Monday, February 2, 2009
After some far flung detours to Costa Rica and California, painter Aaron Marable is ready to make another go at the Lawrence art scene. He and his equally creative wife Kendra, along with wiener dog Osa, are reestablishing shop here in town with renewed vigor. To preview his upcoming show, “Thick as Thieves,” Marable—fighting both a deadline and a wicked cold—joined us to discuss recession art, Costa Rican convenience stores, and staving off Lawrence’s dreaded velvet rut.
lawrence.com: Is there an overall theme to “Thick as Theives,” or is it more of a collection of disparate paintings you’ve been working on?
A little bit of both. It all begins with a group of paintings and trying to figure out a way to add some cohesion to them. I tend to work with intuition and the images first, then try to find a glue to hold them all together as a body. It kind of began with thoughts about our recent government bailout. Not that I would ever consider my paintings political, but then again everything’s political. I felt like I was sort of being robbed by my government and a lot of people were having the wool pulled. It felt like a situation that I and a large majority did not agree with and I’m not convinced it has worked. At any rate, it kind of began with that and I looked at all of the various degrees of theft—from theft of the heart, to theft of pride, to the family heirloom. There’s so much room to work in that arching theme.
What’s an example of your thoughts on the financial crisis—and you extrapolating from that—appearing in a painting?
I’d say the most obvious one is from the largest piece in the show, which is of a large Amazon queen who’s dwarfing the two men beneath her breasts. She has neck full of necklaces and she’s bejeweled, the men around her are taking jewels from one another and from her. It’s this idea of liberty, or whatever you want to call this large idea, quietly but surely having its glory removed. Then there’s some fire on the hillside in the background, and I consider that an ominous sign for things to come. I try to create situations in my work through props and hints and little details that ask a lot of questions for the viewer without providing the answers.
Thematically you’re exploring new territory, but are you exploring any new avenues stylistically?
When you work hard enough towards something you begin to realize your style, and it’s pretty difficult to work your way out of it. The changes for me are small because those are the ones I trust and that tend to stick—it’s just a matter of the technicality of laying the paint on. I’m always looking for ways to make the paint more convincing. I’m old fashioned in terms of what I do with my work. My heroes are largely dead and gone and their quality, their consistency, is what I strive for.
You tend to focus on the ambiguous and ominous in your work—it’s a shop-worn term these days, but does your work ever reflect any hope?
I don’t look at my work as doom saying or anything, but there’s definitely a level of gravity or bleakness to it. The inevitable is on its way. I’m a hopeful person and have a great deal of faith. What makes me hopeful is the change that will be forced to come through these hard times. The only way we’re going to change is if we’re forced through really intense political and spiritual upheaval. I don’t look at it as Apocalyptic, but as an opportunity for civilization to reevaluate.
Do you look at your work as a reflection of what’s going on or do you have aspirations to affect any change with it?
I’m a bit torn on that topic. I don’t know how much art really changes things. Art’s utility is that it causes us perhaps to stop for a moment and come up with a few moments of original thought as to what we’re taking in. I’m not fooling myself by any means that my work is going to change anyone. Political change requires action and legislation and a great deal more than a painting on a wall.
What was the journey that took you and your wife, Kendra, to Costa Rica?
Because our friend owns a house in Costa Rica and offered it to us, and since we live the life that we do beneath the poverty line, we had the opportunity to take a few months and live in Costa Rica last winter. We took about 60 pounds of acrylic paint with us. That definitely got us some looks at customs. We did murals-for-trade in these villages on schools, shacks, convenience stores—Costa Rica is fascinating because everything is blank and turquoise. We’d go up to people in this broken, broken Spanish and say, “We’d like to paint on your wall, is that cool?” With some of these guys it was like they’d won the lottery. That took art down and moved it more to a trade skill. It was just fun.
What about your time in California?
We lived in this little cabin out in the Redwoods. We were close to the Bay Area and there’s so much happening in the arts in San Francisco—it’s on fire. You’re supported and can make a living at it, but at the same time I couldn’t help but feel like a bit of a traitor. I felt like a bit of a hypocrite after all these years of talking about staying where you are and creating the change you want to see. There are these well worn paths to wonderful places like Portland and San Francisco and Berkeley and New York—they’re great places, but at the same time you always give up things to get things. There was unfinished business here in Lawrence and lots of things Kendra and I wanted to try. We had a green light here. In those other cities everything’s played out. “You want to do what? Well get in line because there’s 40 other people who do it, too.” This community has been nothing but supportive, so we came back and are trying a new approach to the same town. We’re trying to stay out of the velvet rut.
What are some of these new approaches you’re attempting?
That’s a question I’m asking myself. I’m not convinced that I’ve exactly found that new approach. I’m just getting the work done right now. I’m excited about being back right now because I feel Lawrence is more on the verge of really creating a scene in the visual arts than I’ve seen in 8 years. There’s really strong art being made by young artists right now and galleries that want to support it, which we haven’t really had in the past. We have Wonder Fair and 6 Gallery, and there’s people like Glen Mies and Molly Murphy and Jeremy Rockwell—these guys are working hard. It’s exciting. All you art kids up at KU need to come down from the hill and just make art. Join us! Tune in and drop out! «