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Jumping colours

Updated: Nov 10, 2020

Aaron King-Cole is an artist and a Branch Manager for Gordon Harris Art Supplies. A finalist in the Parkin Drawing Prize (2013 and 2019), Aaron has exhibited in New Zealand and abroad and his work is held in the Wallace Arts Trust collection. He tells us about discovering magic eyes, his growing collection, and why he loves his lamp.

Photography by Madeleine Richards (2020)

If you weren't doing what you currently do, what would you be doing?

If I changed my decision to study art over 15 years ago, I would have likely enrolled in a music course. I played guitar in various groups throughout secondary school, but lacked the discipline to continue this alongside studying, and wasn't really interested in integrating music into a fine art context. I still enjoy music as a bit of a creative sandpit, I can muck around in private where mistakes don't have to be lived with or discarded, as with painting. It's very economical.

But if I was to transition now to a different full-time occupation, I would love to work with plants in some way, I wouldn't mind if it was conservational, commercial, or some sort of research project. I guess I can choose though right? In which case I would want to work in a huge greenhouse of cactuses, cultivating weird mutant hybrids.

How does your childhood influence your work now?

I don't know if this is strange or not, but the further away I get from my childhood, the more I recognise interests I had then, becoming apparent in my painting now.

During Primary School I remember having a set of Crayola "Jumping Colours" markers, the set came with plastic lens glasses to wear as you look at your drawing, some colours would leap forward and others would fall back with startling depth. At school I started seeing the colours on the whiteboard do the same thing even without my magic Crayola spectacles on. This was kind of unsettling but mostly fascinating, and really began to direct my interest in optics, perception, and illusion.

Later, I discovered "magic eyes" – those computer generated fields of colourful noise that reveal a 3D image when you go a bit cross-eyed. I learnt to recreate this effect by drawing something simple like a cube, twice, from slightly different angles. This became my school science project, although apparently it held little merit scientifically.

Even preschool aged, I remember asking my Mother where my "outline" was, because Roadrunner had one... So I guess attempting to disentangle imaginal artifacts from my self, whether anatomically or experientially, has been one of my oldest curiosities.

Where do you work and what do you like about it? I've been working at Gordon Harris Art Supplies for the last 10 years in the store nearest the Auckland Universities. Allegedly, the best way to learn is to teach, this seems to be true at the shop because during any day, for every enquiry I answer about products and their uses, I would learn many other ways people use their materials. There’s a lot of dogma and habit surrounding the use of art materials, and I love hearing people’s different ways of doing things.

What's the most indispensable item in your studio?

My lamp. I work almost exclusively at night, as dictated by our two daughters and my full time employment. I feel more autonomous and focused at night, no meals or distractions. I can continue to work as long as I need, for the low price of being tired in the morning. Sometimes the price seems higher.

What themes do you pursue?

I think one of the most persistent themes I’m interested in is translation, particularly infidelities or mutations in translating, what they can develop into and how we experience them.

The titles of my works are often a mis-heard lyric or an unconventional spelling.

Visually, translations can appear in my works as drawn gestures or motifs reiterating themselves across a surface, becoming a chorus of similar but varying forms.

I think of it as being analogous to species diversity and evolution, or the way echoes are affected by their surroundings, or any environment where ideas and systems can distort or produce new ones.

I might borrow colours or compositions that seem “functional”, being synonymous with various familiar systems like the layout of a newspaper page, or the offset colours of a 3D image, but without delivering the expected content.

With any system comes expectations, or at least vague anticipation if we don’t know what to expect, but people recognise even foreign systems readily. Maybe not what system, but that something is a system.

I think I'm really drawn to that feeling of recognising something that I can’t quite identify, being familiar with the unknown, or at least profoundly amused by the absurdity of how that sounds. It might be the difference between wonder and confusion, and a place where discovery seems imminent.

There is something really wholesome about finding and appreciating novelties within familiar territory, like a graphic pursuit of a gratitude list.

Aaron King-Cole, Hot Mesh, acrylic ink on paper, 2019

In two sentences, teach us something we might not already know.

Most people think your funny bone is called that because it feels funny if you knock it. It’s actually known as that because the bone is named a “Humerus“.

Also it’s not funny, it hurts! But you knew that. And that’s too many sentences.

Do you collect anything?

I've always collected one thing or another, and I've kept most of them. The collection which is currently growing the most would be my cacti and succulents, which has filled a 3m greenhouse and half the garden. I started about 10 years ago with a trademe purchase or two, and soon began sourcing seeds from international nurseries for harder to find species. There are probably 1000 plants now, all at varying stages of splendor and vitality – some almost certainly dead. I find it quite creative, being able to graft different species together and stuff, and surprisingly social – there’s a great number of cactus nerds out there like me that want to talk to someone about it.

Money is no object. Which priceless artwork do you buy?

This might be stretching the definition of artwork, but I would buy the Sagrada Familia in Barcelona. I've seen it from the outside but was too lazy to queue to go in, and have felt guilty about it ever since. No idea where I’d put it.

Aaron King-Cole, Fleshless, watercolour on paper,2020

Images courtesy of the the artist

Cool With Hue, watercolour on paper, 2019

Param, watercolour on paper, 2019


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