INTERVIEW WITH AARON BILLINGS
TESS (HIGHLARK): Hi Aaron – thanks again for taking the time to answer these. I was wondering how you first became interested in the arts? Who were some of your earliest inspirations?
AARON BILLINGS: I was a very sensitive, feminine child who kept pet spiders, listened to Belle and Sebastian and watched Andrei Tarkovsky films. I didn’t have anyone to share these interests so i started drawing as a way of communicating with myself initially. Then i started hanging out with my little sister Aoife and we would do projects together like making a town of clay cats in my Dad’s shed. Some of my earlier inspirations were Kiki Smith, Louise Bourgeois and Goya. I liked their ability to make very dark subject matter very beautiful. Which is sort of the vibe i was going after for a while. Later I became interested in artists like David Shrigley, Daniel Clowes and Neck Face, artists interested in narrative and humour.
TESS: Your style is very distinctive and delicate – portraits composed of many sharp lines rather than loose sketching — has this always been your preferred style of drawing?
AARON: My life has always been a bit of a mess, so i overcompensate for this by being very particular with my drawing. I am not like one of those people who have to connect every line but i’m pretty close. I find painting is a way of loosening up from this control. Because it’s important not to get too attached to perfection.
TESS: Many of your portraits include the person sitting on a rug, what is the reason behind including a rug?
AARON: The rug thing came from this lecture I went to about how Persian carpets are representations of gardens, contained words representing harmony between the 4 corners of the world. I was also always really impressed by a good rug. They are so homely. My family was always very poor, when my parents got divorced my Mum’s mental health got pretty bad so she couldn’t really work. So we never had anything like a good rug. I would visit my friends houses and their parents would have handmade blankets and kettles that looked so loved. The only art we ever had in our house was a terrible watercolour painting of a better house than the one we lived in, and that sat leaning against the wall because we were afraid to damage the wall by putting it up.
TESS: There is also the persistent presence of vase imagery in your work – is this taking a look at classical works?
AARON: Exactly, it’s a way of dealing with classicism and hopefully injecting a bit of humour into it.
TESS: From looking at your work it is apparent that you like to experiment with the human figure, what inspired you to experiment with form?
AARON: Humans have just always seemed like the more relevant thing to draw. There is something intrinsic to it. Human figures are immediately symbolic. I think you can get a good sense of an artist’s vision by how they draw people. more than anything else.
TESS: You have made drawings, paintings, prints, clothing, album art, and tattoo designs – you pretty much do everything! – Out of all the things you do, what is your favorite artistic medium, and what draws you to it?
AARON: You forgot sculpture, creative writing and embroidery. I like them all, they are all so different. I would hate to do just one thing. All these things inform each other.
TESS: You are very selective when using color in your art, favoring dark blues, reds, and a heavy use of gold. What draws you to this color palette?
AARON: Yeah I do have some very selective ideas of colours. I love midnight blue, it’s just so beautiful. I think the colours i am drawn to are always pretty folky, ochre yellow, flagstone blue, burnt sienna and naturally occurring pigments. I never use black when i paint which is something i learnt to do long ago as a way of avoiding oversimplification of tone. I also hate the colour purple, but i’m trying to like it.
TESS: Lastly, many of your work depicts animals – even mythical ones. What about animals do you find artistically inspiring, and do you have a favorite one to draw?
AARON: Yeah i like drawing foxes because they are street urchins who have a regal charm like me.
[+] AARON BILLINGS