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:
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Instagram: @aaronschraeter
Twitter: @aaronschraeter
Tumblr: aaronschraeter.tumblr.com

and, of course: www.aaronschraeter.com

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:
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Instagram: @aaronschraeter
Twitter: @aaronschraeter
Tumblr: aaronschraeter.tumblr.com

and, of course: www.aaronschraeter.com

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.

Thursday, June 28, 2012

Everyone Loves a Martyr

Often I find myself having to reaffirm things that are cliche' bits of advice from every mentorship that's ever existed in the history of knowledge-seeking. My latest body of work, Everyone Loves a Martyr, seems to deal with the pitfalls that these bits of advice address more and more as I continue to think about it. As many of you are aware, I (much like many of my peers) am in a transitional period. I've finished my MFA, am switching studios, changing my living situation, and winding down my second full body of work from this calendar year. It's a lot, and all of it is intimidating. All of that said, I have to admit that it wasn't until now (not this exact moment, but you get the point) that change isn't about getting used to things- it's about accepting those things as being the next step. Spending time worrying about being in a creative funk, or that your new space won't offer some of the old perks, are generated purely by comfort gone missing. The paintings in my most recent body of works vary in relationship to the issues mentioned. Works such as Heavy Limbs deal with "stuckness". Furthermore, in this case, there is the irony of having limbs which are typically used for movement but are designed to act as weights making movement impossible.

Push Me, Pull You deals with the desire to get away from these experiences. This comes with the inevitable realization that no matter how much we scrape our nails against the ground, and try to take off, our experiences follow us wherever we go. For better or worse, it becomes part of who we are.

Others, such as Pox deal more with trying to live with the pain and discomfort of change. Chunks are missing, body begins to erode, and yet the the posture is appearing strong, and the appearance of a halo is intended to act as a self-established sign of faith in things repairing themselves, as if to ignore the dissolving of structural integrity.

The advice I've prescribed myself is as follows: •Fear should be reserved for things like that adrenaline boost you need to run from an exploding gas can- not a change of pace. Sure, this isn't a response that has its roots in logic, but it isn't impossible to take charge. In reference to the aforementioned loss of comfort- every once in a while you need to sleep on the floor to work out the kinks in your back left by a mattress. •Change is an opportunity, not an obstacle. If you've just busted your ass on a body of work and it feels that it's come to an end, don't stop working. Take a chance to make some bad work- you'll find it's as valuable as the "good" stuff. Aside from that, everyone has failures. Anyone making art for any length of time has made bad work. Sure, some have made much more bad work than others, but it's the one's that learn from them that seem to carry on. Getting bogged down by how some things used to be makes it very difficult to discover the potential of a new endeavor. •Things that don't work out well aren't a reflection of who you are. At the end of the day, we'd all like to believe that our work, or relationships, or what have you are an expression of our beings. At the end of the day, they're just segments of our character- a complete picture. For more of the recent works, and those to come, visit HERE.