Thursday, March 1, 2018

A Return from Blog Hiatus

Two years flew by like crazy. To look at this thing and realize that it's been a hair over exactly two years since I'd last updated is surprising.

ANYWAY, a lot has gone down since the Bearded Men- a body of artworks that sent me off to the races. A growing part of my process has been to allow my work to be a more direct record of my experiences. New (York) Animism, for example, is a group of works that came immediately following The Bearded Men. When I made the works in that group, where I responded directly to the materials, I decided to get into my philosophy about looking at found material as a whole: it's like people watching. I would assemble seemingly disparate found components, and went in to bring the personalities out of the objects as I saw them.

“Not the Face! (That’s the Cash Register)” reclaimed wood, paper, and acrylic, 19"x16"x12", 2016

“Smoke Break”, reclaimed wood, paper, acrylic, found metal, and spray paint, 9"x14.5"x8.5", 2016
By the time I got to the end of 2016, I had my first public artwork approved by the NYC Parks Department at First Street Green Park. The install was a project called Birdhouse Repo- a giant birdhouse that was placed under foreclosure, living in the park from January 2017-January 2018. With the advent of Birdhouse Repo, I dove in with some related studio works for research. For more info on those, you can check out DNA Info and Hyperallergic.

"Birdhouse Repo", wood, metal, found signage, and pvc, 132"x26"x26", 2017

"Birdhouse 1", found wood, carved foam, and acrylic, 15"x16"x9", 2016

In the months that followed, I entered a segue based on the same line of thinking from New York Animism, this time in response to a major(ish) life shift - moving. The thing I didn't expect to experience during my address change was the constant inventory of all my shit - every stick of furniture, every knick-knack, and all of the stuff I love but never made a permanent place for. With that, My Stuff and Me was born. During this work period, I focused a lot more on gesture and making sure that I was not just simply adding limbs to amalgamations of scraps, but creating identities and individuals frozen in a moment.  

"Drawer," reclaimed wood, found drawer handle, rope, found linen, paper, and acrylic, 20"x20"x9", 2017 

"Shelf", acrylic, paper, and reclaimed wood, 17"x22"x8", 2017
After getting my feet properly wet with the upswing of work, I had a chance to talk about these things on BTR Today's Art Uncovered with Kimberly Ruth. It was a really fun podcast interview to do, and if you haven't gotten a chance to listen, you can find it by clicking HERE.  

Since then, I have been spending a lot more time considering the world around the characters I had developed. Part of that had to develop through understanding what is natural to me; being a city boy, I started to realize that pulling these objects from the street for their beauty is not too different from the way others might pull things into their home from nature. So I started to develop a language around what I consider the most basic versions of that, which relate to plants and animals. I became inspired by the way people pull in flowers or plants in order to balance out their homes, as well as hunting trophies people take home as a reference to their "other lives" outside of brick and pavement. This has become a body of work comprised of wreaths and antler trophies, which I call Flora and Fauna. It has been a pretty liberating experience. I still wanted to include organic references and talk about living things, but I couldn't bear to make one more damn hand in such a relatively short period of time. The break was both glorious and educational. 

“Trophy 2”, reclaimed wood, metal,paper, and acrylic, 21.5”x14”6.5”, 2017

“Wreath 1”, reclaimed wood, metal, paper, and acrylic, 17”x16.5”x3.5”, 2018
As usual, thanks for reading. I'm working on more things and keeping the ball rolling down a pretty steep hill, so keep your eyes peeled on Facebook and IG for new developments. 

Until next time!

Tuesday, February 16, 2016

The Bearded Men

As I gear towards creating the 7th, and final, "Bearded Man" sculpture, I realize that I have been stewing on their meaning long enough. As much as I often hate writing about my work, there seems like no better time to do it than now.

Unlike a lot of my previous works, there is much less of a narrative here- at least in the traditional sense. Of course, there was a literal starting point- something happened that quite literally brought me to the imagery of bearded men. This particular instance brought me to the exploration stage, where I obsessively made drawings.

At this point, all I needed to do was to get these images out. What I didn't realize yet, though, was that I was building up a vocabulary for a greater purpose.

I started thinking a lot about what beards are symbolically. And no, I don't mean the privilege to wear skinny jeans, smell of patchouli, and rush out of a Brooklyn apartment in hopes that I can snag a $10 latte and still be on time for work. I mean in the traditional sense.

I got a little stuck between two different meanings that I could not stop thinking about: one where a beard signifies some kind of falsehood or secret, and one where it signifies wisdom and experience.

