to be listed on the masthead for the last half of the 8 issue run (as a contributing illustrator), and to provide the cover painting for what would become the final issue. Pretty well everyone who worked on or contributed to the magazine has gone on to do something noteworthy and/or bizarre in their chosen fields and continues to impress me. Thanks for the memories, gentlemen...

EP: You are the kingpin and "sole survivor" of the Black Osprey Dead Arts Society — the black osprey seemingly synonymous with the stylized airborne manta rays that recur throughout your work. What inspired that title, what does it signify for you, and what are the rituals of this exclusive Society? 

Aaron: Teem in secret, languish in obscurity. R/O/B/O/D/A 

EP: The feeling of horror vacui, the idea that "nature abhors a vacuum," is a primal human impulse, from the zoomorphic knotwork of The Book of Kells to the hyper-real illustrations of natural philosopher Ernst Haeckel, from the nightmarish intricacies of the mental patient Adolf Wölfli to the cartoon orgasms of pop surrealist Todd Schorr. In your work, you leave no detail unexpressed, taking every form right to an elegantly drafted golden mean of complexity. Why do you think that degree of completeness is so satisfying to you? Do you ever find yourself going too far, and having to pull back from overworking a piece?

Aaron: I'm not sure if I'll ever be satisfied with the drawings — I always feel like I could take them that much further if I had more time or a larger drawing surface to work with. The most I can hope for is that I'm incrementally working my way up to making a successful picture. If I can just compose each new piece only slightly better or work in just that much more information and detail, then someday it's going to all come together — at least that's what I'm telling myself. As for taking a piece too far — I haven't hit that wall yet, although I know some that would likely beg to differ... I look at the work of someone like Vania Zouravliov and I just can't fathom how he packs that much information into a drawing that looks so effortless, alive and decidedly unforced - it really leaves me dumbfounded. Then I turn back to whatever I'm working on and stare a hole in the paper, wonder how it can be salvaged and generally feel like an imbecile with a deadline. 

EP: You find your inspiration in the decaying remnants of man's endeavors and the encroachments of nature upon your rural Midwestern environment, especially your immediate surroundings in Cottonwood County, Minnesota. Spaces like old train yards and abandoned farmsteads, with their obsolete, rusting equipment and intrepid natural invaders, both animal and vegetable, take on a serene yet bleak organic futurism under the focus of your imagination. You've said you feel you must record the decay of each fallen sparrow you come across, because no one else will. Do you find something like religion in the minute processes of nature at work on your home soil?

Aaron: I wouldn't say religion but clarity. When I see something returning to the soil, it's a very clear process — I can understand what's happening because it's actually occurring in front of me. Nothing is permanent — that sparrow, the dirt, the paper I'm drawing on, me — it's all going to end up together in the end and that's a grounding thought and very humbling. Seeing this process in life and then trying to capture it on paper is almost impossible. If you think about what's driving this constant reclaiming of matter, it's damn near overwhelming, but strangely meditative as well — scratching out thousands of tiny pebbles or individual dirt particles or rendering each vein on a decaying leaf can firmly put you in your place in the universe.

EP: Much of your imagery takes place in a post-human future which has a certain antediluvian feel, with creatures that have taken on mammoth form, evolved strange new appendages, or grown plated armor reminiscent of a horseshoe crab, transforming into fantastic shapes to adapt to the aftermath of man's depredations on the environment. While we have passed into oblivion, our detritus has taken on new purpose, providing shelter for a new cycle of life and death that will supplant our own on a landscape that will eventually be washed clean of our sins. Have you been envisioning this future since you were young? Do you feel this is a sort of hopeful outcome — that life will carry on regardless of our mistakes — or is your work more in the order of a warning knell?

Aaron: This loose narrative has been building itself for years now. Most of the time I have no idea where the imagery is coming from or why certain aspects evolve or devolve until after the fact. A certain part of the process is just letting the stuff spill out and to trust I can clean it up later. I do have kids, so I'd like to think that we as a species could somehow get our collective shit together, but I'm also a bit of a pessimist, so I'm not sure if the work falls into either the warning or hopeful categories... Maybe that's another aspect of this whole story arc that will make itself clear when the time is right.

