young space has interviewed Aaron Scheer about the meaning of painting in the digital age.
By Kate Mothes
And now for something a little different! Aaron Scheer’s digital paintings address a contemporary question of what “painting” can mean. If done on a computer screen with a mouse, can it still be considered painting? Digitalism in art raised all sorts of theoretical questions about ideas related to mass reproduction, display, and methodology. I’m really happy to share some thoughts that Aaron Scheer has shared about what this medium means to him and how he works with it, as well as posing some questions of his own.
Hi Aaron! Tell me a bit about yourself. I see that you’re in Germany; where you are based right now?
Hi Kate. I’m 26, grew up in Würzburg, a rather small student city in Germany and studied my Bachelor of Science in Münster and Helsinki. I’m currently based in Gothenburg and Berlin and started my Master of Science at HDK, University of Gothenburg. I’m a multi-disciplinary being, probably the only real constant in my life. Art has been always a natural part, besides having a strong interest in Design, Business & Society, Science, Philosophy, Music, Movies and so forth. I’m more and more interested in understanding and managing multi-dimensional systems, combining societal, economic, environmental and technological factors. In short, complexity and interconnectivity. I’m driven and ultra curious. I love taking on new challenges and projects, thriving towards progress is part of me. A certain restlessness can eat me up from time to time. Being highly reflective helps me to understand my environment and myself, but can easily end up having dark moments. I try to use both energies, bright and dark, for my artistic purposes.
What first interested you in making art?
Freedom. Art, from the beginning on, was a possibility for me to somehow escape from a world that is based on rationality and logic. A playground for intuition and freedom of expression and thought. Important characteristics of Dasein. Art enabled me to express what I didn’t dare in the “real“ world. It channeled my need for controversy and self-expression. Being taught about the manifestations of aesthetics, mainly by my father who was a painter, designer, and entrepreneur, helped me to develop a strong visuality. In the course of my artistic explorations, the project statement played more and more an important role. Ever since, I try to combine intuition and logic, aesthetics, and project statement.
Did you begin as a painter in the analog sense before beginning to work digitally?
Yes, exactly. Mainly influenced by my father’s abstract figuration paintings and objects, I got very early in contact with all kind of materials, from acrylic paint, to oil crayon, to watercolor on canvas and paper. I did my first “painting“ on paper with acrylic at the age of 11. I soon started to increase my palette with all kind of other material, like spray paint or varnish on cloth, and ever since more and more experimented around. Gerhard Richter was, and still is, one of my biggest early influences, in the analog sense.
When did you start working with digital processes, or was that something you experimented with all along?
l started to discover digitalism in a time where I had to work a lot on my laptop, due to an intense study project in 2014. Being chained on my chair in front of my laptop for hours and hours developed a strong relationship with the device. One day, I started to explore visual tools on my laptop and collected, combined, layered and manipulated screenshots. I soon realized that there was a huge, personally undiscovered, visual potential. A new dimension suddenly opened up. Manipulating technology became part of my artistic work, and digital material started to become natural painting material. It’s the suggestion of the extension of a painter’s palettes. Current focus of my work is on transforming digital resources into a new form of painting. It’s the attempt to contribute to natural evolution of painting in a digital and technology driven age.
Much of your work is very abstract, such as the Printer or Pixel paintings, and one could argue that even your iPhone and Screenshot paintings are abstract as well. But are they? Do you distinguish between them?
Most of my works are abstract, yes. It’s somehow mainly related to my background and early influences in abstraction. In most of my pieces, visuality, transported through color and geometric compositions, textures and structures, is still playing a very important part. The process itself and techniques applied are more related to the project statement, which leads to titles like DaNA (Defining a New Aesthetic) or Cradle of Humanity (based on Silicon Valley tech companies and spiritual cult).
Is there a distinction between my digital or printer paintings and my screenshot and smartphone paintings? Good question. Yes, there is. Both my smartphone and screenshot paintings could be seen as some kind of new form of contemporary still lifes. Apps, digital tools, documents, photos from the internet are becoming natural elements of everyday life. Testimonials of our time. Color and form get mixed up with references to a digital daily life. Much personal elements get invited into the works, in addition.
