I wish I could paint like Aron Belka. There, I said it. At some point every artist wishes they could achieve what another artist has mastered. When I first saw Aron’s work several years ago at LeMieux Gallery, it grabbed my attention from across the room. The painting was Market Woman and I remember thinking that this enormous painting of an Asian woman wearing a coolie hat was an interesting choice of subject matter for a New Orleans art gallery. More importantly I was blown away by the beautiful application of paint. The painting had both realistic and abstract qualities to it.
Aron Belka is a painter whose work has focused on a wide range of subjects. He has a talent for painting figures, landscapes and abstracts. It is hard to classify his work in any one category because he is a master at creating beautiful works no matter what he chooses to paint. Our team was incredibly blessed to spend an hour in Aron’s studio to discuss his work and artistic process.
NCM: Where are you originally from?
Aron: I’m originally from Salt Lake City.
NCM: What brought you to New Orleans?
Aron: I met my wife at Utah State University and we both wanted to get out of Utah. Utah is a beautiful place, but we wanted to see the world. First, we moved to Portland, Oregon for about 3 1/2 years. My wife works in Public Health and her career also took us to Albany, NY for a few years.
In 2004 we moved to New Orleans when my wife got her Masters in Public Health from Tulane. Eventually she also earned a PhD from Tulane in Public Health and teaches there now.
NCM: So you got your Bachelor’s degree in Painting from Utah State?
Aron: Yes, even though they aren’t really known for their art program at Utah State. I was actually a Fish and Wildlife major for awhile and ended up rushing through the Fine Art program in order to finish. The leaps and bounds that I have made as a painter actually happened after I left school. There has been a lot of self discovery for me as a painter.
NCM: How old were you when you started showing an interest in art?
Aron: My dad is an Architect and my mom is a music teacher. They are both creative people. My dad noticed that I was interested in drawing at a young age and taught me how to draw horses. That was one reason I chose to do a show focused on horses because of that early childhood experience with my father.
The show Call to Post ended up being about racehorses because I had a friend whose family owned a couple of racehorses. He allowed me to accompany him to the track.
NCM: Do you have any artistic heroes?
Aron: Jenny Saville was a huge influence. When I first saw her show, it blew my mind. She paints really thick and loose. When I look at her paintings, they just vibrate through me. Jenny Saville really inspired me to paint larger paintings.
I was finally able to paint some really large paintings once I got my studio in the Bywater in about 2014. LeMieux became my gallery not long after that. They have been very good about consistently selling my work. Not every collector has the space to really display larger paintings. But if I had my way, I would always be painting huge pieces.
NCM: What draws you to painting such huge pieces?
Aron: Part of it is just the way I paint, which is very gestural. I want to be loose, gestural, and sort of spontaneous. It’s hard to stay loose on a smaller scale. It’s easier to paint with more emotion on a larger scale.
I also want to make an impact and want people to notice my work as soon as they walk into a room. My goal is for people to have a hard time walking past my work without noticing it.
I especially want this to happen with my portraits because I am interested in working class people, which is a demographic that is often overlooked.
For example, my wife has done a lot of work in Sierra Leone in West Africa with the Ebola outbreak. So I have done a lot of paintings of people my wife encountered through her work.
NCM: How do you select exactly who you are going to paint.
Aron: It depends. When I painted the Working the Wetlands series, which was about the Louisiana fishing industry, I was hanging out in public places like the Vietnamese Seafood Market in New Orleans East. I would just take tons of photos with my camera. When I was taking the photos, I had no idea who was going to be in the paintings and who was not. These Vietnamese women were among those many photos and I decided to paint them.
I’m trying to put more abstract elements into my next show, which will be a landscape show. I’m very interested in the landscape between Golden Meadow and Grand Isle. It’s very flat with a lot of water and patches of land. Most of the pieces are going to be very panoramic.
NCM: Do you prefer a specific type or brand of paint?
Aron: I use a mix of different types of oil paint. A lot of the paint I use is made by Rembrandt, but it isn’t my exclusive paint. I prefer oil to acrylic because acrylic dries too fast. I usually paint wet on wet so that I can manipulate it.
NCM: I noticed that most of the portraits from “Represent” have a cooler palette. How did you decide which palette to use?
Aron: Well, initially I started to use reds. But the more I experimented with the reds, I just realized it wasn’t working. The background in each of those portraits is the same greenish blue. And the cooler flesh tones just worked in these portraits. Jenny Saville’s influence on me really comes across in these portraits.
When I first moved to New Orleans, I was actually only painting abstract art using palette knives. I wasn’t using brushes at all. All of those abstracts were very warm. They were based on aerial satellite photos of farmland.
NCM: How do you deal with negative criticism?
Aron: I haven’t received a lot of negative criticism. But I do think it is important to get honest critiques and criticism because it keeps you sharp. The way that someone perceives your art is always very subjective. Everyone looks at art differently. I don’t take offense if someone doesn’t like it because I am going to continue the path that interests me. I need to create the art that I am most passionate about.
It is important for me to mix up the subject matter of my paintings or else I am going to get bored. That’s why I switch between portraits, abstracts, horses, landscapes, etc. I have fun experimenting and trying new things.
NCM: Is there anything you wish you knew before becoming a professional artist?
Aron: I wish I had a better business sense. And I think most artists feel that way. I’m very lucky to have LeMieux Gallery representing me. They definitely earn their commissions from selling my work. Christy and Jordan work incredibly hard for all of the artists that they represent. It is important for an artist to be represented by a professional and honest gallery.
When most galleries are considering bringing on an artist, they will try out one piece in a group show. That is how LeMieux started working with me. Initially my work had been very abstract and they weren’t really interested in bringing on an abstract artist at that time. Jordan approached me and asked me to consider painting something that wasn’t abstract. So Jordan actually prompted me to step away from abstract and re-enter representation.
But if you look at my work, there are still all of these abstract elements within the paintings that I am creating now. I’m a painter and I am always going to be a painter. Painting is what I am passionate about.
Aron is primarily represented by Le Mieux Gallery here in New Orleans. You can also visit his website at http://www.aronbelka.com/