KOKOMO, Ind. —Sometimes Aaron Pickens spends days, even months, on one piece, focusing on fine details and the message he wants the viewer to perceive. But at other times, he just wants to get something on the canvas, in a burst of creative energy.
In his new exhibition opening Wednesday (August 31) at Indiana University Kokomo’s Art Gallery, Pickens, assistant professor of new media, features both ends of that spectrum.
Pickens named his exhibition Split P, reflecting that the 52 paintings included essentially make up two exhibitions in one: Toy Tableaux, a series of still lifes created during a period of months, and Plein Air, work created under the pressure of time and the elements.
The exhibit opens with a reception from 4 to 7 p.m. Wednesday in the Art Gallery.
“The first is elaborate still life paintings that touch on a range of topics,” he said. “A lot of it is self-reflective, and other parts are commentary on things that are happening in the world. The second is little landscapes, where I’d go out in the local area, set up my easel, and paint directly from observation.”
He noted that the plein air paintings took anywhere from 45 minutes to three hours, while Blockhead, one of the toy paintings, evolved over three years.
His toy-based work includes a sub series that features eight ominous toy portraits surrounding a three-dimensional self-portrait, showing how a fear of belittlement creates self-censorship, leading to fluctuations between self-confidence and self-doubt.
“It uses self-deprecating humor to explore the feelings associated with constant evaluation and critique,” Pickens said. “The use of playful imagery is intended to reinforce a feeling of inadequacy, and a childlike naivete when judged by others. This type of ridicule has become ubiquitous, especially if one has a point of view that deviates from the dogmatic positions held by many, and institutions of authority.”
The plein air paintings counter the slow pace of the toy still life paintings, as they are created with a sense of urgency, depicting a specific place and moment in time.
“Every painting is an adventure in battling the elements, simplifying the complexity of nature, and faithfully recording color relationships to describe an accurate sense of light,” Pickens said. “These compositions evolve organically, without premeditation or any conceptual agenda. Working this way yields to a sincerity in the paintings that is difficult to achieve otherwise.”
Pickens said having an exhibition in a place accessible to his students gives them a chance to view him not just as their teacher, but as a working artist.
“I think it’s important they know we have a creative practice, that our insight comes from a place that is current,” he said, adding that the outdoor art class he taught this summer showed the challenges of the profession.
“This is a discipline that takes a lot of time and commitment, and being willing to fail,” he said. “Things will get stacked against you in terms of the lighting, or the weather changing drastically in a short amount of time. You can either pivot and work through it, or say, ‘This is my best attempt,’ learn from that experience and move on.
“I identify as a blue-collar artist,” Pickens continued. “I just have to work. I have to make. That’s what I know. Over time, it will help me improve not only technically, but in terms of how I communicate my ideas.”
The IU Kokomo Art Gallery is in Upper Alumni Hall, in the Library Building, 2300 S. Washington Street. Admission and parking are free.
Gallery hours are 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Monday and Tuesday, 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Wednesday and Thursday, and closed Friday, Saturday, and Sunday. Follow the Gallery on Instagram @iukartgallery.