In a strange sort of way, it made me think a lot about the work I make, and the way I make work. Here I am, snagging materials off the streets and out of the garbage, dragging them into my studio, and wrangling them to make my art. I've written on this format before about what my attraction to found material is- which, for those only tuning in now, is an opportunity to say the things I want to say while giving a second life to the materials that already seem so damned interesting to me.

It is this second life that got me realizing that some of what makes these materials so beautiful is the mystery. Who left them there, What were they used for, How did they get this beautiful while being so mundane? It was probably about then that I realized that I would never actually know the answers to these questions, but that I still felt some kind of responsibility to ask anyway. And with that, I created the "Bearded Man" series.

After stalking a particularly interesting piece of wood for a few months on the walk to my studio, I finally dragged it in. It was seven feet, so I cut it into seven equal pieces and would ONLY use those seven pieces for this project. And with, I began to visualize all of the unanswered questions I had, realizing that the answers perhaps didn't matter so much. 

An open mouth, with a locked door and no key. No way to access the verbiage one might be looking for, but somehow that's all well and good.  

Until next time.

Wednesday, March 4, 2015

The Chronicles of Our Hero

So it's that time again.

For those of you who follow up on my work regularly, you know that I've been producing a bunch of new and fun work.

One of the things that has been on my mind a lot (for a very long time) is human behavior. As many of us have seen over time, the scope of "public behavior" has become somewhat complicated by things like mobile tech, social media, news/politics, and the digital age of dating. Because this is a bit of a vast subject to try and wrap one's mind around, I simplified in the only way I know how: I've been funneling all of these human attributes into a character (even a caricature, as some might say). I've taken this opportunity to, not just create a visual experience, but make these new works as interactive as possible. In hindsight, this work as a participatory experience is a little ironic, considering that the social aspect of today's technology

Our Hero, Exasperated, 31"x26", acrylic, collage, rope, and cardboard on reclaimed wood, 2015
The character I've created is named Our Hero- I realize that the name is a little loaded, but dammit if it wasn't the most sensible name I could give him. His powers? Well... "powers" might be a little bit of a strong term... His function is that he embodies our habits when it comes to tech, social media, etc. He is a hedonist, self-absorbed, and speaks in half-truths. He is unembarrassed by things his "civilian" self would blush while addressing. He is passive aggressive. He is, above all else, a model for the new role-model. 

Our Hero Has Chicken Pox, 11.25"x14", acrylic, magnets, collage, rope, and cardboard on reclaimed wood, 2015
In the cases of works like Our Hero Has Chicken Pox, I'm very much taking a jab at my own guilt in terms of bad tech habits. In this piece, I'm thinking about my iPhone... the little red balloons that- like chicken pox- scream "hey! you've got an itch to scratch!" How many of us get yelled at for checking our phones during dinner? This is a reminder to myself, and those of us who do this, that scratching the pox gives you tiny little scars- even though it feels like relief at the time. 

Our Hero Finds the Perfect Lighting, 8"x16"x7", metal, paper mache, plastic, acrylic, reclaimed wood, and cloth, 2015

Our Hero #GetsSwole, 20.5"x27", acrylic, cloth, rope, and cardboard on reclaimed wood, 2015

  An interesting, and sometimes confounding, aspect of all the things I'm thinking about with these works is "the selfie." With all of the alleged psychological implications being released lately, along with the behavior itself, selfies are one of those magical multi-layered resources that artists (I guess myself included) seem to LOVE to take jabs at. While Our Hero #GetsSwole is a bit of a jab at "the gym selfie," it is also about the self-image aspect of these things. I once had a friend explain that selfies (which she is completely unshy and uncandid about) are often being used as a self-esteem boost. My interest in this, though, is about how far this actually goes. In this piece, I am providing a juxtaposition between what the subject intends to display and what reality has to offer. In this case, a self-described alpha physique and the cartoony drooping biceps; something I've always found hilarious as an ego-deflator from my formative years glued to Loony Tunes and Tom & Jerry. 

In the case of Our Hero Finds the Perfect Lighting, I am again thinking about how the selfie functions. Specifically, with an intention of showing the actual difference between reality and perception through this medium. When viewing the sculpture as an outsider in the space, we see the figure as he is in his element and true form. Once we look through the plastic in his hands, we see something else- his "filtered" self. We notice its distortion through shape, color, and cropping- but only as it compares to the truth. Imagine our perception if there were no basis of comparison.