EP: Though you live in a landlocked locale, the manta ray — an imposingly alien creature that can reach a wingspan of 25 feet, yet is actually shy and gentle — has provided you a great deal of inspiration. Why do you think you find them so compelling? Would you be interested in diving with wild mantas one day, or do you prefer to encounter them only in your imagination? Does their glider-like symmetrical shape hold a specific meaning in your personal symbology?

Aaron: Symmetry is a big part of it. I also like the idea of these massive Rorschach ink blots gliding through the skies. I think of these rays as an invasive species and mostly as a clear marker in the work that all is not as it should be. I'm not sure about diving with a manta, I'd probably feel like I was bothering it more than anything. I did see some eagle rays in the wild off the coast of New Zealand years ago. They were amazingly fast swimmers and I was lucky to see them.

EP: Some of your birds, both helmeted and unadorned, appear to be blind, and sometimes there is something in those protective hoods that suggests the willful blindness of an ostrich with its head buried in the sand. Do you think these creatures, deprived of their sight, have evolved other ways of sensing their environment? Is there another message buried there for us humans, as we plod forward unseeingly to our doom?

Aaron: The birds are blind, but navigate through their habitat using thread — sometimes salvaged from the old world's cast-off, sometimes woven by the birds themselves. By fixing the threads to various points and following the string, the birds can gain an understanding of their environment and establish routines and "paths" to food, shelter, nesting areas, etc. I imagine a pastoral countryside dotted with vast, web-like networks with hundreds of intersecting threads. The concentration required for each bird to follow its own individual path would be intense. If a bird would accidentally cross over to an unfamiliar thread he would risk falling to the ground below where starvation and predation are the likely outcome. 

EP: There is something in your philosophy and vision that reminds me a bit of Hayao Miyazaki's Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind, a post-apocalyptic fantasy in which a girl tries to save a race of deadly mutant insects that live in a toxic jungle, and with them, resurrect the whole of the natural world. Could a boyhood viewing of that film have been an early element in your development? Are there other books or movies you can remember encountering at an early age that might have helped set you along this path?

Aaron: I have to admit I didn't see Nausicaä until I was in my mid-twenties. Of course it's fantastic, like all Miyazaki films, but I don't think it influenced my work, at least that I'm aware of. One movie that did really throw me for a loop at an early age was a French animated film entitled La Planete Sauvage, or Fantastic Planet here in the states. I must have been 8 or 9 when I first saw it — those were the days when we'd rent a giant VCR and a few VHS tapes once or twice a year as a treat for the weekend. Somehow the movie selection of one particular gas station in Windom included Fantastic Planet, and from the cover art and stills pictured on the back of the box, I knew I had to see it. I only watched it once that weekend, but it haunted me for years afterward. I tried to recall on paper the creature design and feel of the film from memory, and as time passed the whole experience lingered in my head like the remnants of a dream — certain aspects being forgotten, the intensity of others being heightened. I didn't see the movie again until high school, when I managed to track down a VHS copy of my own, and subsequently wore that out with repeated viewings. Just this year, I was able to make a poster for the film as part of the grand opening show at Mondo's gallery space in Austin, Texas. It was one of the most nerve-wracking projects I've taken on, and I must have done 30 thumbnail sketches before I hit on one that (hopefully) did justice to what I consider a very important artifact. Around the same age that I first saw Fantastic Planet, I discovered a book called In Search of Forever by British illustrator Rodney Matthews, which also had a massive impact on me. Those two touch stones wound up being incredibly influential in defining my present-day aesthetic, without a doubt.

EP: Though much of your work is ostensibly in service of a commercial goal — promoting an album or concert — you require that bands give you full creative autonomy, so each poster is essentially a personal piece, rather than an illustration. In a way, you are embedding your melancholy ecological mindworm in thousands of unsuspecting music fans. Do you ever consider the impact your images might insidiously make on the unconscious of those who spend time living with your imagery? Is there a part of you that thinks mankind could still wake up and avert the impending catastrophe?

Aaron: Never really thought of it in that way, but that's an interesting take on the situation. I've been really lucky to be able to find clients that trust me to just run with my own ideas and attach them to their band, if only for a concert or tour at a time. It's pretty much unheard-of within illustration, actually. It might limit who I ultimately end up working with, but I made the decision a while back to only take on projects I was genuinely interested in and to work with folks I admire and respect — the stuff I make takes too long to produce to waste it on a project I don't care about. It's all worked out thus far, with a few small deviations along the road that quickly put me back on track. Hopefully I can continue building this world while paying the bills on my own terms — I really can't ask for much more than that.  

