By Rich Simmons
One of my favourite artist's right now is Aaron Craig, an Australian pop artist who mashes iconic, 80's and 90's nostalgic characters together in bold, colourful and exciting ways.
The work is just fun to me. It makes me happy and I was excited to interview Aaron and learn more about his influences, history and journey into the arts.
You describe your art style as ‘pop mash’. Can you explain how you came to find this style and what you enjoy about it?
I studied fine arts and visual communication design at university, and I dabbled in plenty of different styles of art making, but I never felt that any of them ‘clicked’ with me. I was asked to paint for a few group shows about 3 years ago now and I decided to just paint what I love the most - cartoons, comics, action figures! Since then I fine tuned my style and I haven’t looked back.
How does pop culture nostalgia influence your work?
90% of the subjects in my paintings are nostalgic to me. I grew up in the 80s / 90s here in Australia, so it was the big boom of the best cartoons and toys ever made (in my opinion). Shows and toys like TMNT and Masters Of The Universe were huge for me as a kid before I moved on to Marvel comics, so I tend to use cartoons or comics that have some fond memories for me in my paintings.
Do you have any favourite characters from your own childhood that you enjoy using in your work and is there any that are too precious to you that you haven’t found a way to integrate into your work yet?
I'm a massive Masters of the Universe fan, so any time I get to paint He-Man or Skeletor is always fun. I paint Popeye probably most often too. He is the ultimate cartoon design in my opinion. Very unique. I don’t have any that are too precious to paint, but sometimes characters are hard to ‘make sense’ in a painting. I try and go for lesser known characters sometimes over the popular ones. For example I'd rather paint Mighty Mouse than Mickey Mouse.
I love your use of colour, for example taking existing characters like Spiderman and doing it in purples and teals alongside the classic red and black. What influences your choice of colour mixes and hues that go into your paintings and how do you decide what would work together?
I’d say this is where my degree in Visual Communication Design comes into play. I approach layout and colour like a design job so I think my process would be a little different to someone who is self taught or studied strictly art. A good hack for colour combinations is to use Adobe Kuler. You can create infinite colour combinations and get provided each corresponding colour code.
Is it all hand painted or do you use other techniques and ways to create the work?
All of my pieces are painted by hand. I do release limited edition screen prints from time to time, but I pride myself on attention to detail and having a steady hand to paint really small neat lines in acrylic paint.
Have you ever transitioned your work into street art or explored scaling up your work to do larger installations?
I’ve never painted a public mural before. I painted a few indoor ones over the years, but they were more figurative rather then a proper upscale of my usual style. I don’t come from a graffiti background, so for me I will leave the murals to those that come from that part of the art scene.
How long has creativity been part of your life?
Since I was really young. Maybe 5 years old. I grew up adoring Disney and Warner Bros and dreamed of being a Disney animator as a kid. I would draw cartoon characters of my own and send them to animation studios like Yoram Gross here in Australia (they did Blinky Bill). When I started to read comics I started drawing more in the comic style. I really only started painting in my current style 3 or so years ago, it took a long time for me to find a type of creation that felt true to me.
Is creativity a daily thing for you or do you get days where it can become overwhelming?
I have more ideas then hours to paint, so I rarely become overwhelmed. When I'm painting for solo shows it can take a bit of the fun out of it because you start working on time schedules and don't get to go at your own pace... but I'm still learning the art of being a full time artist.
Do you have different forms of creative release for when you hit walls with other forms of artistic expression?
I still do a lot of Digital stuff. So draw in Procreate on an iPad or do photoshop collages etc. So I work in both digital and physical art making. It's all pretty similar style though. I'm currently working on my first 2 NFT's, so they are a brand new form of creation for me using movement and sound.
Where do you draw inspiration from and what’s your process for coming up with new ideas?
I get inspired by comics and toys (I still collect both). Cartoons, and cartoon intro songs (we play them to our kids sometimes) are good for remembering shows from my childhood. I actually have a lot of ideas in the shower, and also I’ll think of things while Im painting so some of it is spontaneous.
Has art or creativity helped you through any difficult moments in life?
100%! I was diagnosed with a rare form of cancer 2.5 years ago which was the catalyst for me choosing to become a full time artist.
Art is literally the greatest gift I could have asked for that has helped me overcome a lot of tough times lately.
Do you have any favourite artists or creatives right now that people should check out?
German painter Simon Soltau (@simo.sol.art) is the greatest Masters of the Universe painter in my opinion. I am lucky enough to own one of his original oil paintings, so definitely check him out. Danny Rumbl (@dannyrumbl) and Jeroen Huijbregts (@jeroenhuijbregts) from the Netherlands, Eric Clement (@ericclementart)from Canada, Steve Seeley (@steveseeleyart) from Chicago, Grafflex (@grafflex) from Korea, Masagon (@hellomasagon) from Japan, Arkiv Vilmansa (@arkivvilmansa) from Indonesia are a few I’d recommend.
If you could share a studio with any artist for a day, living or dead, who would you pick?
Robert Rauschenberg. I did a few assignments on him in school and university and his compositions and creative diversity are amazing. His piece Monogram is still one of my favourite artworks to date.
If you could give advice to people looking to discover their creative spark, what would you tell them?
Create something that you love. Don’t try and follow what’s trending because it isn’t sustainable. If you enjoy making it, it generally shows! Also visit your local gallery, or follow artists or galleries that you look up to on Instagram or Twitter. Viewing art is one of the biggest inspirations.