Painter Aaron Nagel and the Process Behind “Surface”

1xRun Thru Interview
Surface by Aaron Nagel

1xRun: Tell us a bit about this piece, is the original still for sale?
Aaron Nagel: This was the first piece I painted for my solo show in New York that opened in May, 2014. I started it in early January of this year and finished it about 3 weeks later. The original is for sale alongside the prints here on 1xRUN with some other original artwork. I typically stay up till 3 or 4am (at least) working, so I’m pretty useless before noon. Because of the model Staz’s busy schedule, we shot around 10am or something…long before I’m generally up being productive. That made for some really good light though, so I ended up using a lot of natural light in the shots. We were actually shooting on this art deco couch thing across from this bed with small windows above it high in the wall. the light coming onto the bed was super interesting so we shot there next. In the reference shot, the wall is white and the bottom of the windows are visible just above the model — both of which I changed for the final composition.


1xRun: What materials were used to create this piece?
Aaron Nagel: Oil on canvas.

1xRun: Tell us how the idea and execution came about?
Aaron Nagel: For the most part, all my pieces come together from working with models. In this case, I hadn’t worked with the model before, and I was shooting for the first time at my friends house in the Hollywood Hills. So I had very little idea of what we were going to come up with beforehand. The house, called “Lux Lodge”, is this fantastic A-frame tucked away in the hills filled with all this mid-century / art deco furniture — so I shot in every room, with strobes and with natural lighting, just to see what would happen.


1xRun: How long did the piece take? What was the photo shoot like?
Aaron Nagel: I think, start to finish, a little over three weeks. I finished most of it pretty quick, then spent some time working the bottom areas with a pallet knife, debating the background pattern, and adding glazes to really get the highlights to pop. As far as the photo shoot, I didn’t have much of a plan, and I was working with a new model, in a new location. It was all very experimental — I haven’t done much painting of environment; I’ve always just focused on the model and dealt with the background and surroundings after the fact. But I am very much interested in painting more complete scenes, so this shoot was kind of an introduction to that direction. The model also didn’t want nudity in the shot, so I was trying to strategically shoot around actual nudity, but still be suggestive. That’s always a huge challenge, not only because it limits poses, but because I don’t typically have a ton of costume and wardrobe options on hand. The shot I ended up wanting to paint did of course have a smidge of boob showing, but she graciously allowed me to use it.

1xRun: What is unique about this piece compared with your other work?
Aaron Nagel: As compared to my other stuff, this one stands out quite a bit I think. It’s a lot more intimate of a pose and certainly the first time I’ve ever painted anyone on a bed. Despite the low light, it’s not very dark in mood — kind of peaceful. I don’t typically paint models in any sort of pose that could be considered vulnerable…so this is certainly the closest I’ve come there.


1xRun: Why should people buy this print?
Aaron Nagel: As usual — because you have to have it. There’s also a little side-boob in there, and everybody loves side-boob.

1xRun: Describe this piece in one gut reaction word.
Aaron Nagel: Paint. [I’m a visual artist, and not the most imaginative one at that — going to stop pretending that’s not always my first gut reaction.]


1xRun: Each painting we’ve done so far captures a different beautiful female figure, who is this model and how did you start working with her?
Aaron Nagel: Her name is Staz and I was introduced to her by a friend of mine in Los Angeles. She’s a young model who works a lot — so I was really excited she was up for helping me out with a piece.


1xRun: Last year you made a move from Oakland to Los Angeles, how have things been since the move?
Aaron Nagel: Pretty good I guess — it’s hard to believe it’s been a year. After the somewhat turbulent move itself (all my stuff got jacked), it’s been surprisingly easy to relocate…I spent so much time down here over the years that there wasn’t a ton to adjust to. I do really miss the Bay Area, the environment especially. I much prefer the weather up there, and comparatively, Los Angeles is disgusting. I mean, people don’t live here for the views and the air quality and the (lack of) nature…so that’s fine. But I really miss fog. 

There’s a lot of tension in the Bay Area right now — the tech industry’s are driving the cost of living so high that artists are getting pushed out. That’s not yet the case in LA, and it seems that everybody is involved in something creative. I’ve met very few people down here that work an office job they absolutely hate, which is something almost required in the Bay Area if you’re an artist that doesn’t work at Pixar.


1xRun: What else do you have coming up in the next few months as summer wraps up ?
Aaron Nagel: Actually, not much. I had two shows back to back at the beginning of summer so now I’m just taking some time to work on ideas and get better. I’d like to get a couple months of experiments in before I start painting specifically for another show.

1xRun: Where else can people find you?
Aaron Nagel: WebsiteBlogTwitter + Instagram @aaronnagel