Critique Collective

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Tag: perception

Painting Perception and the Human Condition with Aaron Czerny

Aaron Czerny is an artist focusing on ideas within human perception related to behavioral habits. He has exhibited in various galleries throughout San Francisco, Santa Fe, Austin, New York City, Italy, and Lithuania. Czerny’s work is also available online at
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Paul Weiner:
What are you currently working on?

Aaron Czerny:
I am just coming out of a period in which I have been occupied with questions related to the human condition and juxtapositions of wildness and domesticity. I am fascinated with the ability of our species to be both brutally wild and brutally civilized, and the interchangeability of these terms depending upon the perceived point of reference.

At the moment, I am taking a break from such big ideas and questions and looking forward to doing some painting solely for the pure joy of it, the pure act and movement of it, for that particular smell of it and the feeling of it under my fingernails.

I will be going back to school this fall to finally finish my BA, and I consciously chose to take a bit of a hiatus beforehand to allow the space necessary for the upcoming new experiences and perceptions that will be stimulated from that environment.

I am also a firm believer in periods of leisure and constraint; these times allow one’s well to be replenished, while, at the same time, facilitating a type of inner expansion to occur. Creation needs ample amounts of time and space to develop. I have found over the years that my best work comes after periods of leisure. I then have an intense period of creative explosion, a personal Big Bang of sorts.

I am looking forward to such a period in the very near future!

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Paul Weiner:
Tell us a bit about your beliefs on human perception and how those beliefs relate to your abstract paintings.

Aaron Czerny:
The roots of understanding human perception are so vast, and, in my 40 years of consciousness, I feel as though I have had fleeting moments of intense awareness and clarity (most often while painting or engaged in what we call the “natural world”). Sometimes, on the rare occasion, I have experienced a more sustained level of discovery and lucidity, but never for long, extended periods of time. In some ways, I think this is part of the foundation of our unique form of human animal perception: that our modes and forms of consciousness, and unconsciousness, are always shifting, deconstructing, transforming, and changing with the multitude of dynamic environments we inhabit, and which we sometimes help create, destroy, or alter.

I believe the roots of our perceptions are directly connected to the land we come from. That it is the land (environment), which dictates the type of food that is available, the type of animals and plants that live there, and therefore create specific types of chemical reactions that occur when ingested. All of this can have an effect on and direct relationship to the type of language that is created and, in turn, the type of culture developed (i.e., the type of beliefs, religions, art, etc. that are the vehicles of our perceptions).

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Paul Weiner:
Are you satisfied with the commercial art world as it runs today?

Aaron Czerny:
In answering this question, I could choose to focus on the negative connotations associated with the word commercialism, but I would like to focus instead on the idea of Art as a viable means of commerce.

I remember certain artist friends being incredulous when I started showing and selling for the first time with an official gallery years ago. They thought it was so unfair that galleries took such a large percentage from the artists. My attitude then, and now, is that they deserve every penny when doing their job well, a job most artists neither want to do nor have the time to do. If they (gallerists, representatives, collectors etc.) let artists do their work and are helping facilitate their ability to do work, great! That is exactly what we need.

I, too, held certain proverbial “artist angst” ideals years ago in relation to commercialism. It took the form of getting upset upon seeing work I thought was crap hung in galleries and museums and being sold for so much. It is an attitude that is a waste of time and one that can get in the way of pursuing a viable and joyful career. I believe every artist is searching for his or her audience, and if someone happens to find it, no matter what one’s opinion may be in relation to the art or artist, we should be glad, for we all need an audience, especially one that can give us not only emotional support but monetary support as well. So, in the sense of the exchange of goods and services, the commercial market is important.

I do think that the market could help facilitate, sponsor and further educate the general public in developing a deeper appreciation of the arts, therefore seeing it as a necessary commodity that has social, cultural and personal importance.

