We spoke with our site’s featured artist for this month, Aaron De La Cruz, on his technique and creative motivations while painting. De La Cruz is known for producing patterned murals at times evocative of the mosaic-like prints of late NYC-based artist Keith Herring.
De La Cruz’s work is in many ways the result of the ten years he spent working in the education sector, where he says he learned all about the underlying psychology of interpreting new information. He has carried this concept throughout his artistic career and designs many works that hold a deeper meaning through their ability to appeal to our subconscious senses.
How did you get into the work you do now?
After going to art school I came out with two responsibilities: to pay off my student loan and stay based here in San Francisco. I used every tool I had to stay creative and, by tackling one project at a time, things just fell into place over a ten-year period. I tried every marketable outlet, from clothing to portraits, to various other items that my style seemed to work within. After a while, I began to get tired of already knowing the finished result of the work before starting it and, at one point, I told myself I was going to create works that were purely abstract and created in the moment. At the time it was a dumb idea I thought, because I had to find a job that was non-creative to pay the bills, but luckily going with my gut has gotten me here today. I wanted to make San Francisco my home and after living here for 15 years, it feel like it’s finally happening.
Had you always been drawing or painting, and when did you feel you had really defined your style?
For the most part, yes, ever since a kid I was lucky enough to have an older brother and I challenged myself to be just as good at anything that he did. One of those things was drawing and I just remember seeing that I was catching up to his level at a young age, so I knew I’d be better than him at it one day. As far as style goes, I’d say around 1999 was when this style you see now really started to emerge.
You talk a bit about parameters and limitations when you approach your art. Can you explain what you mean by this and how you come to create them?
Up until the past year or so I’ve been using black ink on a surface. I enjoy the feeling of only having this one medium to create from. Working with the ink reminds me of the time when all I had was just a black marker to leave my mark and it challenged me to do the most with that one marker. I still remember when I was talking to an adult who didn’t understand graffiti and they said they liked the nice colorful pieces I created, but they hated the tagging they would see around town…not knowing I did both. I told them that without creating that tag, and having the courage to go out and do it around town, the colorful pieces would have never happened. When all you have is that one marker, all you want to do is get to the point where you can create a nice piece. I still find myself reliving that feeling when painting, but now I try to do it with
I still find myself reliving that feeling when painting, but now I try to do it with brush on canvas and bouncing around the surface I work within to create balanced work, which I hope takes on a larger vision. I’ve started to work with more negative space now, which actually seems like less work physically because I’m filling up less space on the canvas, yet more thought and time actually goes into creating the piece due to the composition.
Do you start with clear ideas or do you let the piece itself unfold as you go?
Yes and no. I recently started creating three-dimensional works using the vocabulary of designs found in many of my paintings. These pieces are all about balance and structure so there is a lot of back and forth with the process. I still approach many of my paintings not knowing what to expect until I finish.
De La Cruz painting a mural at the Diesel headquarters in Italy (also part of a collaborative project with Birkenstock), 2013
What deeper meanings do you find come through in your work?
Much of my work consist of elements from past family experiences just from the medium used, the titles, and measurements. Growing up, my immediate family (mom, dad and brother) provided me with the tools to create. As far as my own meanings go…I’ve been fascinated by the human psyche since I was a kid and the work I create now is still about that; the movement of the hand and body when writing, and how a person navigates through space. I also use color from time to time and, when I do, these colors represent people.
What are some of your favorite artists or paintings?
Always a hard question and the answer changes too often. For the most part, it’s visual, architectural and industrial designers that I take time to study. When I was involved in graffiti and taking it seriously I remember my dad showing me the work of Diego Rivera (along with M.C Escher) and explaining Rivera’s importance in the muralist movement. Since then, I keep in mind to involve the public in some way when I create my work.
De La Cruz’s permanent mural at the MACLA museum in San Jose, CA.
What future plans do you have for gallery shows and/or other projects involving your artwork?
This year is off to a great start. I’ll be in a group show at Mirus Gallery here in San Francisco in May, then off to Los Angeles to work on a project with a hotel partner, and then Cleveland for an exterior mural project for the Regional Transit Authority (RTA) system. In July, I’ll be creating my largest installation to date with the Long Beach Museum of Art. In between all that, you can find me hanging around SF with a baby in arms and two other little ones attached to my hip (haha)!