Aaron Pickens

Aaron Pickens

Painter & Art Educator

February 23, 2017


Paramedia LLC, Adrian College


Tell us more about some of your past projects?

A while ago I was active with a local instrumental, progressive rock band called Phantasmagoria. In addition to being the guitar player, I was the lead visual artist and audio engineer behind two of the groups self-produced albums. The most recent, Golden Planet, was the culmination of a ten-year collaboration with the drummer, Dominick Gray, and keyboardist/composition wizard, Ryan Wagner.

What current projects are you working on?

My main body of work, which is a series of paintings that integrates socio-political commentary into childlike dioramas, is an ever-evolving project. Currently I have two studio paintings that are in progress and will hopefully have them finished for a few upcoming opportunities. In addition, I plan on continuing my plein air/landscape sketches hroughout the warmer months. Between the first week of March and the end of April, I will have a solo exhibition at the Art Supply Depo in Bowling Green, OH. The reception for the show will be on Saturday, March 18th. In addition, I will be teaching a workshop at the Depo on Saturday, April 22nd that will focus on painting a still life in one session. I have a few other shows in the works and a solo exhibition scheduled at Alma College in Alma, MI in January 2018. Aside from my personal work, I am also teaching art at Adrian College in Adrian, MI and working for digital installation artist Erwin Redl as a digital media specialist. A few of his installations will be visible in downtown Toledo in the near future.

What advantages does being in Northwest Ohio/Toledo offer your efforts?

Toledo is my hometown. Both my work and who I am as an individual will always be tied to this city. Furthermore, Toledo has a great art community, a plethora of parks, genuinely nice people and is an incredibly affordable place to live. I believe that the internet has eliminated the need to live in a big city to feel connected with a national/international art community.

Tell us about one of your greatest successes.

I was both excited and relieved to finally hang my thesis exhibition at Edinboro University of Pennsylvania. After three years of intense focus on learning how to paint, I was overjoyed when the work was well received by my professors, peers, and family. It was also a nice bonus to be notified on the day of my opening reception, that one of my paintings was accepted into a national juried competition at the Butler Institute of American Art. Woot!

Tell us who or what gives you inspiration?

Well first and foremost, I could look at paintings for days on end. This would include historical figures such as Rembrandt, all the way to contemporary painters such as Glenn Dean. I could talk for hours on end about this but I will spare everyone from my fanboy rambling. However, what gets me truly excited are musicians who put on a great multi-media performance. This can include Kraftwerk, Steven Wilson, Primus, Gorillaz, Metallica, Ghost, Devin Townsend, Daft Punk, Buckethead, etc. In general, these musicians consider how everything can impact the musical experience. I appreciate their obsessive attention to detail. I am also immensely inspired by people who are truly passionate about what they do. Last but certainly not least, I get giddy just observing the landscape, especially how light interacts with clouds.

Tell us about your background.

I was born and raised in Toledo by two amazing parents who were incredibly supportive of my creative pursuits. In 2001, my life wasforever changed when I started the 7th grade at Toledo School for the Arts. The school allowed me to realize that making art/music was my calling. However, at that time, I was more engaged with music, specifically my band Phantasmagoria, than visual arts. This interest led me to initially pursue a degree in music at the University of Michigan in the fall of 2007. I quickly realized that audio recording was not the right career path for me, so I transferred to BGSU to study animation/digital arts. In 2011, I graduated with a BFA in digital arts and worked briefly as a graphic artist for a local mobile video game company. I left the studio after a brief tenure to attend graduate school at Edinboro University of Pennsylvania for painting. In May of 2015, I graduated with my MFA and moved back to Bowling Green, OH for work. I now reside in Grand Rapids, OH right next to the Maumee River.

Do you have a motto or favorite quote you try to live by?

Try not to be a man of success, but rather try to become a man of value - Albert Einstein

Favorite place for local culture?

The Toledo Museum of Art and Toledo School for the Arts are my favorite places for local culture. I feel like these two institutions are gems for the city. I look forward to seeing how these cultural centers will grow and impact the community in the upcoming years.

Toledo’s “best kept secret” is . . .

Other than the area parks system, there are several wonderful local businesses such as the Art Supply Depo, and Maddie and Bella.