I want to stress that a market, which helps provide a platform that promotes a relationship between an audience, individual and institutional collectors and the artists themselves is imperative and an aspect I am working toward being more a part of.

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Paul Weiner:
As an artist working in abstraction, do you feel that purely figurative art can evoke the same type of emotional response as abstract?

Aaron Czerny:
To a certain extent.

I believe that what we term as abstraction is directly rooted in and stems from the figurative narrative. Our experience as humans is directly connected to our body’s myriad ways of sensing ourselves, others (sentient and non-sentient beings), and the environments we all inhabit. The art we create is transmitted first and foremost through the body, no matter what part it germinates and resonates within first.

That being said, I think that abstract and figurative work can evoke emotional responses in very different ways, just as different models or makes of cars can give very different driving experiences even though being driven on the same road.

Overall, I think art, no matter my opinion of it, whether it be figurative, abstract, conceptual, performance, or any other form, has the ability to touch others in deep, profound, and personal ways because it is a form of communication, a language. We all, in varying ways, search for and desire connection, understanding and a sense of the mysterious and divine.

Paul Weiner:
How do you begin a painting? Take us through your process.

Aaron Czerny:
The first thing I do is build the panels to work on. As much as I like putting my energy into all aspects of the piece, I would like to have the panels built for me in the future. I like to construct a fairly large number in different sizes to have on hand because, when I begin to paint, I need to be able to grab as many as necessary in the heat of the moment. Sometimes one is enough, but often the intensity of the energy is such that it cannot be confined to one space, but needs to spill over, across, and onto various surfaces. Having many prepared and on the walls, blank and waiting, creates a void of expectancy, a space and place for vision to be transcribed.

My preferred surface to work on is normally Baltic birch plywood. It has a really beautiful color and grain texture that I generally like to leave a portion of partially exposed in my pieces. I more often than not like the wood versus canvas, although I like painting on it as well, because I can be rough with it, use pencils and other hard drawing implements upon it without it ripping, and it has a presence of its own, a substance.

I also like the quality of line the hard smooth surface allows; that’s not to say I don’t also like rougher surfaces, such as the old fencing I used for a whole series because, when using materials one is not accustomed to, it pushes and forces the work to go in new directions. It forces artists to get out of their comfort zones, to go beyond where they may usually tread and what they may normally accomplish, and I like this.

I work foremost from feeling. Whatever I am feeling in the moment or in my life at the time and go from there: turn on some music, usually jazz, to help facilitate entering into that trancelike state of creation, pick up a color, approach the piece, most times close my eyes, and put hand and medium to material. Boom! The big bang begins; the dance is started; the traversing of worlds commences; touch and go; guide and step aside; and most importantly: TRUST; get out of my own way and allow the mystery to unfold.

Please view Aaron Czerny’s work at and “like” Critique Collective on Facebook at

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Breathtakingly Realistic Urban Reflection Paintings by Erik Nieminen

Erik Nieminen is a painter based in Berlin and Montreal who holds a BFA from the University of Ottawa and MFA from Concordia University. His work focuses largely on human perceptions of reality, particularly within the reflections of urban landscapes. Nieminen’s paintings can also be found online at

Afternoon Coffee

City Swish

Paul Weiner:
How do you find a subject and begin a painting?

Erik Nieminen:
I have always been fascinated by large cities. There is a certain dynamism and excitement to life in the city that I think has fascinated artists, writers, composers, filmmakers, etc. since the dawn of the industrial age. I view the city as a kind of construct, a fabrication that is intended to serve humanity in an organic, natural, fluid kind of way. I mean this in the context of it attending to natural human behaviors and tendencies, not in terms of serving a green environment. The city itself is a vast template for meaning, and it is inescapable that we absorb the meanings and intentions of the various images that we encounter throughout the urban fabric. However it is not these particular meanings that would generate a painting, as I do not intend for my paintings to have an outright describable meaning. The structure of the painting itself will create the meaning through the orchestration of an experience on the canvas.

