TALK SHOW WITH HARPER SIMON | EPISODE 3
Aaron Rose on Skate Inspired Art, the Rise of Shephard Fairey and BEAUTIFUL LOSERS
Aaron Rose is an artist, film director, curator and writer. From 1992-2002, he was the owner of Alleged Gallery in New York, which helped launch the careers of many of today’s top contemporary artists. In 2003, he co-curated the museum exhibition and accompanying catalog, Beautiful Losers: Contemporary Art & Street Culture that toured the world through 2009. Rose was also co-director of the feature documentary film Beautiful Losers, (Oscilloscope Laboratories) which began its theatrical run in 2008. He has also directed numerous commercials, short films and movies for television. His acclaimed documentary “Portraits of Braddock” (IFC), won the Golden Pencil award at the 2010 One Show.
In 2011 he co-curated the large-scale exhibition, Art In The Streets, which opened to record crowds at the Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles. Rose is also editor of ANP Quarterly, a free arts magazine published by skate/surf brand RVCA. His publishing imprint, Alleged Press releases monographs by contemporary artists. In late-2011, Aaron Rose co-authored (with Brian Roettinger and Mandy Kahn) “Collage Culture: Examining the 21st Century Identity Crisis,” a seminal book of social criticism published by Swiss company JRP-Ringier. His paintings have been exhibited in galleries internationally including Hope Gallery, Los Angeles, Postmasters, New York, Colette, Paris and Circleculture, Berlin. As a journalist, Rose’s writings have been published in i-D, Dazed and Confused, Purple, Self Service, Flash Art, and numerous exhibition catalogs. Rose is also a founder of Make Something!!,a D.I.Y. workshop-based art program for teens.
Innovative artist, writer and director Aaron Rose reflects on what inspired him to create his unique art movement that ended up boosting the careers of well-known pop culture figures Shepard Fairey, Spike Jonze, Chloë Sevigny and others.
Rose talks about growing up in Calabasas, 40 minutes outside of L.A., and hanging out at a record store called Moby Disk. His first interest in art came when he started browsing a bin in the store of punk and mod records. “I started looking through the punk records and thought that they were a lot cooler than anything else in the store,” he recalls.
“The graphics were just anti-parents, anti-school, like everything a kid loves. You know, anti-money, anti-government, anti-religion. There was a band called Reagan Youth, and Reagan was the president when I was growing up.”
He said he was into the West Coast punk scene for a while before it started to become too popular. “It started to become, kind of like the football players at my school got into it. So me and couple of my friends in high school started gravitating more to the mod scene.”
That scene spurred the trend he ended up joining – three piece suits and ties, raincoats with buttons and Vespas – and he describes himself at the time as a “valley mod.” The first piece of art he remembers producing was a mod-themed fanzine called “Topping Up,” which gave tips on where to buy cool clothes, information on new records, and had comics about mods and punks getting in fights, etc.
Rose discusses his Alleged Gallery, which opened in New York in 1992 and became a scene sensation. “When I got to be a bit older, I kind of got out of the super sub-culture thing and I got more into skateboarding culture a little bit. And I was skating a lot – not so much in L.A., and I moved to New York in ’89.”
He said New York was a perfect skating setting and he met a lot of people in New York through skateboarding. “A lot of the artists we started to show came out of that world. But I didn’t really know any artists.” Among those to come out of that early skate scene – centered in Tompkins Square Park – were Harmony Korine and Chloe Sevigny. “The art thing was always secondary, it was always more like, you skate, I skate, let’s hang out.”
But he points out that the Alleged Gallery was never set up as a money-making business. “It was just where we lived – me and my friends lived there, in the gallery.” The area was known for its pervasive drug use and Rose said his group actually started designing the heroin bags, the art for the stamps on the bags, in exchange for being left alone in the neighborhood.
Rose also talks about Larry Clark, director of the film Kids, and how the movie impacted the scene. ”A lot of that whole scene of people who were hanging out together, that was the cast of Kids, essentially,” he recalled, adding that Clark brought in a few well-seasoned actors, but for the most part, it was the same group of skater kids they all knew.
Eventually the Alleged Gallery ran its course and Rose said he really wasn’t successful as a manager. “Sometimes creative people don’t necessarily make the best managers, and I was really just one of their friends who got thrust into the role of being their manager – their gallerist, their rep, but I never was very good at it.”
On his first professional collaboration with Shepard Fairey, he said it wasn’t even an art show. “He was making skateboard films. He made one called Attention Deficit Disorder and we did a premiere of it at the gallery.” At the time, Fairey was just making stickers, including the widely circulated Andre the Giant design.
He speaks about his documentary Beautiful Losers, which follows the lives and careers of his artists and designers – including Spike Jonze, Shepard Fairey, Harmony Korine, Mike Mills, Barry McGee and Margaret Kilgallen – and ultimately allowed him to end an important chapter in his life.
“Beautiful Losers was a great way to close a chapter. It’s very rare in life that you get an opportunity to really close – sometimes chapters of your life just kind of bleed into the next chapter – so it was nice to have a situation where it was like, that is done,” he said. “It was good for me and it was good for the artists too. It was like, okay we’re grown up now, there’s a book, there’s a traveling museum, there’s a movie, we can now move on with our lives. Our 20s are over, and we’re into the next phase.”
On the continuing careers of the artists portrayed in the film, Rose said a major reason for their success is because it was always a tight-knit group, they were all friends and hung out together as well as collaborated artistically. “It struck a cord and it was very, very interesting because it’s the kind of stuff you can never predict, there’s no formula for that. You can’t learn it in school, you’re just in the right place at the right time.”