My favorite place to chill locally is . . .

Admittedly, I rarely go anywhere to chill other than the studio in my apartment. However, if I had to pick a place, I would choose either Grounds for Thought in Bowling Green, OH or the canal towpath in Grand Rapids, OH.

My favorite natural space in the Toledo area is . . .

Weirs Rapids along the Maumee river. This is hands down my favorite spot on the river to go and paint.

When I’m not working hard, I can always be found at . . .

Although free time is beyond scarce, if I happen to manage some personal time, I am either hanging out with my girlfriend or painting. I will also pick up the guitar throughout the day and play if I can find five minutes or so to spare.

If you could change anything about the current landscape for creative, progressive people . . .

I would like to see the contemporary art world embrace all modes of artistic expression. Currently, it seems that if you are not within the current trend/niche, your work is overlooked for something that fits a predefined agenda. Unfortunately, this practice allows work with merit to go unnoticed and prevents the artist from contributing meaningful perspectives to the current discourse. Sad.

Any exciting collaborations (past or present) you would like to tell us about?

I recently documented Dominick Gray's performance at the Toledo Museum of Art's glass pavilion in December with audio and video. I highly recommend checking out the ingenious show he has so carefully crafted.

Name one person (living or deceased) who you would love to collaborate with.

Although this might be an unimaginative response, I have thoroughly enjoyed collaborating with my long-time friend, Dominick Gray on music and visuals for various multimedia endeavors. It's always super gratifying working closely with friends that are passionate and like-minded.

Name a CD, book or website you can’t live without.

I am always on YouTube listening to music or researching. I tend to get completely immersed in the endless list of recommended videos that will pop up. I usually discover and obsess over obscure progressive rock, or death metal bands.

3 words that best describe me or my work are . . .

As it relates to my work: Playful/Diverse/Disciplined

Give us 5 Desert Island Album picks.

In Absentia by Porcupine Tree
Deliverance by Opeth
Dark Side of the Moon by Pink Floyd
Minimum-Maximum by Kraftwerk
Self Titled by Mammoths Melting Out of the Ice

My biggest vice is . . .

Reading too many unnecessary articles on the front page of yahoo. This ultimately leads to gleaning over the forbidden comments section.

I’d like to see __________ in Toledo.

In general, I would like to see more farm to table restaurants in the Toledo area. The ethical sourcing of food is a huge concern of mine and lends itself to preventative health care. In addition, these eateries would also support local farmers and businesses. Finally, it would also enable those who have strict dietary restrictions the opportunity to go out for dinner once in a while. In terms of art, I would like to see the Toledo Area Artist Exhibition continue, at the very least, biannually. It's a great opportunity for the local community to see the fantastic work that is being produced currently within the region.

What’s the last dream you recall having?

Lately, I haven't been able to recall my dreams. I think this is due to a recent lack of sleep. I usually just hit the pillow and wake up hours later, and immediately proceed towards the coffee.

The last lyric that moved me was . . .

Unfortunately, I have developed a bad habit of listening to most music as if it were just an instrumental track. Therefore, I rarely pay attention to the lyrics. I can only imagine that somewhere in the world a lyricist is cringing with my statement.

One movie character I identify with is . . .

Flint Lockwood from Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs

The best gift I’ve ever received was . . .

Not to be all mushy, but a supportive family, friends and mentors. I feel extremely fortunate to have been surrounded by good people throughout my life. I hope that as an educator, I can make a similar impact.

My most inspiring moment was/is . . .

Seeing Rembrandt's self-portrait in the National Gallery in Washington D.C. was indescribable. This experience ultimately made me realize the power and inherent magic of oil paint. I decided from that moment to pursue oil painting over digital based media in my personal work.

I want my last meal to be _______________.

*Lamb chops, with roasted root vegetables, and mashed potatoes. A glass of cabernet sauvignon and some sharp cheddar to cheese to accompany the main course. Last but certainly not least, for dessert, a cup of coffee and spice cake with cream cheese frosting, and some berries.

*Certified Organic
I love food so much, so this was a difficult question.

Find Aaron on Instagram https://www.instagram.com/aaronjpickens/


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