EP: Your paintings, executed in acrylic and gouache, are full-color extrapolations of the world that your hand-drawn silkscreened posters explore on a less chromatic level. Because of the popularity of your other endeavors, you can only spare the time to paint one or two of them a year, and rarely let go of the ones you do manage to complete. Consequently, your paintings are so rare that they are holy grails on many a collector list. Do you think you will eventually come to a place in your career where you want to pursue painting more aggressively, or do you prefer the perhaps more independent and flexible lifestyle you lead now?

Aaron: The past few years have seen less and less time for painting, as the illustration work has become absolutely breakneck. I do feel like a change of pace is in order, and I have a couple outstanding commissions to attend to, so hopefully I can break that streak just a bit. I genuinely do enjoy the painting process and the total control it affords me, as opposed to screen printing, where the palette is usually very limited and time is always an issue. I can't see myself devoting all of my time to painting, though. I do admire those folks who can produce work consistently for shows and somehow make it work — it boggles my mind, but more power to them! I think at the end of the day, I'm not nearly confident enough in my own abilities, on any level, to put all my eggs in one basket and block out a year or two in advance for what is essentially spec-work. If stuff didn't sell, I'd be letting down five people here on top of myself, and that kind of intense, prolonged pressure would likely render me completely useless. Never say never, I suppose, but for now the painting will have to remain a hobby.


EP: Music has been pivotal in your life and work for many years. For me, there are a few albums that I come back to over and over again — such as Neutral Milk Hotel's In the Aeroplane Over the Sea and Bike for Three's More Heart than Brains  which epitomize my outlook on the universe to the point that listening to them sometimes approaches a spiritual experience. Is there a particular album or albums you could point to that feel like perfect, profound encapsulations of your worldview? Do you sometimes visualize imagery you'd like to create for a particular band you haven't had the chance to work with yet? In an ideal world, which musicians would ask you to work with them next? 

Aaron: A small sampling of my favorite albums:
ISIS - Oceanic, City of Caterpillar - s/t, Led Zeppelin - Presence, Tom Waits - Bone Machine, Smashing Pumpkins - Siamese Dream, Dinosaur Jr. - Where You Been, Fugazi - In On The Kill Taker, Lungfish - Artificial Horizon, Frodus - And We Washed Our Weapons In The Sea, Metallica - Ride the Lightning, Rye Coalition - The Lipstick Game, Black Sabbath - Volume 4, Forstella Ford - Quietus, Ethel Meserve - The Milton Abandonment, Cobalt - Gin, A Silver Mt. Zion - This is Our Punk Rock..., Faith No More - Angel Dust, Q and Not U - No Kill, No Beep Beep, Funeral Diner - The Underdark, Andrew Bird's Bowl of Fire - Oh, The Grandeur!, The Mountain Goats - All Hail West Texas, Cable - Pigs Never Fly, Mclusky - The Difference Between Me and You..., Nearly God - s/t, Botch - We Are the Romans, Mr Bungle - Disco Volante, Party of Helicopters - Mt. Forever, Aphex Twin - Selected Ambient Works Volume II, Neil Young - On the Beach, Universal Order of Armageddon - s/t, etc, etc, etc.

Genghis Tron drawing

This is just the tip of the iceberg, really — it's absolutely ridiculous how many "favorite albums" I have. An embarrassment of riches... As for bands I'd like to work with — in the past I've kept a running list but I haven't updated that in ages, most are defunct at this point. Tom Waits would be absolutely amazing — had the opportunity a few years back, but the timing wasn't right. As for acts more within the realm of possibility: Horseback, Altar of Plagues, Future of the Left, Ken Mode, Old Man Gloom, Book of Knots, etc. My number one dream poster project right now would be something for the Swedish band Graveyard — absolutely cannot get enough of them, my perfect gravel road at dusk soundtrack. Hisingen Blues has been in such heavy rotation since its release last year that our four-year-old son knows most of the songs at this point.

EP: Comics are a lifelong passion of yours, especially the work of modern masters like Al Columbia, Robert Crumb and Chris Ware, not to mention visionary pioneers like Winsor McCay and George Herriman. Given your affection for the medium, have you ever considered creating a comic or graphic novel of your own? If so, what sort of narrative would you want to elucidate?

