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Up Close and Personal With Artist Aaron Sandnes

The LA-based artist opens up about “Desire Armed,” his new series of drawings on view at LAXART

Artist Aaron Sandnes made a splash in 2009 when he showed his futuristic photographic prints mounted on acrylic panels at LA’s Thomas Solomon Gallery. Shortly after that success, however, he took a step back to reevaluate his work. Now he’s unveiled the results of those two years of work in his show, Desire Armed, drawings based on portraits of the Parisian fin-de-siècle anarchist group La Bande a Bonnot at Culver City contemporary art space LA><ART (through December 22). Of his two-year hiatus, Sandnes explains: “I locked myself in my studio and gave myself the permission to do whatever I wanted to. Whether it was painting or building motorcycles, I did whatever I felt like.” 
Please describe your medium and your process.
My process is a bit schizophrenic though I totally have a sense of the direction I’m heading. I’m usually just trying to make sense of things that I experience, read, or imagine. Somehow making sense of things to me means making something that asks more questions. I consider myself a sculptor though I try not to limit myself to one medium. Right now I’m very interested in grease as a material and speed, alienation, criminality and punk as subject matters.

How did your show at LA><ART come about?

I first worked with the LA><ART team when I was included in the 2008 California Biennial at the Orange County Museum. Since then, there was always an offer to do something at LAX though I didn’t pursue it until I knew I had the perfect project for the space.

What about their space was conducive to showcasing your work?

LA><ART has a reputation for working with artists that aren’t afraid to take risks. It’s a honor to be recognized and supported by an institution as well respected and nurturing as LA><ART. Who else would support an exhibition of portraits of the first group in history to ever do a drive-by shooting? 

Where is your studio in LA? What’s your background?

I was born and raised in the valley not too far from where Rodney King was beaten up, which was a very pivotal moment for me. I grew up working on cars, making music and producing zines and fell into art by accident when I started studying at U.C. Irvine as an undergrad. I received my MFA from Cal Arts and set my studio up in a great spot just east of Downtown LA, in Glassel Park.

What do you like about living and working out of LA? 

Los Angeles is a complex paradox: It’s simultaneous hope and failure of manifest destiny; nothing beats the light of LA nor the weather; the collapse of cultures upon cultures is like no other; the vastness of LA can be completely alienating and yet totally conducive. I find these differences among others inspirational and the art scene reflects this. Nowadays, it’s much more than just sunsets and surfboards.
How has the art scene changed since you’ve been working? 
We can see this in the new direction the LA art scene as a whole is moving towards. Shows like PST or even the LA Biennial at the Hammer Museum, I believe, to be early shifts towards LA becoming internationally recognizable and accessible. Galleries like Kayne Griffin Corcoran who are relaunching their program with a European model in mind, or new programs like The Mistake Room directed by Cesar Garcia, are doing so with an international sensibility. I’m excited to watch and be included in this new direction.
What can we look forward to next from you?
Right now I’m working on a few exciting sculptures that I’m pretty stoked about. In January, I’ll be included in a group show on neo-noir, curated by Price Latimer Agah, exhibiting at Paradise Row in London. I’m also in the very early stages of working out details for a show that will be an installation/performance.