Now Featuring Aidan Koch
Artist Aidan Koch makes drawings, comics, objects and installations that are as attuned to inner states as they are to the outer world. Mixing the hand-rendered and the digitally-sourced, Aidan’s work captures the multiple details that collapse together into a personal, inner experience, and she renders them generously, inviting her viewer in without forcing a particular reading.
MH: I love that making books/comic books features so heavily in your practice. Can you talk about how you draw and paint when making work for installations and standalone work and making work for comics and whether there is any border between the book form and other forms for you?
AK: The boundaries between these practices are definitely something I think about a lot and would say has been growing closer together. I mean, when I set out to do a comic I’ve already constricted myself format-wise. I usually consider the length of the story and page size since I don’t do a lot of digital editing or changes and have an idea about how I want it printed. I feel like if my intention is to have a work be a reading experience, I want to really maximize the quality of that particular experience. Maybe without even thinking about it this way, it seems like the work usually ends up being more emotional, personal? I’ve been really hesitant to “show” comic pages because it seems like that would detract from the intimacy of that experience. To get around this, I’ve started making comics and comic pages that are specifically for exhibiting. I’m curious to see the ways in which I can utilize the format on a physical scale, making a comic that doesn’t necessarily have to be “read” or that you can absorb along with multiple materials and how they can inform each other.
I used to make a lot of “single image’” art though and worked often as an illustrator and kind of realized that it didn’t stimulate me. In thinking about where that image can fit in with a certain set of objects or as an object is really exciting though.
MH: What materials influence you? So many of your pieces have hints of iconography from other forms, the seashell, the eye, knotwork, medallions, that in other contexts could seem nostalgic, Victorian, but you seem to rework in ways that involve multiple layers of filtering through rendering, hand-working, etc.
AK: I come from a family of collectors. Growing up, there was always something my mom was after. Sometimes this meant spending the weekend going to flea markets and antique stores, sometimes it was looking for fossils on the Washington coast or garnets in the mountains. I definitely inherited this quality, but in moving around I’ve cast off most of the need to actually posses many objects. I think the idea though started influencing my work more after I got my first Tumblr. I’ve gotten in and out of being really active on it, but I mean, my Tumblrs, Twitter, Instagram are just all visual and linguistic archives of what’s on my mind and what I’m influenced by. I use them a lot as a basis for my work.
As far as specifically what I’m collecting in this process, usually it revolves around women, nature, paintings, water, mysticism…since most of this is existing digitally or as something I don’t have the ability to posses, I’m kind of recreating them for myself. It’s like building an alternative reality and language of how I experience the world. Most often this reality comes out in the form of sensitive, small, and weird things. Other than drawings on paper, I’ve been using silk, ceramics, cement, marble and have just been getting into bronze. These materials provoke a certain delicacy and for me working on small scales gives the objects a more deeply loaded reading. They’re kind of magical.
MH: What is your drawing process like? Perhaps this is an echo of the question above, but some of your drawings feel traced- giving the sense that there if a referent just off the page. I think it’s the simplicity of some of your linework.
AK: I love drawing from life or from references. I think it’s interesting to appropriate or reconstruct material. I mean, you have to be careful and considerate about what and how you work with anything pre-existing, but I’m interested in the way anything can be re-contextualized. I feel like, again, the Internet has totally transformed this for us, and our ability to see the various ways you can visually connect anything to build new meanings and conversations. In some ways this relates to comics in terms of how you place material on a page or in a space, things automatically begin to inform each other depending on the panels and sequencing. Simply by placing images together in an order or over a series of pages, we naturally interpret this as narrative. Therefore, the craft is in how you select those images and where you place them to evoke whatever feelings you want to give your reader.
MH: How do you plan an installation? I’m especially curious about how you plan for people reading images as opposed to objects, and you mix the two so freely.
AK: I’m an obsessive note taker and at least my last four notebooks are filled with installation thoughts and ideas. Little sketches of ceramics and set-ups, lists of materials, themes and thoughts. Even with the ideas that I never get to carry through its helpful in seeing where my thoughts are repetitive. If something keeps circulating back in, then its probably important. Part of it has been figuring out how to incorporate images without necessarily just having them framed, or having them framed, but having that also then somehow work as a sculpture. I guess I’m kind of going both ways with it, where I’m arranging these objects like I would put together pieces of a drawing and turning my drawings into objects…
MH: Can you talk about how you tackle issues of women and emotion in your work? I feel like they’re unfortunately still hard subjects to address head-on without freaking some people out, but that they’re also situated in a space where there is room for a lot of feminist self-invention, play and discovery, and that it can be serious and smart and funny.