Aaron: Of course, making a comic is right up there with releasing records as far as perfect-world scenarios go. I have a fairly solid idea of what sort of book I'd make but, as with painting, I can't figure out a way to make it happen with my workload and responsibilities. When I met Chris Ware, he asked if I'd ever considered making comics, which for me was akin to John Adams asking if I'd ever considered running for office. After that meeting, I seriously considered trying to find a way to make it work, but I still haven't hit on the solution. Also, there are so many incredible books and reprints on offer right now, I'd have to really have everything completely dialed before throwing my hat in the ring, so to speak. This would be after years and years of trial and error, mostly error probably.

EP: Among the many artists you admire is the surreal allegorical naturalist Walton Ford, whose remarkable Audubonesque paintings of wild creatures both endangered and extinct often take a wry, ironic turn that illuminates the folly of man. What do you find most profound about Ford's paintings, and how have they influenced your perspective on your own work?

Aaron: Ford is just agonizingly good at what he does - not just the perfectly realized life-sized watercolors but the research and backstory he assembles for each piece, most of which isn't even obviously apparent in the final painting, but is lurking just beneath the surface, waiting to be discovered. His is the best sort of allegory, the kind that sneaks up on you after drawing you in with the technical brilliance of the craft. He also gives a great fucking interview — right up there with Crumb, in my book.

One day I hope to see one of his paintings in person, but until then I'm fortunate enough to own a copy of his deluxe edition of Pancha Tantra to drool over whenever I please. There seems to be a small wave of young Audubon/Ford influenced naturalist painters active today, which is an interesting phenomena. I'm curious to see where they take the work, as some of them are quite talented, if not a bit derivative. I personally try to stay as far away from Ford's visual influence as possible, as it would be very easy to fall into outright emulation. I'm actually more outwardly influenced by his narrative strengths and really aspire to someday reach that level of storytelling within a picture.

Bon Iver detail

EP: One of the turn-of-the-century illustrators whose work inspires you is Franklin Booth, whose unique and exquisitely dense linework was founded in a boyhood misunderstanding that the images he saw in magazines were drawings, when they were actually woodcuts. What lessons have you absorbed from studying his remarkable draftsmanship?

Aaron: That I have a long road ahead of me in terms of technical aptitude to even come close to achieving a fraction of Booth's brilliance. He painted with lines, the work is flawless - what more can be said? 

EP: Is there an underappreciated artist working today whom you wish would get more attention?

EP: If you could have one classic artwork from history in your studio, what would it be?

Aaron: I'm going to go with recent history here and maybe it's because I just wrote a few words about him, but it's as classic as they come: Walton Ford's "Chingado."

EP: Currently you're working on a limited edition silkscreened poster for the endangered species benefit show Andrew Hosner and I have co-curated at Thinkspace, "Wild at Heart: Keep Wildlife in the Wild." What can you tell me about the image you're creating and what it means to you? 

Aaron: The print is entitled "Only Death Is Real," and is a side profile portrait of a Northern White Rhinoceros. This subspecies is believed to have an existing population of less than 10 individuals — its numbers and that of its relatives have been decimated mainly due to illegal rhino horn trafficking on the black market. The value of rhino horn has risen dramatically due to increased demand for its use in traditional medicines in Southeast Asia — on the high end of the scale the horn is worth more than either gold or cocaine. The somewhat recent involvement of organized crime syndicates in the trade and distribution of poached horn adds another insidious aspect to this already bloody and gruesome theater where rhinos are oftentimes stripped of their horns and left to die like so much disposable by-product. All told, the situation is completely appalling and something I felt compelled to highlight in whatever way I could. I had a completely different idea for this print going in, but upon reading a recent National Geographic article on the trade, my mind was made up. The article also provided some fantastic reference material for the skin and horn texture, which proved invaluable considering the amount of detail called for in the piece. This was also very helpful because, unlike most of my subjects, I couldn't just go outside our door to shoot reference photos. Overall I'm fairly pleased with the finished product, although it would have been nice to expand the dimensions of the print so that the rhino was pictured life-sized. This would have required a completely different printing set up, as the horn alone would measure close to three feet long. Framing would have been prohibitively expensive as well, maybe next time...

"Only Death Is Real"

EP: Hopes, dreams, plans for the future?

Aaron: To the trail, cart in tow.