Review Me: Gary Aagaard: Sociopolitical Visualizations
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Monday, November 15, 2021

Gary Aagaard: Sociopolitical Visualizations

Gary, thanks for taking your time to answer our questions and make our readers more familiar with your works and art career. Tell us about your artistic background story and if there was a pivotal moment when you decided to follow your path as a visual artist?

When I attended college, I went to play football. I had absolutely no idea what I'd focus on academically. When I was a junior, my counselor stressed I needed to declare a major. I drew quite a bit as a kid, so I picked Art. After graduation, I kicked around as a plastic fabricator, burl table maker and finally landed a job as a yardman in a Seattle lumberyard. Finally, making money for a change allowed me to go back to school and major in illustration/painting. Several years later, I moved to NYC (Brooklyn) and freelanced as an illustrator, and after 9/11 as a so-called fine artist.

Great job! After all, there was a trace of art in each of the jobs you did. Was there ever a moment of doubt to question your art career entirely?

Of course, there were times I questioned my decision to go into The Arts. When I first arrived in NYC, I started doing romance book covers. Considering my focus was editorial work, this was a tough period. Within a year, a newspaper in Riverside CA, The Press-Enterprise, hired me to be their editorial artist, which I jumped at despite still not getting my fill of NYC. After 2 years in Riverside, I returned to NYC (again Brooklyn) with a portfolio full of editorial illustrations. This garnered editorial work from The New York Times, Village Voice, New York Newsday, etc. I was finally in my element.

And finally your doubts faded. What is your daily routine when working in your studio?

Rather than bore you with my daily routine, I'll focus on my painting process. Since my paintings are generally conceptual with a focus on political satire and social comment, I keep up on current events (depressing as that sounds). Once I decide to zero in on a concept, I do a series of pencil roughs until I arrive at an image that echoes what I'm attempting to convey. Thereafter, I draw it on a toned canvas and then paint away, making changes as I go. I used to paint a lot at night, but my new dog is an early riser, so I've adapted.

Our readers want to know how you move from an idea to an artwork. So, take us through your process of making your artworks.

I kind of responded to this in my previous answer, so I'll supply some specifics. I spend at least a day working on sketches. This is a luxury I never had as an illustrator when deadlines were tight. Conceptual work requires you to convey your theme in an interesting way, hopefully with humor (satire), conviction, and avoiding visual cliches. Painting well helps, but the concept should always be paramount. I always tone my canvases, so I can cut to the chase when I'm doing likenesses, which I do frequently.

Your artworks' themes are known for your use of satire and humor, as opposed to some artists’ sledgehammer approach. Is there a central concept connecting all your works together or each series or artwork is unique?

Generally, I jump from theme to theme, usually social or political comment. During the last 5 years; however, I've aimed my paintbrushes at Trump and a few of his shadier associates. The experience has been both gratifying and depressing. I'm starting one more political painting, which I'm excited about. Thereafter, I plan to paint frisky unicorns, multicolored butterflies, and seascapes with rocks shaped like hearts. But, I kid......

Viewers can form their own conclusion by viewing an artwork, but sometimes they seek for explanations to read an artist's art. Would you like to give a particular interpretation of your work to your viewers or you prefer to leave the whole interpretation to your audience?

I try to let the viewer make his/her own interpretation. However, sometimes at an opening, when asked a specific question about a painting (and if I feel they are on the right track), I'll supply a hint. At one solo show in Tucson, visitors kept asking about the meaning of one of my paintings, Eve's 1st Day. I finally gave one of the group a hint. She returned to the people gathered around the painting & repeated the hint. Soon, one of the groups solved it verbally and the rest shouted out the answer. It was kind of gratifying.

You illustrate political and religious hypocrisy, general apathy, and dogma. How do you seek and use inspiration for your works?

Usually, my inspiration is news-based. I'll see something which moves me, digest it for a while, confirm it's a fact (not an "alternative fact"), add it to a painting list in my notebook, and if my desire to paint it persists, I paint it. Note: I still have a long list of concepts. Politics has been my primary focus for the last half-decade, but prior to that, social comment took priority. I look forward to getting back on that horse.

So the daily news, political and social events, and environmental issues are the most things that have caught your attention over the last three decades. How do you select your artworks subjects?

It's easy to do research for political caricatures which are often subjects in my paintings. Trump, for instance, loved to be photographed, even prior to being President. So, there are plenty of pics of The Donald. Other politicians’ pics are readily available thanks to the internet. I always work from at least 3 photos, so I really get a sense of the subject's face.... bonus, You don't infringe on any copyrights. When I work on subjects for conceptual pieces, I'll usually hire a model who has a face and essence that will help me nail the concept.... bonus #2: Some friends work for beer.

Gary, is there an artwork or series that you would like to be remembered for? And if yes, what is it?

Probably my Trump series. I think it was important to call this guy out. I had already finished 3 Trump paintings before he was elected. I lived in Brooklyn for 22 years, so I witnessed many of his cons. As a grifter, he couldn't be equaled. Also, several of my Trump paintings have won Best of Shows in international and national juried shows. Eight of them were recently published in "Not Normal: Art in the Age of Trump". My 2nd choice would be my two Mother Nature paintings. "Ma Nature: This Time It's Personal" and "Ma Nature Revisited" were painted 20 years apart. Like the decline of our environment, the difference in the two paintings is telling.

Our readers are awaiting your near future projects. Any upcoming works or future projects that you would like to share with our readers?

I've got a toned canvas with a pencil drawing on it sitting on my easel. It stares at me every day. My working title is "GOP 2.0: The Imperfect Organism". Now, let your imagination run away with the possibilities.

What are your art influences? Were there any artists or artworks which significantly influenced your art in different eras?

My up-close-and-personal art inspiration was a remarkable illustrator named Dick Brown. He taught at Cornish College of the Arts in Seattle. Later, he founded and taught Illustration at The New School of Visual Concepts. His work was so painterly and expressive. He'd be featured in CA Magazine profiles and Society of Illustrator Annuals. He masterfully painted the illustrations for The Franklin Library's version of "The Reivers". His career was just taking off when he died of a brain tumor. The last thing he said to me several weeks before he passed was, "Go to New York", which I heeded.
Other inspirations were illustrators N.C Wyeth, Brad Holland and Bernie Wrightson, and painters Edward Hopper, Eduoard Manet, and Edgar Degas. Honestly, too many to mention.

And, if you could meet one of your ideal artists from the past, who would it be and what will you ask about?

Well, I'll stray from my favorite inspirations, and pick Michelangelo. I graduated from college with a BA in Studio Art (Sculpture), so I admire Michelangelo's diversity.... painter and sculptor extraordinaire! I'd be interested in what it was like to paint parallel to a ceiling, back against a hard scaffold, for 4 years with poor lighting. Talk about poor working conditions.

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