Someone has to convince Aaron North to charge more for his art.
Playful and engaging works that are skillfully sketched, painted and sewn onto cardstock are currently hanging in Marika's Coffee House (formerly the Gift Shop) for between $20 and $40. Not prints — originals.
The 23-year-old, who's only shown professionally for a year, maintains that he's more interested in accessibility and exposure than making money. Though he concedes that he'd like to one day subsist solely through his art, for now he just wants people his age to be able to afford it.
In early April, he sold 10 of his 12 contributions to Rubbish's Totally Show. And of the 11 works displayed over the past few weeks in New Works in Color by Aaron North, half have already sold.
The price alone isn't moving the art; odd, cartoonish creatures captured in bizarre, fantastical scenes with colorful backdrops are helping. And though they "aren't representative of anything whatsoever," in North's words, they certainly look as though they have a story to tell.
In "A Wise Man Named Milo," a man with a billy goat-like face sits in a disproportionately high-backed chair at a supper table, joined by four smaller creatures: two cat-like figures, one bird-like figure and one miniature version of the man that is perched atop his head on a tiny high chair. They're all dining on some sort of fish creature, and a few raise mini wine glasses. The scene is as cute as it is otherworldly, but it contains a mildly disconcerting edge. Think a slightly grotesque tea party in Narnia.
"It's just me distorting my own reality — just adding a bunch of creatures that look interesting or catch your eye," says North. "It's really chaotic and there's a lot going on. I just try to pile stuff up and keep adding creatures. If I draw a person, I give them an animal head ... I'm just getting my subconscious out."
North, who relies heavily on line work with little to no shading — using small circles to form muscles, joints and depth — says he's influenced by early Flemish painters like Bosch and Bruegel, who are regarded for their cluttered, creature-filled scenes. His other influences go to extremes: As a child, he drew his own comic books and did graffiti and street art, and later, while learning art history on his own after dropping out of Palmer High School and getting his GED, North also became interested in religious works.
North's mom and stepfather are both ministers who came to the Springs eight years ago from San Antonio for Bible school. Though they're all still close, North isn't religious. He works part time as a screen printer in a local sign shop, constructing billboard-sized prints. The day job isn't creative and doesn't inform his art in any way other than reinforcing attention to detail, he says. That, and he occasionally puts some of his art on T-shirts, DIY-style at home.
Many of the animals are inspired by little doodles he'll leave his girlfriend on notes around the house. ("That kinda transferred over without my wanting it to necessarily — it just kinda happened.") And this whole show, save one large, busy, $365 oil piece painted inside a reclaimed thrift-store mirror frame, comes from two months' worth of drawings torn from his sketchbook.
Another intriguing aspect of his work: North prefers to give pieces meaningless titles, since he'd like "people to just take it for what it is." This showing marks the third time that he's ripped chapter titles from a random book to correspond with each piece. "It's confusing, if anything," he says.
This particular batch of titles came from an outdoors book that his biological father sent to him after he'd returned from hiking the bottom 700 miles of the Appalachian Trail. He likens the exchange to the classic loving-but-absent dad trying to connect with a son that he doesn't really know much about these days.
So there's a lot going into North's work. Even if, for now, there's little going into his wallet.