AK: I think what’s been particularly interesting working in comics is that my audience is primarily males 20-35 who are just into comics. As I’ve expanded more out of that community its a slightly different demographic, but that’s definitely where I started. I was never identified as making feminist or even feminine work and there’s been many times where people have assumed I was male based on my name. I work almost exclusively with female characters and imagery though. I guess in doing this, my goal has simply been to represent women simply as humans. I like stories about women. I like drawing women. I think that their lives and position in society is so complex and dynamic and beautiful. In a medium like comics, it is extremely rare to find a story with a female who does not engage in something explicit, sexual, or degrading…. It’s really important for me in my work to create a space in which these things don’t have to happen. I want to feel like I can draw naked women without them being automatically sexualized. There’ve been thousands of years of the nude represented by male artists…and that’s a problem. I guess it doesn’t seem to cross anyone’s mind that this is part of what I’m doing because I’m not vocally trying to push an agenda. I’m not forcing anyone to see it this way, I’m simply presenting an alternative to what seems to be standard for the representation of women in art and comics.
MH: I love using the Internet as a giant image library, too. How do you feel about jumping from the computer to the page, or from the computer to a sculptural space? The way we “read” the Internet is different than how we read books and objects — maybe closer to how we might browse an ever-changing installation.
AK: I’m not sure it’s all so different. I have a lot of friends who I guess are “post-internet,” or “new media” artists and something I find interesting is the ease between mediums and content sources. I think our ability to “read” between tabs, windows, symbols, ties directly to our ability to read any other kinds of images we experience IRL. Especially as I’ve removed myself further from making a “single image” drawings or paintings, this relates more closely to the multimedia concepts I’m working with. It’s funny when considering so much of what anyone makes now is based off of content they’ve collected online, then made into a physical object only to be documented and returned to the internet. That’s where we experience most art now anyway. So even if the actual installation might be “static,” the majority of those who will encounter it will actually just have it incorporated into their regular Internet searches.
MH: Congrats on your recent show at Mission Comics! I really enjoyed the title, Mood Board, which suggests both teen collages and fashion trend prediction, and the work both seemed to acknowledge that sense of multiple influences, while being a lot harder to digest. (I am still thinking about the hand lettering in Comic Sans typeface.) Can you talk about that show, and what you have coming up next?
AK: Yeah, it’s nice to get to play with language. A lot of the show really focused on meditative states, or rather finding this place of emotional balance. I’m really interested in the human experience. It’s such a bizarre mix of anxiety, depression, love, play…. I did some research into astrological forums online as well as rose forums where people just share their experiences on growing different breeds of roses. I think when you start thinking about the things that calm us or that give us comfort, they relate most closely with natural elements, the things that ground us in reality, this planet. It doesn’t mean we have to go to the ocean every time life feels crazy, although I’m living at the ocean now and can say it has amazing effects, sometimes its just streaming videos of red pandas chasing each other or a serval cat jumping. Sometimes too, getting back to objects and symbology, it can be a shell from Baja that simply works as a talisman for a physical space where you felt comforted. A while ago, my friend and I had been working on a business that was a “cosmically inclined” commerce project, where the idea was even surrounding yourself with bumper stickers and keychains that had these really positive and supportive connotations was meaningful! This is something that I’ve adapted for my personal work as well. In some ways, it’s very playful, but also could be something that genuinely affects your mood or attitude. I tend to lean on the side of offering positivity to others.
As for what’s next…I just released my third graphic novel with Peradam in New York. I was working on it all through a three month residency in France this year, so it’s exciting to have it exist already! I tend to focus on comic work one project at a time, as it takes all my energy, but have something started that is twenty pages in right now. I’m organizing a small group show at The Perfect Nothing Catalog that is opening during the weekend of Comic Arts Brooklyn. I’m going to be in a show in Paris this month as well as something in Melbourne early next year. I actually just moved to New York a month ago, so I’m trying to let myself settle in a little I guess. I’m curious about the things that will find me here. Meanwhile, I’ve been playing with some new materials and expanding my studio practice.