Artist Interview: Eric Aho


Do you do something creative everyday? Do you have creative habits besides painting?

Generally, I get to the studio everyday, and put paint on a brush most days. In the evenings I typically work on essays and other writing projects. 

Do you have fallow or less productive periods? Or do you sometimes feel resistance to making work? How do you overcome it?

Of course, some periods are more productive than others. I typically have too many things (painting projects) going to allow for a fallow period. Travel gets in the way of productivity most frequently. I see resistance to something as a sign of fear, and that is signal to go forward, blindly sometimes. Work solves all problems. Work when it is easy; work when it is hard.

Why does artmaking matter?

Making art is a privilege not a right. Education is a right. Talented teachers should be leading students to encounter, investigate, and enjoy art of all types when ever possible. Art makes our lives fuller, ourselves better. Art can be palliative when illness, loss or pain strikes. But I struggle with the silly, hedonistic, inflated importance of a fashion and money driven art world art when our schools are crumbling, children are hungry, live in poverty, and lack medical care. Art doesn’t solve the problems of poverty or malnutrition, though it might draw important attention to these matters as it certainly has on crucial societal issues of race and gender. So, a complicated yes is the answer to the question. It does matter; it helps. 

How old were you when you made your first art? When did you think you could do this as a career 

I started drawing obsessively around age 10 when I noticed how shapes, objects, things, people in the natural work were arranged and felt the urge to put it down on paper. Drawing lifted me out of a certain direction of life in a rural New Hampshire mill town and set me apart. Drawing was my thing then–there was no talk of art or artists. My family didn’t know any nor had I ever been to a museum (later on a high school field trip). When I was 16 one of my art teachers suggested I attended RISD’s summer program ( using the money I had been saving for a Camaro hotrod). There, I met other kids from all over the country who could also draw and shared similar interests. I met artists, designers, architects. The world opened up and I learned something about being an art student. Still, the idea of making a career as an artist never crossed my mind –even over the next four years at the Massachusetts College of Art. Probably because I studied something rather impractical like printmaking ( so I could continue with drawing as a chief pursuit). I never took a painting course and only began painting when I moved to Vermont to teach painting. The artists I came to know while in art school were also teachers. The visiting artists I worked with seemed to be “institutions” themselves and were in another category altogether and while I learned much from them ( Leon Golub and Nancy Spero for instance) they didn’t have much bearing on my daily life. I was lucky to have extraordinary teachers and mentors with my professors. It wasn’t until I took a teaching job myself that I realized I might be able to sustain myself ( and eventually a family) with the sale of my paintings. Eventually, I left my teaching job and got caught up in painting as a life. I’ve referred to the “business" of painting an accidental entrepreneurship. No one in their right mind would think to make a business of art. The plan is lousy, the prospects maddening, the schedule insane. But it seems to be the way it goes. You make things because of some unnamed compulsion, and if people respond and buy them you can afford to make more…and so it goes. I’ve had to engage an additional talent to keep the business and the art separate. They are fundamentally incompatible.