Our Hero, Situation #1 and Our Hero, Situation #2 (top to bottom), variable size, acrylic and paper mache on paper and cloth, 2015-
Let me start off by saying I have never really considered performance as a viable branch for my artwork. Having said that, I figured that if I was going to make these works both relevant and participatory, what better way than to allow myself and other willing participants to actually be Our Hero... after all, I am already asserting that I and we all are. So with that, I have begun what I'm anticipating to be my first photographic series in over 10 years; documenting the different forms Our Hero takes in the real world, while physically hiding behind the avatar that is Our Hero. This way, we all get to wear the mask and cape, finally being that superhero we all claim to be when the digital soap box calls us. 

Below, you will find more of the works related to the scope of these topics- the theatrical, the identity based, the mentality, and everything in between. 

Until next time!


Our Hero Brings the T&A, 14"x17"x5", acrylic, cardboard, cloth, rope, metal, plastic, and reclaimed wood, 2015
Our Hero Introduces his Spokesman and Sidekick, 10.5"x17"x7", cloth, acrylic, rope, cardboard, metal, buttons, and reclaimed wood, 2015

Our Hero Regurgitates (and He Likes that You Like That), 16.5"x19"x4", acrylic, cardboard, paper mache, metal, rope, and reclaimed wood, 2015
Our Hero, Minus the Kung Fu Grip, 24"x6"x8", acrylic, cardboard, rope, metal, and plastic on reclaimed wood, 2015

Wednesday, November 19, 2014


Well, it's that time again. Time for the hours of work, reflection, "aha" moments, "ah shit" moments, and all the other things that come along with making some artwork culminate into a few words. As usual, I've explored a realm of a material in which I find something that has either been discarded or wasted. Up until this last series, the materials have mainly been focused on items with a building or solid element. This time, it's the fluidity of the material I was after; coffee became my friend in a new(ish) way.

Floater, coffee and ink on paper, 7"x9", 2014
This is one of those cases where the material in question didn't start out as meaningful beyond its function. After some time and understanding, though, I would find that using the coffee was no different than my relationship with it since graduate school- needing it to get my work done. Thus the arguably obvious title for this series of drawings, Fuel

The Man is a Puddle, coffee and ink on paper, 7"x9", 2014
 Just for a little bit of context, these works came at a time when I was being ruled by the pushing and pulling of the day to day. Anxiety was at an all time high- jitters, sleeplessness, and the constant feeling that there just aren't enough hours in the day. It was almost too appropriate that these drawings would be soaked in caffeine. I started off by using these drawings as an exercise in calming these things down- not unlike how a dog is taken out for a run around the block when it's got too much restlessness, so as to avoid chewed shoes and jumping up on company. 

Collapsed Roof, ink and coffee on paper, 6"x8", 2014
As the project progressed, I allowed myself to be unencumbered by subject matter and let the pen, brush, and my subconscious do all the work. What emerged was a back and forth, from images of contemplative characters (familiar to those of my past works) floating in the coffee-filled ether, with age on their faces, against the intense and mutilated figures that seem to be more rubber than flesh. As the series moved forward, the intensity of the contrast continued to increase. With the increase of polarization came an increase in production, until finally- like the caffeine crash- it just stopped.

Blow Top, ink and coffee on paper, 9.5"x13.5", 2014
Emerge, ink and coffee on paper, 5"x4", 2014

Fragmented Fellow, ink and coffee on paper, 6.5"x9.5"
Curled, ink and coffee on paper, 9.5"x13.5", 2014

Old Man River, ink and coffee on paper, 9.5"x13.5"
Like a Stone, ink and coffee on paper, 6.5"x9.5", 2014

Sail, ink and coffee on paper, 6.5"x6", 2014
Rawr, ink and coffee on paper, 3.5"x4", 2014

For more, you can find me on:
Instagram: @aaronschraeter
Twitter: @aaronschraeter

and, of course:

