In Conversation with Aaron Lowell Denton
In light of our latest collaboration with US based artist Aaron Lowell Denton we caught up to chat about how the Upland, Indiana born visual artist entered into the music world and ultimately found himself designing original posters for the likes of Tame Impala, Leon Bridges, Bill Callahan, Shintaro Sakamoto, Connan Mockasin et al.
So you’re based in Bloomington, Indiana, did you grow up there as well?
I grew up in Upland, Indiana, which is a tiny little town in northern Indiana. Nothing to note though, super small town. Bloomington is one of the only places you go if you want to do anything artistic or creative, so I came here for school ten years ago and have been here ever since.
And you were studying art there at Indiana University?
Yeah, not initially though — I studied English literature. I liked writing and I don’t know, I didn’t really have any direction as to what I wanted to do. For about two years I was English Literature until I took an Art History class to fulfil credits, which I really liked so I started taking more art classes and got to the point where I could get an Art History degree so by the end of it all I finished up with both.
When you came out of university did you head straight into your own art making?
Well I came to Bloomington because I was playing music and there was a really great scene there. After I graduated college, I thought I’d try play music for a couple of years, so I was touring a lot for the first two years with a couple of different bands. I was serving tables at this vegetarian restaurant at the time as well just downtown, and it was cool because everyone there including the owners were all in bands so you could take off as much time as you want. Then I started throwing a bunch of shows in my hometown and also started making the posters for those shows to promote them around town.
There was this venue in town called The Bishop that we played at all the time and the promoter there started to pay me like $50 to do posters for some of his bigger shows and it was so crazy and wild to do that because I’d been doing it for free for such a long time. I don’t even really know what happened after that, I just got way more into doing it. The text and information on the posters just kept getting smaller and smaller and the artwork began taking up more and more space on the posters. Like this is mainly about the art, and making the art and I was spending a stupid amount of time doing them.
Then where did that lead you next?
Well then I got Instagram. I started putting my artworks on there and random people started asking me to do posters; friends of friends and that kind of stuff. I just started doing a lot of work to the point where I was getting paid a little bit and working a lot at it, working like 70 hours a week with the restaurant too. Eventually I thought, oh I’ll take three months off and then I’ll go back to the restaurant, and then, I just never had to go back. So yeah, been doing design work full time since then.
Looking back it’s pretty clear you spend a pretty large amount of time and energy on each of your works, and that’s regardless of whether it’s for a one-night show or a full album. I wondered if it’s an intention of yours to give each work the same love and time?
I think that I was really just enjoying making art and also that I liked having the event as a reason to do it. At that period of time, like really early on when I was throwing a show, I was just so stoked on the band that I was really nervous no one was going to come to the gig so I would really try to make the poster go above and beyond and place it everywhere in town and just make people take a second look at it, show people you care about this so they can take it more seriously. Especially at that time when I was working at the restaurant still and also touring it was ridiculous to put in like four hours work on a poster. I just couldn’t stop though; I would spend like 6hrs working on a poster for some show that like 40 people would come to. And yeah, I don’t know it kind of spiralled out of control. I love being on Photoshop and messing around and just finding new ways, it’s so exciting, I still love doing it.
I like the dialogue between making a piece of art that’s for a thing that’s going to bring people in the same room together, that’s a really powerful thing and I like that I’m kind of putting a face to it. I’ve always taken a lot of pride in that. I liked the idea that my art was connected to this real-life event. People are savvy you know, when they see something and they’re like ‘it doesn’t seem like someone put a lot of thought into this,’ so they’re not going to go.
Looking at your art and posters, obviously there are influences from certain trends and eras but there’s nothing really out there that is similar. When you look at your work it’s in its own dimension kind of hanging out so it’s cool to see your interpretation of popular bands that we all listen to.
Yeah I think it comes from a healthy amount of ignorance to what I’m doing. I’d say I have a strong taste in visuals, you know, I’m a big consumer of art, I love museums and I love looking at art so I’d say I have somewhat attuned sensibilities but I think that’s just coupled with a wild desire to just try stuff on these programs. I’ve never really been taught how to do it so it’s kind of just allowed me to do my own thing.
Do you see yourself moving out of the music world at all with your art making?
I do, I have a strong attraction to type and working with fonts and stuff. The show poster is an ideal medium, but I definitely want to. I do a healthy amount outside of the music industry, but I’ve really been tied to it. I feel like there is a ceiling to be hit with music stuff, from a business perspective. If you start doing work for people you don’t respect then I think you’d start hating your job, and like what’s the point, like I’ll just go work at the restaurant again. In America it’s this thing like your job is supposed to be super hard and your supposed to spend all your time doing it, supposed to be stressful – but I don’t think like that.
The music industry has been so chill with me. People don’t tell me what to do, they give me creative freedom and bands are super respectful because they understand that creative process, like they wouldn’t want someone telling them what they should sound like. I’ve worked in the fashion industry before, and you probably don’t know about that because I don’t share work from those because it’s not even mine by the time it’s done. It’s like ‘designed by committee.’
To answer your question though, I would love to do more editorial work, more fashion stuff like with what we’ve done, where it just kind of compliments my style in that realm.