As the founder and director of Alleged Gallery, Aaron Rose has turned his love for curating art into a enterprise for innovation–with his Alleged Press producing groundbreaking books featuring the work of artists such as Chris Johanson and his ANP Quarterly becoming the quintessential magazine for art purists. But Rose’s palette of vision is not limited to the canvas, as he was one of the producers behind MTV’s famous on-air promos and short films in the early 90’s–helping to guide the careers of filmmakers such as Rita Ackerman and Harmony Korine. With his documentaries, Beautiful Losers and Become A Microscope, becoming mainstays on the independent film scene, and his work with Kanye West inspiring future artists, Aaron Rose explains to Format Magazine why we shouldn’t call his body of work a movement and how New York was a cooler city when is it was dirty.
â€œDid we create a movement? I guess that depends on who you ask. I’m reluctant to label anything. We made stuff. End of story. There were no goals except to make more stuff.â€
Format: What was your first introduction to art? How has your view of art shaped and progressed over the years?
Aaron Rose: The first time I ever really took notice of art, or maybe I should say was moved by the “power” of art, was from looking at record covers. During my teenage years. I spent all my free time at the record store and all the punk/mod/ska record covers were always super awesome to me. When I got out of high school, all I wanted to do was get a job designing record covers. In terms of how my view of art has changed over the years, in terms of aesthetics I can’t say it has. I’ve obviously learned a lot about the business side of art, how to do things more professionally maybe? But when it comes to actually looking at art, and this might sound strange, but it’s pretty much the same for me now as when I was a kid. It has to make me feel something. Inspire me to action. It has to be original. You know, all the stuff that made those records look so cool.
Format: What was it like being involved in the New York arts scene during the early ’90s? Is there any possible way to describe the environment?
Aaron Rose: I guess the major difference between the way New York was then and the way it is now boils down to money. When I first got to New York, you didn’t need money to live there. You could exist really cheaply right in the heart of Manhattan…and because of that it was easy to experiment with things. As a result of that, a cool scene existed. All kinds of young people like myself got together in one place and just went off; that’s the best way to describe it. That same sort of thing is still happening, just not necessarily in New York City. Also, New York was really dirty; especially the Lower East Side…..people were afraid to go there. It gave us this feeling of being really rebellious….criminal even. That’s funny in retrospect because all we were doing was making art, but it sure felt like we were being bad then.
Format: Talk a little about your Alleged Gallery. Did you know that you were creating a movement?
Aaron Rose: Did we create a movement? I guess that depends on who you ask. I’m reluctant to label anything. We made stuff. End of story. There were no goals except to make more stuff. Pretty much the same story now actually.
Format Magazine: It seems as if Beautiful Losers is an enigmatic melting pot of Basquiat, CBGB, Zoo York and golden era hip-hop. Can you talk a little about the movement and what led you to create your documentary?
Aaron Rose: In terms of the documentary, it just seemed like the right thing to do. We knew we had a good story. The artists, designers, directors, musicians who were involved in that scene are such an amazing group of people. They all have different kinds of personalities than what one would usually associate with “artists”. They’re nice people. They started making their stuff because they had to, without careerist motives. The only motive was fun and getting better. As a director I thought that was a pretty good message to put out into the world, so I could justify making a film about it.
Format Magazine: Since moving to Los Angeles, have you noticed a stark contrast in the artistic culture compared to NY?
Aaron Rose: The whole world is so connected now that I don’t know if it really makes such a difference where you are geographically. I guess most of the business of art, at least in the physical sense, is still based in New York, but I’m
not even so sure that that will be true in the coming years. Everything can happen everywhere and that’s awesome. So I guess the answer to your question
would be no.
Format Magazine: How are you able to switch modes artistically? Are there different processes you go through when you are writing, making films, or curating art shows?
Aaron Rose: Believe it or not my process does not change that much medium to medium. Everything pretty much starts out as a scrawled idea in the little notebook I carry in my back pocket. I’ve gone through literally hundreds of those notebooks. Things just get developed. A rough sketch for a painting, a song, a film, an exhibition, a text sometimes starts from a single word I write down. From there I usually cast a really wide net and just build something really thick and the rest of it is just editing and editing it down to it’s purest form. That process pretty much applies universally for me.
Format Magazine: There was a New York Post article about a year ago that detailed your despondency about the CW Network’s Gossip Girl character that shares your name. Can you divulge a little into that situation and if the character was indeed based on you?
Aaron Rose: Yes. The character was supposedly based on me. I don’t want to go into it though. Let’s just say I know some people who know some people who work on that show. I was bummed at the time, but now I just think it’s funny.
Format Magazine: Talk a little about the Undefeated Billboard Project that you have created with Nike. How did that come about and did you design any custom kicks for the project?
Aaron Rose: James and Eddie from UNDFTD [UNDEFEATED] approached me in 2002 about starting the project. It was right when the first store opened. Man has that been a fun project to work on!! It makes me so happy that it has survived all this time. It’s become a real part of the fabric of Los Angeles now and that’s what I always hoped it would be. The idea was that we were creating a visual glitch. Something that snaps people out of their daily routine of consuming the barrage of advertisements. I think it works in that context. Surprisingly we never made a shoe around the billboard exactly. We’ve done boards in conjunction with shoes that were being released by certain artists, but we have never made one just about the billboard.
Format Magazine: What was the inspiration behind your new film, Become a Microscope-90 Statements on Sister Corita? Are there any more film projects on deck for you this year?
Aaron Rose: I guess the real inspiration behind Become A Microscope stems from the fact that I’m such a huge Sister Corita fan! [ Ed’s Note: Sister Corita was an educator, activist and artist who was a mainstay pop artist in the 1960’s. She also was a catholic nun.] The title refers to a lesson that Corita always taught that in order to really “see” the world you have to break it down into tiny little pieces. I totally agree with her. We structured the film in the same way. In the film we are telling her life story, but the way we approached the process was to come up with 90 statements about her life that flash on screen over the course of the film. We give the audience clues to what these statements are, but it’s really up to the viewer to figure it out. We constructed the film so that there are really two different films going on at the same time. One is a pretty classic documentary with interviews and archival footage and the other is a much more abstract art film based on the statements.
In terms of new projects I’m always got a few things I’m working on in secret. I guess my latest project is working for Weiden and Kennedy, which is an advertising agency based in Portland. I’m actually living in Portland now developing an on-line television channel for them called WKTV. By the end of the summer I should have ten original TV shows produced, shot and edited in order to launch in September. It’s a ton of work and also a ton of fun.
â€œWhen I got out of high school, all I wanted to do was get a job designing record covers. In terms of how my view of art has changed over the years, in terms of aesthetics, I can’t say it has.â€
Format Magazine: You and Kanye West have created an educational initiative called Make Something! Is this a way for you to offer your advice and open up the illustrious doors of art to the next generation?
Aaron Rose: I guess that’s one way of putting it. We’ve been doing one-off Make Something!! workshops with high school kids since last summer. We’ve taught over 1800 kids so far. It has been such a wonderful experience that we decided to try to build a permanent school. That’s when the Kanye West Foundation stepped in to help. I suppose Make Something!! is about opening the doors to creativity and art to the next generation, but it also serves a very important function in our community.
Most public schools don’t even offer art curriculums anymore, so kids don’t even have access to that kind of opportunity or career option. We are hoping to be able to supplement that, so that those kids can have the opportunity to learn to think creatively. I believe that creative thinking and a DIY approach can help you succeed in any venture you choose to embark on in life, whether you end up being an artist or not. I hope Make Something!! helps young people to cultivate those skills so that they can follow any dream they choose.