Fink objectifies Aspen
March 8, 2007
ASPEN In a Boston museum, painter Aaron Fink trains his attention on a tiny strawberry in a 19th-century painting by Martin Johnson Heade. At his home in Brookline, just outside of Boston, Fink begins to muse about the given name shared by the first president of the United States, and the current leader of our country. Some months later, Aspen is dotted with images of strawberries, or portraits of George Washington.It’s been like that for 13 years: The objects that capture Fink’s imagination gain an unusually prominent place on Aspen’s visual landscape.Fink has a show of new paintings at Magidson Fine Art, opening with a reception for the artist on Saturday, March 10, from 6-9 p.m. Fink estimates that it is his ninth or 10th one-person show in Aspen since he first began exhibiting here, in the mid-’90s. Outside of local residents, it is hard to think of another artist whose profile here even approaches that of Fink’s.The relationship between artist and Aspen started quietly, practically without Fink’s participation, in 1993. Tom Tavelli, who owned the old Tavelli Gallery here, got several pieces of work – including a huge painting of a tomato – on consignment from the New York gallery that represented Fink. The relationship between Fink and Tavelli went no further, as the gallery owner was winding down his Aspen operation.
That might well have been the end of the tie between Fink and Aspen too. Fink, whose work is collected in many prominent U.S. museums (including the Museum of Modern Art in New York, the National Gallery in Washington, D.C., and the Museum of Fine Art in Boston), could have turned his attention to Santa Fe, Scottsdale or San Francisco for representation west of the Mississippi. But Fink had influential fans who wanted to see his presence in Aspen maintained.One was the late John Powers, a Carbondale resident and nationally known art collector. Fink and Powers met through mutual friends in Boston in the early ’80s, when Fink was just out of the master’s program at Yale, and starting his career. Powers was a significant supporter for the young artist. “He got my art in front of a lot of people,” said Fink.When the Tavelli Gallery closed, Powers brought Fink’s art to the attention of Jay Magidson, who had opened Magidson Fine Art in Aspen in 1990. Magidson’s assistant at the time, Ingrid, agreed with Powers that Fink’s work should be shown in Aspen.”I said, ‘Jay, if you don’t take this artist, I’m leaving you,'” said Ingrid. “Because John’s taste in art was exquisite, and because Aaron’s work just made me go, ‘Ahhh… .'” (The consequences of Ingrid’s leaving her boss’ employ would have been profound; a few years later, Ingrid and Jay were married, and now run Magidson Fine Art together.)
Fink made his first visit to Aspen for the opening of his first show at the Magidson gallery in 1994. Since then he has come here every year, and Aspen has figured prominently in his makeup. He was an artist-in-residence at Anderson Ranch Arts Center for several years in the late ’90s, using the opportunity to experiment with the ceramic work that he sometimes shows. He regularly donates a piece of his work for Anderson Ranch’s Annual Art Auction. Fink works often with Basalt-based printmaker Craig O’Brien. He has given a series of presentations to the membership of the Roaring Fork Club.And in 1997, Fink found himself participating in the Aspen Institute’s Executive Leadership Seminar – “one of the last places I ever expected to find myself,” said the 52-year-old Fink, sitting this past week among his new paintings at Magidson Fine Art. “It’s people from upper-level management, the State Department.”An eye for ‘objects’Many of the objects that end up on Fink’s canvases come from the natural world. The present exhibit includes an image of a rose, as well as two recent passions, orchids and bonsai trees. His past is loaded with items from the produce section of the supermarket: peppers, grapes, strawberries, apples, cherries. But there are also images that might be called un-natural: Fink’s first show at Magidson featured a cheeseburger painting (from his sandwich series of work). The current exhibit includes a pair of portraits of George Washington. In between there have been pipes, steaming cups of coffee, hot fudge sundaes and portraits of faces that existed only in the artist’s imagination and on canvas.
The choice of objects may not seem methodical, but it isn’t random. “I don’t usually paint something unless I have an interest in it, that it strikes me in a certain way,” said Fink. With George Washington, he continued, “I was sitting around one day thinking about the state of things politically; the coincidence of George Bush and George Washington, and what the founding father would have thought of things today.”That might not have translated to the paintings of the first president. But soon after having those thoughts, Fink made a trip to Washington, D.C., and visited the National Gallery. The museum happened to be showing the works of portrait artist Gilbert Stuart, including his iconic images of Washington.Roses, too, stem not merely from a desire to replicate a rose. They, too, have a Washington, D.C., connection. When his father-in-law died several years ago, Fink went to his home in Washington. He found himself at one point alone, on the back porch, surrounded by bouquets of roses.”That was the basis of the series,” said Fink. “The rose can be a gesture of love – for Valentine’s Day – or for sympathy. And they’re intrinsically interesting objects, visually.”
It is the visual element that most drives Fink to his objects. When he takes up with a new item, Fink starts by making fairly accurate reproductions, to familiarize himself with the contour and texture. Often a new object will take over his professional life. He began painting orchids last spring, “and in my studio then, you would have seen nothing but orchids,” he said.As he works with an object, the art tends to become less of a representation and more of an exercise in imagination and painterly technique. Lines appear out of nowhere, textures rise out of the canvas surface, areas become smudged.”After I’ve worked with an object for a while, it becomes more of a vehicle for exploring the painting medium itself,” said Fink. “For me, I like there to be a tension in a way – that they’re about the object, but not about the object. I like that they’re not just about rendering the object in an illusionist way. There’s a contradiction – you’re creating an image, the illusion of an image. But you’re also dealing with paint on a two-dimensional surface. You’re scraping it and creating a physical space.”When I bring up an object, it raises a multitude of possibilities to me. I like to explore all those possibilities.”Stewart Oksenhorn’s e-mail address is email@example.com