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

The Circular Diaries

Let me start this off by saying it's very rare that I start writing about a body of newer work immediately after completing the whole set- let alone in the beginning stages. That said, The Circular Diaries is one of those projects that has been jumping up and screaming at me since the first completed study- a work on paper titled The Kneeling Man. 
The Kneeling Man, mixed media on paper, 9.5"x13", 2014
The last month or so has been an interesting ride with some life changes attached to it- some of those changes coming as feelings of rejection, being lost, and questioning the direction of movement. Let's call them growing pains- and these are things we all feel at some point in our lives (if we're fortunate). When the chips came down, I did what I always do- my own version of retail therapy, in the form of scouring the streets for things to make art with, or at least some inspiration. Ironically, on a day I needed it most, I came up with nothing. Zilch. For the first time in a long time I simply lost it. I started walking down the street, house to house, and yanking circulars out of the posts of neighbors' fences and tearing them up. As a friend and mentor pointed out, the experience became research. I picked the scraps up off the ground, gathered some more of the coupon-filled paper, and got to work.
The Leaning Man, mixed media on paper, 9.5"x13", 2014
Slouch,  mixed media on paper, 13"x9.5", 2014
Ever since I started working in found objects, I aimed to comb through the mud and the muck to find a jewel-  a diamond in the rough that I could show the world they'd been fools for throwing out. Granted, I still love this idea, and it will continue to work it's way into my works as a medium of choice, but picking up the circulars this way gave me an insight from the opposite side of the spectrum of tossed goods. What about the things no one is sorry about throwing out? The things that are mass-produced that you can't even give away- so common that no one even notices when someone walks up to your home and steals it. In an unexpected twist of fate, this "found object" material became the star of the show, essentially representing the subject at hand, rather than being a stage for an already existing topic to dance on.
Suit in Recline, mixed media on paper, 13"x9.5", 2014

It might sound strange, but at this point I was beginning to relate to the material more than usual. And how could I not relate to an item that there is so much of that seeing it doesn't stir so much as a batted eyelash. It reminds me of the adage I was told coming out of college, which essentially boiled down to "Good luck out there. There aren't any jobs, so start shopping for stripper clothes." This of course was followed by a similar message delivered towards the end of graduate school which sounded a little more like "throw a rock in any direction and you'll hit an artist with dreams of landing a gallery. That same rock will also hit anyone vying for a job teaching college art. Have fun out there." At the end of the day, it's hard not to succumb to the empty and demoralizing feeling (and in most cases the reality) of being another face in an already vast and constantly growing crowd.  

Before you envision me as a depressed artist having a realization of hopelessness, descending down to the end of my pitiful rope, the fun part comes in dealing with the material. The real magic came in discovering how much I can actually do with this material that seems so hopelessly one-note. When molded, painted, and placed correctly, the results can be beautiful, unique, and worth the double take it wouldn't have earned previously. 

Unlike in most of the previous posts, this investigation will continue. Thus far, I've only made one piece that is a wood-based work, but there will be more soon. In the mean time....

Bust Portrait of a Nobody, mixed media on wood, 24"x24", 2014
Bust Portrait with a Hole, mixed media on paper, 14"x13", 2014
For more, you can find me on:
Instagram: @aaronschraeter
Twitter: @aaronschraeter

and, of course:

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

I Am the Egg, Man.

Soft Boiled

As usual, this group of works had it’s birth in one place, and it’s realization somewhere else. I Am the Egg, Man, visually, was a fairly seamless transition from Flesh,Bone, and Full of Nasty. White and grey Chiclet-esque forms that came together to make a ghostly mouth full of teeth- all of the sudden, they come apart as if to grow legs and step right out of the “gums.” The flat tops that used to chomp have now inflated slightly to make an elliptical egg form. The legs remain, as if they were there all along. I quickly realized what these forms were, and assigned a label quickly, as I scribbled on a piece of paper in my large sketch book- “Humpty Dumpty is a Motherfucker.” I didn’t really know what that meant at the time, but I also didn’t care. I just knew that it was the change I was making, and that it had to start immediately. Ironically, it wouldn’t be until later that this group of works would have a lot more in common with The Packrat’s Dynasty than the previously mentioned body of works.
Here & There
            At the beginning, when I would try to explain these paintings, I could only describe them as their most obvious function- a retelling of what I’d called the most underwhelming tragedy in the history of Western story telling, Humpty Dumpty. For me, this was a bit of a change of pace. The last time I had used any real comedic violence or mutilation in a group of works was during my MFA thesis, How to Kill Your Imaginary Friends. The main difference, in my view: I’d gone from creating new characters that I would torture and destroy myself, to now almost trying to catch the destruction in the act; the peak of Humpty’s worst moment. The moment before “all the king’s horses and all the king’s” just kind of cut their losses and called it quits without even a shred of evidence that they would try to fix the poor bastard. When it was all said and done, though, I had the “what” all figured out, but not the “why.” As usual, I had to become emotionally detached and away from the paintings to figure out what they really meant to me.

