I encountered the rich and deeply disturbing work of David Aronson in a strangely convoluted way. After having come on his work through several mutual friends on the Internet several years ago, I spent a long time one evening drinking coffee and going through his website, Alchemical Wedding. I was inspired and somewhat galvanized by what I found there, but this story probably would've ended there if it wasn't for the coincidences that came next. A year or so later, a friend of mine was given his Tarot deck in person at a convention, and showed them to me. I immediately recognized the work, of course, and asked for his contact information. We started talking in email that way, and even had some discussions about collaborating on a graphic novel series (which sadly never came to be due to circumstances beyond our control.) Since then I've bumped into him several times in my first Friday jaunts in Philadelphia, and then, yet again another coincidence, I put out an anonymous Alterati casting call on craigslist, and he replied to it.
When things like this happen in our lives, we can call them synchronicity, or coincidence, and attribute meaning to it, or not. But either way, it is strangely appropriate, given the nature of his work: psychological, often spiritual and troubling, with more than a hint of that mystery that we can genuinely call the occult, rather than the mere trappings of it which we now see bleeding into a lot of corporate, faux-counterculture milieus. After bumping into it so many times myself, whether by accident or design, I am happy to be able to introduce you to it.
What first motivated you to get into this kind of work? Is it the same thing now?
I've always been drawn to surrealism and the fantastic. I went to a commercial art school and majored in illustration, and after I graduated I started looking at painting and fine art and it dawned on me that I should say something much deeper and more profound about my self and my life with art. I could talk about things which couldn't be expressed with words - deeply buried, painful and ambiguous feelings, thoughts and experiences. It was a revelation which was very liberating. I started creating images that expressed the deeper parts of myself. Actually, it was and is more like allowing the deeper parts of myself, parts that have been silenced, cut off and disconnected, to have a voice. This kind of work became very cathartic and ultimately healing, and along with exploration and the freedom of the imagination, is really the main theme of my art.
I've noticed something with your work that I think is a common thread with most of my favorite musicians and artists. On the surface, the work is very dark, and some people get turned off by that because they don't really understand - or don't care to understand - the alchemy going on. I mean creating "dark" work for the sake of being dark is pretty adolescent, but really going to those places, exploring them, and clearing them out or transforming them - that's really as "light" as you can get, no matter how grim the cast off matter might be. It seems very alchemical to me. Are there any particular traditions that you follow or use as inspiration in this vein - alchemical, gnostic, mystical, and so on - or has it really been completely your own?
I totally agree with you. The idea is to bring the darkness to light in order to heal whatever's in the shadow and then use it as a source of power - you befriend your demons and then they work for you instead of against you. I have studied many esoteric systems of magick and mysticism and have practiced several. I have been involved in ritual magick for many years - mostly basic witchcraft with a bit of kabbalah and western tradition as well. I have also been a practitioner of hatha yoga on and off for a long time and have dabbled in kundalini yoga. I have studied eastern philosophies and religions, quantum physics, and jungian psychology, to name a few. I am a healer: a second degree reiki practicioner and integrated energy therapy master. I am also a certified hypnotherapist and do past life regression. To answer your question more directly, all of these things have influenced me, but I do not adhere to any particular path or philosophy exclusively. I subscribe to the chaos magick meta-model which basically says "use whatever works." A lot of my art comes out of my ongoing personal healing and transformative process (Jung's process of individuation) that I have been involved with for my entire adult life.
There's obviously many mythological themes running through most of what you do. But a lot of it seems pretty personal as well. Can you give examples of your process with a couple pieces?
Mythological stories are stories about archetypes - deep, collective, often unconscious cycles and patterns that continually reappear and play themselves out in the lives of human beings. I really don't have a scholarly familiarity with mythology, but often a myth I'm familiar with will resonate with the personal aspects of the art and so the mythological and the personal combine.
How do you get into the personal aspect of it? I mean do you have a means of bringing them up consciously, or is it something that just occurs naturally when you approach a blank canvas or screen?
My process is basically the process of the early surrealists: I allow images to arise uncensored from my subconscious mind and then put them down on paper. The meaning of them is often revealed layer by layer as time goes on and different people give me their interpretations of the work. Of course, sometimes I have an idea or theme in mind when I start working, but I try to get out of my own way and allow the piece to shape itself, and it often ends up becoming something very different than what I had first imagined. I usually don't have images fully formed in my mind - just vague impressions, feelings and general ideas. The process is akin to channeling and I'm often surprised at what presents itself. Sometimes images are based on my dreams. For example, the piece "The Book" from Shadows in Heaven is based on a childhood dream which remains vivid to this day. I'm still not sure what all the symbolism means, but the book on the dais is/was the book of my life, and in the dream I'm looking through it to find out where things went wrong. The women glaring at me probably represent the intense anger that was always flying around my house due to my parents' bad marriage. The dream was pervaded with a sense of abandonment and decay, hence the dilapidated interior.
A related question - What's the basis for your tarot deck series? Did you base inspiration off of other existing decks, or is the imagery more from your own imagination?
My tarot images are based on the standard Rider-Waite images, but instead of adhering to them verbatim, I used them as a jumping-off point and employed the process which I just described of allowing my subconscious mind to express itself. I am a tarot reader myself, and so I am very familiar with the basic meanings, the essences, of the cards, and I did try to retain those essences while at the same time allowing new and unique visual interpretations to present themselves.
Can you walk through some of your past projects, maybe what you learned from them - missteps, abject failures, successes?
The first project I ever did that got any kind of recognition was my Holocaust series. At the time I was experimenting with using a computer as a tool for making art and so the series is not very cohesive stylistically. Some of the pieces are much stronger than others. I think that if I did that series now it would be much more unified and each piece would be equally developed. I feel that my most successful project to date is the Shadows in Heaven book that I co-created with my friend Leslie Powell, a very gifted writer and poet. Our aesthetic sensibilities are very similar and her stories and prose-poems, which she created after I created the illustrations, mesh together with my images beautifully and in such a way as to create a sum that is greater than the parts. I had little to no idea what the images meant when I created them, so Leslie had to reach into deep parts of herself to write for them and she often ended up telling me what they meant and totally surprising me in the doing so.
What are you working on now?
I am currently working on a self-promotional piece in collaboration with a graphic designer that I am teaming up with in a kind of illustration/design studio type situation. There are five illustrations based on the story of Pygmalion, each one done in one of my different styles/techniques. I've also just recently been lucky enough to have someone offer me studio space to paint, so I am beginning work on a new oil painting.