Sometimes artists can be painfully serious about their work, but Aaron Angell is not one of these artists. He was light, flippant and funny but somehow this attitude only seemed to give me a stronger curiosity about his work.
I chose to interview Angell based on the way in which is three artistic processes seemed to fit together, and because he works with ceramics, which seems like a rare medium nowadays. You can read the full interview on roves and roams.
When Aaron Angell tells me that he only likes working for solo shows, as in shows all about him, I know that it isn’t arrogance talking. I know this not just because he says so, but because it is clear that the three elements of his practice (ceramics, acrylics and wall drawings) talk to each other with the casual easiness of a complete oeuvre.
For Angell, although “chemical reactions” can be forced during the curation of group exhibitions, it is the “alchemical” reactions which occur between his works which he takes the most pleasure from: “It’s the perverse logic of curation, the alchemical bond between pieces which makes some pieces stronger for being next to one thing, or stronger for being obscured.” The decisions involved in curation may seem arbitrary to Angell but he can’t deny the tricksy way in which it seems to fit everything together.
Although Angell claims that he is not a ceramicist, and would never define himself as one, I think the process has affected him in deeper ways than he might imagine, all of his talk of “alchemy” strikes a chord with the “crazy glazes which can suddenly atrophy in the kiln” transforming black to yellow. Even with his methodical acrylic paintings, which are, “totally in contrast to ceramics” and “not sexy at all”, Angell uses a processes of flicking thousands of layers of paint with a toothbrush onto a surface which means that the outcome is always unexpected. There is an element of experimentation in everything.
When I ask Angell whether there is any intentional humour in his work he is very dismissive, he isn’t interested in the kind of ‘artist’s joke’ which only requires the smug acknowledgement of an ‘in-joke’; “If you look at medieval woodcuts, they are so shonky, they aren’t supposed to be funny but they are- everyone in them looks so daft and silly- if I’m trying to channel any kind of humour it’s that accidental humour.”
I couldn’t have found a better metaphor for the root of the laughter stirred by Angell’s work if I tried. Load up the CV page on Angell’s website and a folksy little jig will begin playing, accidentally do this in public and you won’t be able to restrain a little giggle. It is a bit silly. The spirit of daftness works its way into everything Angell does, whether it’s the “piece of piss” sculptural process of ceramics he plays with or the inspiration he takes from 80s war games; amused by the nerdy guys in games workshops, he admits that his ceramics “get increasingly like old models I used to make”.
The really interesting thing about the harmony and ‘alchemy’ of Angell’s work is that his three processes have such crazily diverse roots. Angell is influenced by a whole phantasmagoria of cultural curiosities. While the wall drawings are inspired by dilapidated religious paintings from the 11th and 12th century, Angell also cites West German pottery, folk music, British Psychadelia of the 60s and 70s, Albion and the idea of a sentient British landscape, as influences. He’s joyfully indiscriminate, but no single strand is necessarily identifiable in the final creation. They are all thrown into the kiln in a melee of personal kooks and obsessions.
Angell has only been working with ceramics for a year so the process is developing very quickly, but I can tell that he is enjoying the opportunity for experimentation: “Ceramics look cool. You can have anything you want and turn it into stone over-night. I really felt that it was a fundamentally nice sculptural process.” Without any facilities at the Slade, Angell snuck back into his secondary school for a little training from the ceramics technician and has been playing with the medium ever since. Making around 15-20 pieces during every period in the studio, Angell admits that aspects often transfer between ceramics when they are still wet; the process is always expressive.
Behind all of the flippancy of his experimentation in the ceramics studio, Angell is passionately polemical about the process: “I’m very opinionated about what ceramics should be. I think ceramics should be treated democratically as a sculptural material rather than as a craft. I think it’s such a basic ancient technique, like drawing or something like that, that it shouldn’t be restricted to the artisan.”
Next year he hopes to set up a studio in South London where other artists will also be able to benefit from the facilities, “Basically there is no provision for artists in London working with ceramics any more, there’s a few people with small private kilns who will let you use their space, but it’s awkward to work in somebody else’s space. Or you’re working back in that craft world, among people making teapots. It’s going to be a resource for artists.”
With the casual beauty of his acrylics recalling pre-historic works of art and his dystopian glazed ceramics, Angell seems to transform the reverent gallery space into a quasi-religious shrine to a surreal mix of untraceable influences. There is no better maxim for an artist to live by than pleasure, and Angell knows how to inject all his work with a healthy dose of fun: “I realised that if I was making what I wanted, and definitely knew it was what I wanted to be doing at that moment, then that didn’t need an explanation.”
Aaron Angell will be included in 20/12 London Art Now at National Trust property Lodge Park, Sherborne Park Estate (26 September – 7 October 2012 and also has a forthcoming solo show at Rob Tufnell