I interviewed award-winning artist Aaron Cole, who also happens to be colorblind. His detailed surrealist paintings and illustrations capture the imagination and allow us to catch a glimpse of the world from his unique perspective. His work has been shown alongside that of Salvador Dali and Henri Matisse. He won the Scholastic “Gold Key Award,” and has done illustrations for Harcort and Sesame Street. Here’s what he had to say:
Cat Doss: how long have you been an artist?
Aaron Cole: I was a prodigy, drawing realistically in grade school, won a few school awards early on, and placed in “adult” summer art classes when I signed up for kids classes at the Corcoran in DC. I started actually selling work in the sixth grade.
CD: Who bought your first painting?
AC: My first client was my bus driver (I wish I remembered her name) — mostly animal paintings. Then, my teachers in the sixth through eighth grade started commissioning pet and people portraits. It was fun. Didn’t get in many fights as a kid — everyone liked the artist, ha. However, I may have been the only kid who wouldn’t eat peanut butter because I thought it was green.
CD: Let’s talk about that for a minute. How old were you when you found out you had a unique way of seeing colors?
AC: I remember being around four when I found out I was colorblind. Before school started, I was drawing green lions and pink elephants. Mom asked my why they were those colors, and I simply stated, “Well that’s what color they look.” I was subsequently tested, ha.
CD: What was it like having to go through that testing when you were so young?
AC: It was more interesting than anything- I think colorblindness explains my certain degree of indecision in general. Red/green colorblindness runs in my family. My brother and a few cousins have it. They are all rather artistic as well.
CD: Do you think it affected your decision to go into art?
AC: Probably. Having been ahead of my years in skills, I didn’t let it get in my way. A few portraits have been done in accidental shades of green, which had to be corrected . Maybe it explains a certain degree of codependency. My friends wind up being my seeing-eye monkeys.
CD: I remember when we met, you told me that my hair was very green, which I thought was really interesting because I’m a redhead.
AC: For some reason, red hair looks especially green. Some people are more green than others, you are a lovely shade of green. It’s hard to be racist, when everyone is green, too, haha. A pair of colorblind glasses was invented in the past few years, but I haven’t tried them yet. I saw them online, and they were expensive. I might try them at some point, but I think they are for sunlight, which makes me wonder if they are just rose tinted. Seeing the world in rose tinted glasses is good for the colorblind.
CD: I think a lot of artists have a unique way of looking at the world. Do you think your unique way of seeing colors affects your art?
AC: I think being an artist brings out the subtle OCD. Being artistic, if I stop and notice what colors things and animals really look, it’s still funny, sometimes, but I think maybe, having been a realistic painter, often, but not always, you look for truth, in the world? I’m really into conspiracy, and the possible reality behind the lies.
CD: Who are some of your artistic influences?
AC: I really like Dali and Pre-Raphaelites at the end of the 19th century. I really had a thing for the Bohemians (art deco- etc), which is probably why I fell in love with 60’s poster art, which was heavily influenced by that movement and it was super colorful.
CD: You’ve done a lot of amazing work. What are your plans for the future?
AC: I want to keep going–keep painting, keep doing shows, and get more into sculpture.
CD: Any advice for young, aspiring artists out there?
AC: Hmmm, just keep doing it; be very patient; get your work out there; knock on doors; and keep positive !
CD: Thanks, Aaron!
AC: Stay green!
(All art by Aaron Cole used with his permission and can be found on his Facebook page.)
Cat Doss is an artist/writer/filmmaker/performer living in the Los Angeles area. She was born in Huntington, West Virginia. A classically trained painter and a winner of multiple awards in various disciplines, Cat refuses to confine herself to one medium preferring to experiment with her work and investigate the workings behind the creative process. Her art can currently be found at Facebook.com/someassemblyrequired