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Interview: Aaron De La Cruz

The San Francisco-based artist on his new Ace Hotel mural and embracing imperfections

by CH Contributor
on 17 April 2014

by Eva Glettner

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Prolific artist Aaron De La Cruz was initially inspired to paint because he idolized his older brother. His now-signature style—which bounces from design, graffiti to illustration—is highly stylized and technical, blending influences from Mayan art to modern street stylings. While meticulously created, surprisingly, his large-scale murals are painted entirely freehand.

The artist's black and white silkscreened art graces the walls of Ace Hotel rooms thanks to an idea conceived by Arkitip founder, Scott A. Sant’Angelo back in 2009. And now, visitors at the Ace Hotel, Palm Springs will also be mesmerized by his recently completed mural on the side of the famed Commune event space. De La Cruz spoke with CH about process, self-education and embracing imperfections.

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When I was around seven, he took me to the side of a freeway and painted a batman logo with our last name inside of it. I was then hooked on the idea of drawing whatever you wanted, however you want.
Tell us a little about your artistic background.

I have a background in art most of it being self-taught, but I did spend four years attending art classes in school. I was always fascinated by drawing as a kid as my older brother was really good at it. Wanting to be just like him, I tried the best I could to be better than him and I always wanted to hang out with him and his friends and skate and do bad stuff—they would skate around town and paint walls. But he was much older (by seven years), so having me around was a pain in the ass for him. I was lucky enough from time to time to hang with the big boys and one day, when I was around seven, he took me to the side of a freeway and painted a batman logo with our last name inside of it. I was then hooked on the idea of drawing whatever you wanted, however you want.

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The girls I would sit next to in class used to write these letters to their boyfriends in jail and I was blown away by the amount of detail that went into the penmanship.
How did that passion progress?

Years later, I found myself doing graffiti, life drawing and cursive lettering (the girls I would sit next to in class used to write these letters to their boyfriends in jail and I was blown away by the amount of detail that went into the penmanship) and kept this habit up all the way 'til it was time to go to college. I went to a city college in Fresno where I took art classes for the first time and met a really cool teacher who encouraged me to create a portfolio and helped me get into art school. I then attended CCA in Oakland/San Francisco for three years where I received my BFA.

Your signature style is done entirely freehand. How labor-intensive is it?

The physical part of painting comes quiet easy, as it's something I have been working on now for more than 10 years now. The only labor-intensive part is working on a ladder or hanging from something while painting. I’m slowly teaching myself how to paint with my left hand now, which is hard at times.

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How do you keep the lines perfectly geometrical?

I used to kill myself with trying to get it as perfect as possible and starting over when I would make a mistake, but now I like to work with the imperfections I make, as it causes me to work harder to balance out the composition of each piece.

You use both paintbrushes and aerosol—do you have a preference?

I rarely use aerosol—mostly just to fill in colored areas if I'm not working on a large piece with color in it. I prefer to paint with a brush using ink (marsh) or house paint and a roller.

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The choice of colors for the Ace mural were based on a cup of fruit you would buy from a Mexican street vendor.
How did you decide on the pops of color on the Ace wall?

The choice of colors for the Ace mural were based on a cup of fruit you would buy from a Mexican street vendor. After spending the first day on location at the Ace, I spent time talking to many of the staff—who happened to be Mexican or part—and after explaining what I wanted to do, they were just as excited about it as I was on the idea for the cup of fruit. So I felt it was the right thing to do. The layout of the mural was inspired by a piece that I had done before, where I worked with 11 cancer patients and each of them filled in a circle with a color of their choice that they mixed themselves.

Do you ever pre-sketch your pieces?

I don’t ever sketch the actual piece I paint—at least, not yet. I have a general idea of what style of designs I will be painting at times, but that can change depending on the mood I’m in, the surface I’m working on or design of the space I’m working within. They all effect what happens. Sometimes with commissioned work, I have to show a general idea of what the layout will be, but the client knows that everything I’m painting will be in the moment.

Images courtesy of Aaron De La Cruz

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