First Appearance with Aaron Craig November 06 2023
Aaron Craig is an Australian pop art painter based on the Sunshine Coast, Queensland. His paintings are recognisable by the recontextualised blend of pop culture that aim to give the viewer a strong sentiment of nostalgia. Forging together elements from cartoons, comics and product packaging until they become familiar at first glance, but at a second look are completely unique, he aims to create a rich new visual world that is seamless but ultimately shouldn’t exist. He references his art style as ‘Pop Mash’.
I grew up in the greatest era of cartoons (late '80s/early '90s) and I continued to watch cartoons and read comics well beyond my kid years, so I think I’ve naturally nurtured an affinity for character design and development. I always wanted to make my own characters that an audience can relate to and enjoy. My ‘Pop Mash’ style was likely borne out of that desire to create a sense of nostalgia in the audience without it being distinctly obvious.
Often working on found surfaces, printed ephemera, and objects, what draws you to certain materials?
Whatever the material is, the composition, colour and typography (if it has it) play a big part because they’re what I’d consider the fundamentals of good design. It’s important to me that I make sure the layout of all my paintings are considered and balanced. If the material allows for those things and also adds another layer like texture, humour or ambiguity then it's perfect.
Clue us into your process: how do you work to get to the final seamless mash up result?
I make notes on my phone of ideas I want to paint, but I usually have a pretty clear vision of the finished painting in my mind before I even begin, so I use that as my starting point. I then find the imagery I need to start mocking it up, usually from a folder full of cartoon characters, comic covers, and product logos. If I can’t find what I'm looking for in the folder then I go through my own comic collection or look through Google Images or Pinterest for something that fits.
Next I bring all the elements into Photoshop and create a rough version of the layout I want, then I send it to my iPad and draw it in Procreate before sending it back to the Mac to clean up and test colour options. I essentially know exactly what the finished painting will look like before I pick up a brush. If the painting is large I’ll then project it onto the canvas and sketch it before painting.
Your practice shares a playfulness, is it as much fun to imagine, design and paint the works as it is to view them?
100%. I have more ideas then I have time to paint them all. Maybe one day I’ll have a studio full of assistants to help me with that. But I'm in love with my job. There’s not a day that I don’t feel grateful that I get to live out my dream.
With a growing roster of collaborations, including the likes of Disney, Mattel, Marvel, Sony BMG, Sesame Street, and Mr Men, what would be your dream partnership?
My biggest cartoon love is Masters of the Universe, and I was able to create work for them last year in collaboration with Radio Velvet and Mattel, so I feel like I kind of ticked that box. I'm a sucker for Japanese cartoons/icons Doraemon and Anpanman though, and would be over the moon to create work in partnership with them.
You can often be seen giving helpful industry tips on your socials - as a successful artist, designer, curator, gallerist (...and the rest!) what advice might you give to any up-and-coming creatives trying to make a name?
Treat it like a job or it will never be a job. In my experience many emerging creatives either don’t have the business experience or desire to understand how to build good relationships with those who can potentially help their careers, such as galleries, collectors, brands. Being professional is paramount. Missing deadlines, taking days to respond to emails or DMs, and submitting sub-par work are all things that will make opportunities disappear.
Be consistent and make time to continually improve and make new work. Get to know your collectors and galleries because they are the people that will champion you and genuinely want you to succeed.
Unsurprisingly your walls at home are just as bright and exuberant as your own works. Who are some of your favourite creators that you turn to for inspiration?
The Spanish artist Grip Face is one of my favourites. His diversity and application is really inspiring. I hope to push some of my own work into a more experimental realm in regards to material and composition in 2024. David Booth (Ghostpatrol) is also really inspiring to me in a similar manner as Grip Face. His art-making diversity and the way he displays it in his shows varies from the usual white wall style, again something I will look to for my own work in the future.
Talk us through your ultimate studio session - what does a creative day in the life look like for Aaron Craig?
I'm up around 5am and after the usual morning routine (meditation, coffee, breakfast) I'm in my home studio by 8am. I start the day by getting on top of emails and then sort the day's job list from important to not important in my head (I usually don’t use calendars or lists) and then make my way through the list. On a perfect day I’ll have a painting ready to go and can just sit down and spend 7-8 hours painting. Seeing the idea become actualised in a physical painting is the most exciting part for me. If I have time to finish a painting in 1 studio session that’s magical because it means I get to start something new the next day. I’m a workaholic if you hadn’t guessed.
We have seen your painting practice expanded further into sculpture and printmaking - are there any mediums that you'd like to try your hand at or have yet to master?
I’ve wanted to make ceramics for some time. I took ceramics classes 5 years ago, but I was pretty distracted at the time so I feel like I didn’t get as much out of it as I wanted. One day I’ll revisit it.
I have to ask, do you have a favourite cartoon, comic or character? Take us right back to your childhood!
Masters of the Universe (He-Man) is hands down my favourite cartoon (and toy line). My favourite cartoon characters are Popeye, Doraemon and Anpanan. My favourite comic book hero is Thor (also the name of my son), and my favourite comic book villain is Dr Doom. I also have my own cartoon character named G.Grub that Im quite fond of.
What's next on the cards for you so our readers can stay tuned?
Regarding art exhibitions, I'm aiming for a duo-show with American artist Ezra Brown in 2024. I also have loose plans to do a small collaborative project in Japan before I begin painting for my 2025 solo show in Chicago.
We can't wait to see it! Thanks for chatting with us, Aaron!