Aja Kusick has been a working artist for over a decade, and her use of color, movement, creativity, and soul make her work viscerally impactful. I first became a fan of Aja when I was browsing the internet and came across a beautifully painted female nude with her back turned to me, but with every inch of her body covered in colorful stripes. It was simple, but stunning with its juxtaposing elements of distance and expression. I then saw another piece months later that painted the Taj Mahal against the backdrop and artistic style of van Gogh’s ‘Starry Night.’ It was the same artist, and once again, I was taken aback by its beauty. When I began thinking of people to interview for this interview series, I knew that I wanted to talk to artists that I admired and who deserved more recognition, and she was one of the first people that I thought of. I had no idea she would actually contact me back, but I am incredibly honored to have spoken to her, for I have been a genuine fan of her work for years. She has been so incredibly lovely throughout the entire process, and I’m excited to bring more attention to her and her work. So without further ado, let’s get on to the interview!
V) Your work utilizes a lot of materials and colors. How do you decide where to start when you’re beginning a new piece? Do you go in having a set idea in mind or is it more spontaneous?
A) I have a basic formula that starts with fluid acrylics or spray paint laying down a backdrop. The only preconceived notion I carry with me is the feeling of the piece evoked through the use of whatever colors I choose for the background. Then I choose a pose to echo the feeling of the background, and go from there. The beginning of each piece is entirely spontaneous though – I grab a color and just lay it down on the panel and let myself get lost in the push and pull with the paint.
V) In past works your female figures were always faceless, or facing away from the viewer. Were these artistic choices meant to evoke something specific, or did you simply enjoy that particular positioning?
A) I had been working on this idea of anonymity and had regarded facial features (as most do) as defining characteristics of an individual. I wanted people to be able to see themselves or someone they know in the work, and not be caught up on on just who that person might be exactly. I used color and pose to convey the message. I had been criticized for “taking the voice away” from the subject I was painting. Some saw it as misogyny and assumed I was a man. I found this to be incredibly interesting. I didn’t move away from anonymity because of it, but I was aware of the notion. Over time, I wanted something more. More of a narrative. I also wanted to be able to hone my skills more. In short, I felt I had exhausted all I had to say and began a new dialogue.
V) What is it about the female form that you find most artistically compelling? It’s clearly the central focus of the majority of your paintings.
A) I’d began painting women in 2003 when I was pregnant with my son. As much as I love my son, I really did not enjoy being pregnant. I felt like, during that time, I was no longer me, but amalgamations of me – mother, expecting, vessel -…painting females was a way to regain a sense of self. Each piece is a conversation I am having with myself as a woman. They are all meditations.
V) Your ‘Starry Night’ series is an incredibly creative concept (and just straight up beautiful). What inspired you to incorporate modern cartoons and historical monuments into van Gogh’s ‘Starry Night?’
A) Thank you! In 2011, I painted a piece depicting the Eiffel Tower overlooking the river Seine. It had some van Gogh-esque qualities to it but I was really only drawing inspiration from his work and carrying certain aspects into mine. A few weeks after uploading it online an educational blog doing a write up on van Gogh miss attributed my painting to be a genuine van Gogh, and in no time it was being shared on Tumblr and Pinterest as a real van Gogh. “van Gogh’s Eiffel Tower.” Several travel sites even jumped on the bandwagon. Once that happened, a bunch of paint and sip places started using my work for their paint parties. The whole thing was so ridiculous, because van Gogh never even saw the Eiffel Tower completed – he’d moved to the south of France already and passed away before making it back to Paris to see the finished structure. I started having to explain this ad nauseum. It was at that time I decided to paint scenes that van Gogh couldn’t possibly have seen. It started with real locations, like the Golden Gate Bridge and Stonehenge, and moved on to the Starship Enterprise and the Delorean from Back to the Future. From there it really just expanded, as people would get a hold of me and ask “did you ever think it might be fun to paint -insert pop culture iconography here-?” It really took on a life of its own.
V) What kind of music do you listen to when you work? Are there particular artists or genres that get you in the creative zone?
A) I have a Pandora station I have been carefully cultivating with up and down votes based on Mazzy Star since 2010 haha. It’s comprised of a lot of Radiohead, Massive Attack, Cat Power, Thievery Corporation, and Groove Armada, among others. It’s mood music. On the opposite end I really love metal and will regularly rock some Opeth, Fear Factory, Type O Negative, Pantera, and a bunch of local bands like Section 8 and The Clay People.
V) As an artist of the 21st century, do you consider yourself an enthusiastic modern artist, or do you identify more with the classically mysterious, isolated artist archetype? (I’m always curious to hear which one artists identify more with!)
A) I’d have to say modern, simply because I have made my entire career an online pursuit (until really most recently, and even then, every gallery show I have I am all over social media pimping the bejeesus out of it.) We live in a really pivotal time to be an artist, where the internet has leveled the playing field so to speak. Only in the past 15 years has this really taken off, and I have been utilizing this mode for getting my work out there for 13. I can get my work out there to millions of people on my own, from my own studio. Do I relate to artists of the past? The seclusion they felt? The isolation? Yes. But I am part of a new movement embracing modern technology and telling my story to a vast number of people from all walks of life and all parts of the world through a few clicks on a computer or swipes of a smart phone. You can’t get any more modern then that!
V) And lastly, what advice would you give someone who wants to become a full time artist? Because people may not know how to go about that process, especially because a lot of people aren’t really told that being an artist is realistically achievable.
A) First, make sure you really want to be an artist. Also make sure you want to be a business person. A shipper. A marketer. An advertiser. A presenter. An entrepreneur. To be an artist, you must be all of those things. This business isn’t for the faint of heart – and make no mistake, it is a business. It’s not about selling out, but to be a full time artist, you are selling something. You are selling part of you. To become a full time artist you are going to need to find galleries to work with or you are going to have to open up shop – either online or in a brick and mortar location – and sell those little pieces of you. Be confident in your work and be confident when you present it. Be grateful for those who give your work a chance and be gracious with all opportunities presented to you. Follow every contemporary artist you can on every social media outlet you can get your hands on. Immerse yourself in the scene. Read art magazines. Research business models. Read every artist interview you can. Visit galleries. Start posting your work online and get feedback. Create. Study. Read. Research. Repeat.