As time passed, and I put more of my creative efforts into The #GeppettoProject, I forgot about the egg paintings. And then, all of the sudden, while going through some old sketches, the truth dawned on me. As I’ve said in the past, my artwork has always been reflective (and response to) of my surroundings, and the changes of the scape to my day-to-day. These paintings came at a time when my paternal grandfather began to quickly deteriorate in health, and ultimately passed away. Don’t get me wrong- this was not a group of paintings that were an attempt to cling on to the man, wondering why he was taken away from us so soon. The man was nothing, if not a hardened survivor. To boot, he also nearly made it to his 96th birthday; hardly an issue of “not enough time” on this Earth. That said, I’m not going to tell a lie and say that this wasn’t about mourning. It was just a different kind. My grandfather was a difficult man. His story, while entertaining and funny coming from the mouths of my father and his cousins, is one filled with tragedy, drama, and spiritual difficulty. Of all of the stories of his antics, the negative things he’d done, the fights he had with my father, and even the heroics he performed during the war (which all read like a great piece of fiction, by the way), one strange detail always stuck out in my mind. His sister (who died not too long before he did) once told me “The thing about your grandfather is that he’s not who he was. He changed when he came back from the war. He brought back something dark with him.”  It was remembering this conversation that I realized, my relationship with my grandfather had a lot more in common with Humpty Dumpty than I’d known.
As I mentioned before, this was not a group of paintings mourning the death of this man. As it turned out, they were mourning the life of a man that I never got to know; a man he never had much of a chance to be. There may not have been a way to put the man I knew back together. Even so, I can’t help but keep thinking that broken as he may have gotten, and fragmented as he could be, it wasn’t the end to his story. There was no waiting for “all the king’s horses and all the king’s men”- just the will to keep trying to stand up on one’s own two feet. Damaged isn’t dead. Mean isn’t evil. Hard isn’t impossible. These paintings, which started as symbols and pictures of death, have grown to become a reminder to push on, even if things feel like they’re at their worst. If you’ve got some breaking eggs, try the best you can to have an omelet. 

By the Sum of It's Parts 

Swept Up

Thursday, October 10, 2013

Flesh, Bone and Full of Nasty

Just so you understand that background of how I got here- this particular stop on the artistic highway- you should know that it sort of happened by accident, and on its own. Back in grad school, I worked on a series called “Predators (2011)”, which was an expression of my personal demons. It was all about the little things in our subconscious that nip, and bite, and annoy us until we submit to the internal nagging and avoid the gut instincts that can make human beings so interesting and beautiful. During this time I created works like Bite Box- an effort to turn the surface into the creature, rather than painting a picture of one.

Bite Box, 2011
In 2012 Art Station’s Beth Fiore offered me a solo show in Brooklyn to show works from “Predators (2011)”, “How to Kill Your Imaginary Friends (2012)”, and “Everyone Loves a Martyr (2012)”. Digging up the work from “Predators” allowed me to revisit my experiment with a fresh pair of eyes. I began to once again experiment with the black and grey washes, the thickly painted white incisor-style teeth, and the beautiful found surfaces unearthed from the gutters, garbage piles, and forgotten yards that New York City had to offer. I realized very quickly, though, that this was turning into something else. This was something a little bit more raw, and a little bit less “conceptual”. Before I knew it, the washes went from defining the creatures to becoming the creatures. In fact, they weren’t quite creatures at all- they were more ghosts than anything. They were these “apparitions”- not the Scooby-doo, sheet wearing ghosts we all know and love; that thing that gives us a cold chill on a hot day. The teeth are no longer a symbol of comedic aggression, or the “bite”, or nerves, or even chattering. They are simply all that’s left of a thing that we weren’t even sure was there in the first place.

Apparition, 2012

Forget What I Used to Be, 2013

Get The Door, 2013

Hello, My Name Is... , 2013
Walk-Off, 2013

After a while, the ghosts’ efforts become meaningless. Retracing steps draws a circle with footprints. The steam that was a body struggles to dissipate, and every time the moisture is pulled back down into the proverbial glass, the water level becomes less every time. Sure- experience generates change. Every time there are actions, there are reactions. That said, the building blocks, the underpainting, the foundation—it all stays the same. It is at this point of realization and awareness that there needs to be some kind of explosion; something that allows us to tear down the sketches from the wall and say: “next project”. When this happens, the end gets to feel more like the beginning. Purgatory is in the rear-view mirror, and excitement for new discovery is back. What once was barely tangible, is now stepping heavily on the creaky floorboards, and bumping into walls. It is the realization that a bullet through an apple doesn’t destroy the fruit- it makes applesauce.

Stumbling Face First, 2013

Collision, 2013

 For more of these works, visit my website or my Facebook fan page.