Patricia Aaron

Q & A with Patricia Aaron and R&F's Heather Roberts

Patricia Aaron was born and raised in Youngstown, OH, which sits almost directly in between Cleveland, OH and Pittsburgh, PA, a region better known to many as the Rust Belt. Growing up in an industrial environment where much of life revolved around steel mills, Patricia found herself fascinated by how machinery operates, and more specifically, how parts make up a whole; or how industry can become the heartbeat of a city. In the Youngstown of her childhood, industry was passed down from father to son with pride, almost as if it was in their blood; it is this raw, emotional sense of history that Patricia is drawn to and strives to capture in her work. This carries through to her travels; whenever she explores a new place, she seeks to discover its “cultural soul,”and uses this as a source of
inspiration while creating her work. 

HR: Can you talk a little about your past work and how it influenced and informed your new series "Metropolis"? 

PA: My earlier work focused on the work ethic of the city I grew up in the 60’s and 70’s. My series, Youngstown, the early years, and Honest Work are full to the brim with grit, gusto, and the hard edges one would find in a steel mill city. This work was a springboard to my recent work, Metropolis, which encapsulates the industrial areas of cities I have traveled to where I visited abandoned and boarded up buildings, layers of street art on warehouse exteriors and shopping malls closed up like a ghost town. I purposely seek out the older areas of cities and look for the architectural history and what is happening there today. I have visited mills, coalmines, neighborhood bodegas, skate parks, schoolyards and train stations to name a few. This urban landscape is where I see humanity’s cultural soul. I paint the life I see which is full of hope, sorrow, cultural identity, a mix of languages and socio-economic issues.

HR: What is striking about your work is your use of color and how dramatically, yet subtly, you interweave texture and pattern. Can you tell us about your process?

PA: I paint urban abstract landscapes making tangible representations of the world with all its hard edges and dark flaws. I manipulate the pigmented colors of beeswax by using additive and subtractive scraping, mark making with inks, spray paints, and stencils. The work is layered and sometimes complicated. I keep track of a paintings specific palette and don’t mix it with another painting, which I may be painting simultaneously.

HR: During our phone interview you mentioned how in certain paintings you made a decision to “harvest a section” where you surround an image with a darker color. How did your color palette lend to this approach? 

PA: My paintings, Metropolis, Mr. Miami and Most Popular are enveloped by matte grey and glossy espresso colors influenced by the steaming asphalt city streets, crumbling concrete walls, and rusted steel facades of trains and mills. These paintings began by harvesting a small section of a larger 'piece' and taking it down to its physical essence of painted, inked and sprayed micro landscapes. 

HR: Patricia, you are bold with your use of mixed media combining a variety of mediums including wax, ink, pigment and aerosol. How do these materials speak to you?

PA: Popular culture, street art, textiles, furniture design, fashion trends and construction materials all inspire my work.  

I studied both sculpture and painting in graduate school and I approach each work from this starting point. I spend a considerable amount of time early on in the paintings planning stages determining materials I will use and their limitations. I am always curious what mixed media materials will do under different conditions. I pay attention to the integrity of the chemical composition of the encaustic pigments whenever I add new elements to the painting. Staying true to my original vision and personal aesthetic is important to me. 

HR: In your statement you reference “surface tension”, can you speak a little about how this relates to storytelling in your work and to your subject matter?

PA: Each of my paintings has a story. Some I share and some I would rather keep private. During 2014 I was an artist resident at Ucross Foundation. Another resident asked me over dinner what I was going to paint as anyone could see there was no industrial area near us. Just to set the stage here, Ucross, WY is in northern WY and has a population of 25. 

When I am at a residency I have learned to trust my gut. I knew that the industrial edge and popular culture I seek out would make itself known to me if I would just take the time to look for it. Within a day I sat captivated in a field adjacent to my studio and watched endless streams of coal trains rumbling nearby. On day trips I visited a working coal mine in Gillette, WY, discovered street art in nearby Sheridan and the Ucross Foundation rancher showed me blue and green spray-painted sheep; these painted spots on their torsos showing they were expecting twins or a singleton. During my month in WY I discovered things in the most unlikely places. Miles of ranch fencing is most obvious in my 2014 Hiatus series.

HR: What are you looking forward to in the next year?

PA: Metropolis opens at William and Joseph Gallery in Santa Fe, NM Friday, May 1st and will be on exhibit for the summer. Later this spring I will spend several weeks as an artist-in-residence in Maui. I am looking forward to having time to study Hawaiian culture and island landscape. New work from this residency will be shown in Denver at Space Gallery opening in late July. Later this summer and fall I will be working on a large body of new paintings to be shown in a solo show at the Terminal Gallery at Denver International Airport opening January 2016.