This month's featured artist is Aaron Cahill. Aaron is a graphic designer, photographer, and DJ with an affinity for math. He has animated projector sequences for musicians, and is the man behind the wavy digital aesthetic of Instagram juggernaut NGHBRS.
Aaron is currently working on an art book based on his recent travels in Tokyo, but he was kind enough to take a moment to share his thoughts on social media, inspiration, and process. We could've gone on and on – we didn't touch on his hypnotic, glitch-driven animations, for instance, which I highly recommend.
Our interview begins with the story behind the NGHBRS name, itself a fascinating study in searching for creativity in the physical world, and wraps up with a bit about what to expect from his upcoming show. So, without further ado, I give you Aaron Cahill:
TL: Aaron, thanks for doing this! First off, your instagram handle @nghbrs is huge. Can you tell me a little bit about NGHBRS? What is it? Was there an inspiration behind the name?
AC: Thanks, dude. It’s my pleasure. I used to go thrifting, looking for old science annuals/textbooks for $0.25. You know, stuff that’s totally useless, full of antiquated science and outdated technology. I’d use these for collages and illustrations.
Mostly scientists experimenting on lab rats – all in the name of progress. The name was pulled from an old 1950’s social studies book titled, "Your World and Mine: Neighbors In The Air Age." The title was how the world is smaller now with commercial air travel. Now everyone is your neighbor. I thought that Neighbors in the Air Age sounded lofty. Poetic. But mostly I was using it as a sarcastic statement about society. All the messed up events that happen in the world. Things that we do to each other.
Eventually, I shortened it. And I’m trying to be more positive with my art work. Create something that reflects that name. The art that I create now explores how our perception preserves the past.
TL: How have you grown the brand to this point? And what advice would you give to upstart artists about the jungles of social media?
AC: Honestly, I’m not into Facebook, but I was drawn to the visual nature of Instagram. I think a lot of artists are. The medium made it easier for me to connect with other photographers and designers. It gave me the opportunity to work alongside them as well. That’s where all of my success comes from – collaboration.
Early on it was all edits done on an iPhone. We’re able share our processes – which apps do what and see how far they can push a pixel using a phone. I’ll share their work with my followers and they do the same. It kinda grew from there.
The biggest piece of advice I have is figure out your voice. With social media people are looking for authenticity. You can see how my style has developed over the years. But it’s still my own.
TL: Much of your work combines strong design sensibilities – geometries, abstractions, color – with photographic elements. What draws you to this style?
AC: In high school, I was studying to be an engineer. So I took lots of math classes. Algebra, geometry, calculus and logic classes. That’s something that I’ve always had an interest in. And it’s something that has stuck with me. As a graphic designer, I have all of these elements at my disposal to communicate a certain message. As an artist, I naturally want to combine all of these things to pose a question.
TL: How do you typically start a piece? Tell us a little bit about your process.
AC: With design, I’ll concept, sketch and plan things out. However, these works begin as an exercise in composition. I try not think too far ahead. I’d rather they come naturally and try not to force anything. If it’s not working, I’m not afraid to come back to it or scrap the idea completely.
Typically I like to start with a photograph. Find angles within the layout or add geometry that compliments the subject matter. As common elements piece together, I’ll figure out spacing and hierarchy. Every now and then these are quick. They’ll come easily to me. Other times, I’ll build out smaller details, finishing touches that allows for an idea to emerge. Leaving room for mistakes is always part of the process.
TL: Your work has landed in a really cohesive place. But zooming out a little bit now, do you have any standout memories of early art? When did it begin to appeal to you, and was there a moment when you began to take it more seriously?
AC: I was always drawing as a kid. In high school, a teacher recommended me for an AP art class. That was one of the first moments that I thought that I could do this for a living. Luckily, I come from a family that supported and encouraged me to pursue whatever interests I might have.
TL: I don't know how we haven't mentioned this yet, but you're also a DJ. You're going to turn it up at your own show. Is there a lot of spillover between your music and your art? What are you listening to these days?
AC: Absolutely. DJing is just another way that I can express my creativity. I dig how electronic music matches the tone of my work. It adds another element in establishing a narrative in the viewers mind.
At the moment, I’ve buying a lot of Seb Wildblood records. Chill deep house. Also digging Ishmael. It’s little bit jazzier. And if you’re looking for something a little more upbeat and groovy, I would check out Harvey Sutherland – I can’t recommend it enough. I’ll be playing tracks by all three Friday night.
TL: Certain music scenes (hip-hop/indie-pop/electronica) and art styles in Oklahoma City are becoming increasingly visible – but let's get real, there's still plenty of room for growth there. I always ask artists this – what are some of the advantages of being an Oklahoma City-based artist? What are some of the disadvantages, or some of the things you’d like to see change?
AC: Oklahoma City has a small community of artists. It’s easy to get involved. It’s exciting to know that you can make an impact and help it grow.
TL: Okay, showtime. Your show opens Friday (9/8). What can people expect from this one? What should they look for?
AC: Can’t wait. It’s gonna be fun. I like for my shows to be a complete audio/visual experience. Hopefully it’s something they haven’t seen or heard before.
TL: And a little free advertising. Anything you're working on right now that you want to share? Where can people find more of your work?
AC: I’m in the process of finishing up a book of my art work from a recent trip to Tokyo. That should be done soon. I’m also revamping my website. That’s looong overdue. In the meantime, you can find more of my work at instagram.com/nghbrs.
This Tokyo trip art book sounds awesome. Keep your eyes peeled and prep for more NGHBRS by visiting our store. His show opens during Live On The Plaza (9/8) and will be up for viewing through the end of September.