Totally digging Chicago-based Darius Airo's cartoon and comic-influenced paintings, which he developed recently during a BFA at SAIC. A fantastic interview, and make sure to check out the links at the bottom!
Tell me a little bit about you!
I am from the North side of Chicago where I recently finished my BFA at The School of the Art Institute. I am bred from Chicago Public Schools, where I wrote graffiti and smoked weed and seldom attended class. I maintained this model throughout my senior year of high school. Luckily, my partner at the time wrote my submission letter to SAIC while my Advanced Art Education Program professors at Gallery 37 (an off campus space for CPS students to attend art classes that are not available at their home school) pushed me to develop a portfolio and email the right people for financial aid that would allow me to attend the school. I got in and a month into my first semester I went to jail for a few hours for being high on drugs while spray painting shit in the middle of the day. I cleaned up and dove head into my education and geek out about painting all day now.
When did you first discover art, or realize you wanted to make it yourself?
My father illustrated comics growing up and I have been drawing constantly for as long as I can remember. I would get in trouble for drawing in class throughout my entire academic career prior to college (when I was in class) so I guess there was never an alternative to art making, just a lot of relief as I came to terms with pursuing it professionally, and that being a viable thing I wouldn't get in trouble for.
What ideas are you exploring in your practice?
My work approaches figure and image with the agenda of representing it eclectically, rejecting a temporal quality and embracing a handful of experience with some other psychology void of normalized constructs surrounding identity. Finding a space or way to prescribe a psychology to a de-gendered and de-raced entity that squeezes a bunch of people and places together. Thanks to art history. While these ideas shift, they ground my practice. Alternative imagery lends itself to informing psychology while art history functions as the ever changing tool that smashes apart and reconfigures my work.
What is your process like?
My work is environmentally responsive, an over-seasoned sauce made of everything I look at and interact with. Everything starts with drawing and must return to drawing as painting bares the studio. Drawing is the most important reminder and standard I set for myself in the studio. Sometimes things move quick, a static idea about an image comes out and could be worked through in a day while a battle with another could take months. I like working on one thing at a time. Prepping surfaces and materials for future works while a painting is in process is a nice way to breathe.
Do you have a mentor, or a piece of advice (or both), which has influenced your practice?
A figure drawing professor at SAIC told me not to make stuff I don't care about.
Describe your studio.
A pretty cold one-car garage on the north side of Chicago. It's my 3rd year here, I've spent summers painting here and this is my first winter giving it a shot since graduating and no longer being allotted a studio space on the 14th floor of a building on Michigan avenue. I have a space heater and a candle, I just got a bunch of pink fiberglass stuff that I like to think keeps in some heat. I found a bunch of astro turf in the alley last year and thats definitely my favorite addition.I think I'll have astro turf on the floor of every studio I ever work in. I mix colors in big deli containers, so my desk is stacked with them. I pin work on a 4'x8' panel and sit in a tiny chair by a tiny table and a speaker and look and listen.
What do you find most daunting, challenging, or frustrating about pursuing art?
Navigating capitalism while spending my time doing something I've convinced myself is non negotiable and not about buying stuff. Finding a balance between being in the studio enough and being fiscally irresponsible. I want to wake up every day and know that going to my big warm studio is going to pay my bills and I have nothing to worry about!! Thats kind of what we all want i think. It's hard.
If you could sit down for dinner or a drink with anyone, who would it be and what would you chat about?
I'd love to know how Frank Ocean wrote so many songs about me and my experiences with us having never met.
What are three words you would use to describe your work?
Funny abject picture
What do you do when you find yourself in a creative rut?
What do you love most about your medium? What challenges or surprises you most about it?
I was painting oil and wanted things to dry quicker, lines and edges to be sharper, color to be more graphic and opaque and gesture to be contained and made fun of rather than earnest and romantic. I switched to acrylic and started painting on paper and am in love. I am so happy with my materials they're my friends things are good right now.
What do you need or value most as an artist?
Cartoons and a studio I can smoke in
What keeps you creating?
I grew up in a house with a starving artist parent and was getting in trouble for making stuff until I was in art school. If i could stop I definitely would have! I would've gotten good grades in school and pursued a business degree or something, it'd be tight I'd probably have a salary.
What are you working on right now?
I just finished applications for Skowhegan and Bemis, during which I felt really obligated to make some strong, precise, and uniform paintings. Work that belonged together and was balanced, work that would attempt to validate another white male making work about things he likes. The weight of making the right work kept me fueled through my first Fall not as a student, but I've been really excited and open this last week in the studio. I made a gigantic and stupid charcoal/pastel drawing on terrible paper and ruined it with old fixative spray. My painting objective is less line but no more painting i think. Drawing-centric painting that doesn't rely on a graphic line. My first painting post-residency application is a figure on a pink ground holding an Iphone, they've got a green sweater and a crooked bowl cut.
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