Aaron Axelrod

by Andy Chan

Axelrod talks television and astrophysics before taking over Barnsdall Park
Artist Aaron Axelrod is wearing neoprene-fitted headgear shaped like bunny ears, lined with hundreds of resplendent Swarovski diamonds as he explains to me that humans are just a blip in the universe. But this is comforting, he reassures me, because it is testament to how much is unknown about our expansive cosmos and, “It’s the unknown that piques my interest,” he says.

What has piqued Axelrod’s interest has enthralled the art world. For the first time, Barnsdall Park, which includes the Los Angeles Municipal Art Gallery (LAMAG) and Frank Lloyd Wright’s UNESCO-nominated Hollyhock House, has commissioned an artist like Axelrod to take over the entire park. Axelrod will present the first-ever survey of his entire body of work in a retrospective titled Dark Matter at Barnsdall Park July 16-17.

Ten stories high in his Los Angeles studio overlooking Santee Alley, Axelrod and I talk about his fascination with television, psychedelics, and astrophysics.

Television seems to be a prominent theme in your art, particularly '90s style analog signals and static, why are you interested in that?

I think maybe it was my first experience with porn growing up as a kid, and going to channel 99 with my parents not paying for it. It just came in all crazy and I had to use my imagination. I didn’t know what sex was, I never saw a naked body, so my first experience with that was just a blown out purple titty. And I guess for whatever reason, that was a very powerful moment. And that aesthetic has always been with me. I just like finding the beauty in things that most people don’t.

What is it about the reclamation of public spaces that interests you in public art?

You know when you’re making art, and you’re making canvasses, or sculptures, or photography, or video art, who really gets to see that? Even if you’re in a huge gallery or a museum show, who sees that? Maybe 2 percent of the population? The privileged few. You’re not even getting your fans really. So when you’re doing stuff in the public, you’re taking over stuff, over walls, over buildings. I like taking over buildings...

Like the building on Cahuenga Blvd. for “Bad Reception”?

Yeah you saw that? You saw the projection?

Yeah, I’m interested in how you were able to do the projection mapping onto that building.

I rented an apartment across the street for the month and I had a projector that shot it through the window and mapped it. I just want to play with things and do things that aren’t expected in unexpected places. What’s more interesting to me is putting art—something amazing—in an area that isn’t expected to have art. Putting it on the street or putting it on the fucking desert. When you walk into a gallery, you expect that. When you walk into a museum, you expect that. I like to do things that are a little less expected just to have people question things a little more. Have them look at something for 5 more seconds. As it is, no matter how dope a painting is, people fuckin’ look at it for two seconds and move on to the next. If I’m able to just get another five seconds out of them, that’s my goal.

It reminds me of guerilla art and art as a human right rather than a privilege.

I agree. Why are only these big corporations allowed to plaster the public with their shit, right? Fuck that.

Tell me about “Melting Rainbows.” It’s such a poetic amalgamation of words and imagery.

I was heavily influenced by the visuals you can get on psychedelics. I just think some of those experiences that I’ve had, they’ve been very amazing and inspiring and special to me because of what I’ve seen, and what I’ve seen the world do, and the filters that it kind of strips away from my brain. The drippy, the color-changing, seeing every molecule of what everything is made of—that’s the aesthetic I always try to go back towards. With my “Melting Rainbows” pieces, everything starts off as little drops, just one little drop of paint. Then you water it, and it grows into whatever it needs to grow into. You’re giving life. And what I really like about Melting Rainbow is that to me, and I think to most artists, I don’t think the final product is what we’re most happy about and what the goal is. What’s interesting to me is the process, so I wanted to make a piece of art that was all about process. That’s what melting rainbows is.

What’s your dream project?

Painting the space shuttle that goes up, so my art will be in space. Maybe be the first guy to do a mural on the moon.