Painting requires the artist to solve problems both physical and mental. It requires patience, a keen awareness of traditional elements, a deft understanding of color, and a mastery of composition so that the viewer’s eyes move fluidly and effortlessly through the subject and its environment. From abstraction to photo-realism, a well-executed painting offers visual stimulation that persists and warrants multiple investigations. Within the discipline, the female nude remains a perennial subject matter. Its ubiquity is unlikely to diminish, even in this digitally laden age. The painter Aaron Nagel pushes and commands the oils on his canvas in such a way that flesh appears supple and soft to the touch. Although female subjects dominate his work, all seem vigilant and aware of the viewer’s gaze. Deriving much of his learning and inspiration from old Masters such as Caravaggio with a deep admiration for contemporaries such as Jenny Saville and Kent Williams, Nagel uses the innovations of these artists as inspiration in pushing his technical skills.
Nagel’s technique methodically converges colors to create the perfect highlight or shadow on his figures. His bravado with the paintbrush is an admirable quality along with his commitment to painting what he believes is aesthetically pleasing and the work welcomes a multitude of complex interpretations. In “Blue Blood II,” the viewer’s attention is drawn to composition as the subject is placed in an unorthodox position. The blue blood that flows from the stigmata wound seems to drip off the canvas. That drop of blood hangs precariously from the tip of the left shoulder, flowing extraordinarily against the skin and guiding the eyes to the arch of the neck and lean of the body. Another noteworthy painting is “Senza Pieta,” Nagel’s rendition of French painter William-Adolphe Bouguereau’s 1876 work, “Pieta.” This painting suggests the Artist’s desire to summons an overt challenge to his practice, which usually involves a sole female subject. A consistent visual theme of women set against black backgrounds allows for sheer focus and a regal stillness. Black paint is another constant throughout his work: delicately painted against the body and hands as shown in “The Calming” which proves to be an exercise in capturing the brilliance of light reflected onto a subject. Such high contrast elements display Nagel’s painstaking attention to detail. Similar to “Senza,” the absence of an environment in “Shrapnel” mimics a body under siege. The pushing of the right foot slightly above the left calf — working in tandem with the hunched, crouched position of the figure — provides the perfect balance of depth and perspective.
The rich tones and stoic posturing, along with the re-contextualization of catholic imagery in his latest series, show his depth and desire to evolve. Future works offer promising and deeper explorations into coloration and light that I’m certain will leave a mark of precision on the canvas. Brimming with talent, an unrelenting art practice, and constant study, Nagel’s burgeoning career as a figurative painter is on the cusp of even more challenging and thought provoking work.
Published to Asterisk SF Magazine – Volume 2 Issue 2
Dorothy R. Santos (b. 1978) is a Filipina-American writer, editor, curator, and educator whose research interests include new media and digital art, activism, artificial intelligence, and biotechnology. Born and raised in San Francisco, California, she holds Bachelor’s degrees in Philosophy and Psychology from the University of San Francisco, and received her Master’s degree in Visual and Critical Studies at the California College of the Arts. In the fall of 2017, she will be a doctoral candidate in Film and Digital Media at the University of California, Santa Cruz as a Eugene V. Cota-Robles fellow.
Her work appears in art21, Art Practical, Daily Serving, Rhizome, Hyperallergic, Real Life Magazine, Vice Motherboard, and SF MOMA's Open Space. She has lectured at the De Young museum, Stanford University, School of Visual Arts, and more. Her essay “Materiality to Machines: Manufacturing the Organic and Hypotheses for Future Imaginings,” was published in The Routledge Companion to Biology in Art and Architecture. She is currently a Yerba Buena Center for the Arts fellow researching the concept of citizenship.