What kind of source material, if any, do you start with? How do you begin a new piece or series?
I start with an initial idea, which most of the time derives from a former project. Ideas are mainly taken from my daily environment: working with my laptop, being on my phone, getting lost in the internet and so on. The initial idea mutates with time, along the process. Process and production play an important part in my work. A new piece can be finished within a few hours, or finished within hard weeks of trial and error. Testing, constant exploration and simple doing play an important part of my work.
What is your workspace like?
My workspace looks pretty much like an office. I need a table, a chair, my laptop, my speakers, a good woking wi-fi connection and a freshly cut ginger tea. Music is very important and helps me to get into the right flow and mood. I also have a small studio where I can work on my (few) analog projects. Yes, I cannot fully give up on working raw with my hands in the studio.
How do you display these works? Does working in the space between analog and digital present special challenges when it comes to display?
I display a lot of my works on social media platforms like Instagram and Tumblr. Additionally, I try to be present on new contemporary art platforms like Scandale Project or your blog. A good way of networking and gaining attention. In addition, two young start-up galleries specializing in digital promotion present a few of my works. A natural step somehow. I see potential in the future here, especially when it comes to online exhibitions. Nevertheless, traditional galleries and physical exhibitions are still very important. I’m starting to realize and complement analog with digital channels. A long and tedious process.
A lot of questions arise in the context of how technology and an ever-evolving digitalization will transform, and maybe revolutionize, the art market. Will digital art be able to maintain value through being physical at the end? Being artificially unique through limiting itself, when digital art could be accessible for everyone? Will collectors want to have a high quality file on their computer, in order to share it with their virtual followers on social media platforms, rather than having a physical piece at home or in their space? And are they willing to pay for it? Will galleries and museums showcase works online in the future, rather than in their physical spaces? Will digitalartists be the future advertising mediums? Will they finance themselves through mass production, which will be accessible for little money, and available to a broader audience? And where does art begin and massification stop then?
And speaking of challenges, what do you consider to be the most challenging or daunting aspect of pursuing your art (creatively, professionally, etc)?
Being able to extract signals from basically everything I am absorbing, enables me to generate a rich pool of ideas. Creative dry phases happen rarely. Using the internet, especially social media channels like Instagram, for interaction with the community, is a good way to build and expand networks. Transforming those contacts into real life projects is nevertheless very challenging. Another aspect is the enormous energy that needs to be put into the professional promotion of works through such channels. The relation of input and valuable output is not often balanced. The most challenging aspect though is still the “making a living“ aspect, especially as collecting and sharing digital files seems to become more important than actually owning physical pieces. In addition, offering pieces through digital channels brings the problem of virtual estimation with it. Many potential buyers find it hard to take a buying decision solely based on the digital file, even though you include closeups of the physical piece. The advantages of digital promotion can therefore be easily neutralized, unfortunately. Dependency is still a natural part of most artist’s lives and that is why, among my curiosity for the diverse, I am continuing my interdisciplinary education and work in various disciplines. Nevertheless art plays, and will always be, a big part of my nature.
What do you think is the most rewarding or exciting aspect?
The most exciting aspect for me is the experimental freedom. Art is still one of the very few places where intuition, radical testing and exploration, and self-expression can exist. A hub where ratio and efficiency aren’t necessarily natural forces. A bubble where imagination has no limits and where radical concepts can be openly expressed. Combining aspects of a cognitive-driven rational world where technology becomes the new religion and effectivity and efficiency is the ruling dogma, with an intuitive and process-driven working approach where emotions and pure human forms of expression have a place, is the most exciting in my work as an artist. Positive feedback from the professional art community is definitely rewarding, besides the positive, and sometimes healing, feeling that the creation process triggers in myself.
Do you have any upcoming projects or exhibitions that you’re currently developing?
I will soon launch my collaboration with a young gallery called Contemporary Collective Gallery, which is based in the US. Very exciting. Otherwise, I am currently working on my first oversized digital paintings. Very exciting as well. Other projects are in consideration, but haven’t been specified yet. Generally, I’m always open for the right projects with the right people and I’m constantly looking for further representation from galleries around the world.
Anything else you would like to add?
Link to the interview →