Interview with Aaron Li-Hill

Interview with Aaron Li-Hill


Aaron holding our print release "Casting Shadows"

Aaron, could you give our readers a bit of background on who you are and where you are now?

My name is Aaron Li-Hill, I am originally from Toronto, Canada but moved to New York about 3 years ago and am currently residing in Brooklyn. I am from quite a mixed background as far as ethnicity, I am Austrian/ Polish on my father’s side but he was born in Britain and my mother was the first generation born outside of China.  I was raised in California. I grew up in downtown Toronto, drawing and skateboarding most of my youth. This eventually lead to a passion in graffiti that, through mural work and character art, brought me back appreciate fine art in my late teens. I attended art school in Toronto at the main university for the arts after spending two years traveling, which I found equally as educational.

When did you begin to incorporate ideas of modern, fast paced technological developments and the effects this has on society into your work?

I remember being intrigued by this idea from quite early on but I can’t remember a moment it came into my work until I would say my second year of university. There was a piece called “21st Century” that was inspired by a Faulkner quote (one that would go on to inspire much more) "The aim of every artist is to arrest motion, which is life, by artificial means and hold it fixed so that a hundred years later, when a stranger looks at it, it moves again since it is life." I felt that to arrest this motion was to arrest the time we live in and in that piece I tried hard to voice the simultaneity I felt exists so heavily in our time. The mass amount of information being bombarded on us at all moments and the effects technology has in mediating this information on our surrounding environments. That piece and the ideas within it have somewhat sparked the trajectory I find myself on now.


Mural by Aaron.

Your work seems to be also a combination of many styles, done very well I might add.  Is this meant to reflect the saturation of imagery in our current society and the merging of it all?

Thank you. Yes, that is definitely one rationale behind it. I would also argue it has a lot to do with my background and upbringing that exposed me to different cultures and ideas. I have always loved the idea of the hybrid but I agree that so much of that sentiment reflects on our current times where barriers of space and time have dissolved and so many ideas and influences mingle.

Your installation work is often large-scaled work.  Where do you begin with something like that and how is the process different than say a painting?

The process is different in that the environment of the piece dictates so much of the installation. My process begins when I enter or choose the space where it will exist and find myself reacting to any of the elements within that given space. In the beginning stages I am concerned with the composition or flow of the work.  So any objects, boundaries or architectural qualities play a large part. The majority of the rest is prep work and intuition. But I would argue both painting and installations for me are a response to given parameters.  I see both as somewhat of a stage where ideas, objects and movements exist. In that way the compositional process is similar.

One of Aaron's paintings.

Many of your subjects seem to be in motion, captured frame by frame.  This makes me wonder: if they came to life would they exist in a digital form accessed from some information gathering tool or in a more organic, purely visual form?  Or perhaps a type of combination?

This is very sci-fi… I love it. This is something I have been thinking about and don’t want to reveal too many ideas. I’ll just say a combination of them both.

Do you use many digital tools to create your work?

Yes, at a few stages of my current process I use digital tools. I have always, to some degree used digital tools as most of my work is sourced from reference images which rely on the camera. Within the last couple of years though Photoshop has come to be a valuable tool in my process.

Could you tell us a bit about your print we released, "Casting Shadows?"

A mural I created with the same subjects inspired ‘Casting Shadows’. This mural was done in Brooklyn and loosely in conjunction with a show called Brooklyn is the Future. When creating this piece I thought about that idea, of Brooklyn’s Future, and especially the fact that so much of Brooklyn has become gentrified and that re-development and poverty cycles have played a major role in shaping this new and possible future Brooklyn. These two birds fighting, for me, speak to this process of being pushed out and of fighting for one's territory or space. The title ‘Casting Shadows’ is about this imprint that our societies are leaving on our environment and our psyches.

"Casting Shadows" our print by Aaron, available now.

Does film or pop culture affect what you create?

Yes, I would argue that film has a major impact on me but more as a medium and less from specific films. I am sure, if not positive, some films have influenced my work greatly.  But I would say more often it is snippets of ideas that come from a film instead of the whole thing. However, two films that greatly influenced my work, and me, in the early years were Baraka and Waking Life.

What about literature?

I feel literature probably has affected my work in a conceptual sense more and film likely in a more visual sense. Lately, one book specifically has really brought together and pushed a lot of my ideas. River of Shadows by Rebecca Solnit has been one of those books that has encapsulated so many of my ideas and inspirations and put into words things that were just floating in my head. This book speaks to the multiple exposure imagery I use invented by Eadweard Muybridge and it’s influence on our modern world. That coupled with Stephen Hawking's book Grand Design have been a huge influence of late.

Aaron signing "Casting Shadows."

What does the rest of 2015 have in store for you?  What can we look forward to in 2016?

The rest of the year has two main projects left for me. I am heading to Miami to create a collaborative piece with my friend James Bullough, where we are bringing awareness to ocean conservancy and climate change through a joint Pangeaseed and Urban Nation project. After Miami I head to the Dominican Republic for Artesano festival to create hopefully some site-specific installations and murals. Then I head back to Toronto for some much needed rest and recoup for the holidays with my family. In 2016 I hope to really advance my ideas, especially the scope, scale and impact of the installation work. 2016 is looking exciting, I just keep moving with what I am inspired by.

Aaron's Mural for Pangeaseed in Miami.

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