I take thousands of photographs, documenting my experience of being in an environment. The photographs themselves are merely tools to use on the path to creating the eventual painting. Out of these photos, certain ones will jump out as being useful, but I keep all my photos as, years later, I will sometimes find something in an old photograph that has suddenly become relevant. I will then start to imagine the possibilities in combining these various subjects found in the photographs, and, at a certain point, I have a general idea of what I’m looking for. At this stage, I may begin doing several sketches, usually quite loose but sometimes more detailed, in order to get a firmer sense of the space I will be dealing with. Usually, I will wait at least a couple of months before starting the painting in order to see if what I initially envisioned is still worth doing or if it can be improved upon; it generally can. Then the painting can begin.



Paul Weiner
You mentioned how the “orchestration of an experience on the canvas” develops meaning. To that extent, do you feel that the experiences of your viewers and audiences determine the meanings behind your paintings?

Erik Nieminen:
To an extent, yes. The viewer will always take something unique from a painting, and, so, I agree that the viewer might determine a meaning for a painting. However, the painting need not rely on this to give it value. Marcel Duchamp once said (I’m paraphrasing) that an artist only has fifty percent of the responsibility, the rest being up to the audience. I do not necessarily agree. The artwork has its own autonomous existence, whether or not the audience places anything on it. The “meaning,” if we can call it that, of the painting is inherent in its structure, in its form, in its very existence. The meaning of the painting is to create a new framework in which to experience what we think we know. To that extent, the meaning lies in the experience of the painting, and, if viewers choose to pull social commentary or political statements out of it, then that is their prerogative.



Paul Weiner:
Describe your affinity for reflective surfaces. What do these surfaces represent for you?

Erik Nieminen:
The reflective surface is a crucial component to most of my works. It is also one of the most prominent things that one finds in the modern city. Initially, I gravitated towards the depiction of reflection as a means of depicting the disconnect that one experiences in urban environments. I am fascinated by light, and, for me, it is light that defines form and creates space. A reflection is an ephemeral response to light, but, in a sense, it is disconnected from the gravity of our world. If we allow for the possibility that the reflection is a state of “non-gravity” (light itself does have gravity, in terms of general relativity), then the possibilities that arise from it in terms of making art are basically endless. In its sublime materiality, it allows a direct connection to the natural world as the primal state of glass is a liquid, and the reflection as seen through a liquid visually destroys the world we know. Part of my interest is in deconstructing the city and reforming it on my own terms. The glass reflection is a means to this end, as it allows us to see beyond ourselves and to twist and manipulate our vision of what is real, a visual truth, to break the grid of the urban environment.

The reflection and it’s primary material, glass, are elements that allow us to escape the mundane world. If art is to present us with an independent state of reality, something that is based on what we know but creates something that is ultimately unknowable, then a subject as rationally slippery as the reflection is one way to go about it.


Paul Weiner:
As a realist painter, would you say that your art is more influenced by old masters like Caravaggio (or even Degas) or by more contemporary art movements?

Erik Nieminen:
Actually, my main influence is modernist painting from the early Twentieth Century such as the works of the Futurists and the Cubists. They posed problems for painting that have not yet been resolved, even though it has often been assumed that Art has moved past that. The masters of old are, of course, important, and really should be important to any painter, even those working in the absolutes of abstraction. In terms of more contemporary movements, for a time I was quite influenced by certain elements of the photorealist painters. It was a way for me to escape the modality of working in a somewhat neo-Futurist stylization or method. I found the best way was to do what would seemingly be the opposite, thus photorealism. Within a couple years, however, I started moving further away from the photoreal aesthetic and began defining the spaces of my paintings more on my own terms.

I do not adhere to any particular label, and, thus, I am not a photo- or hyper-real painter, nor am I a realist painter. If anything, I suppose I could be called figurative, but what does that really mean? The lines between figuration and abstraction are blurry, and, for the most part, don’t exist.

Paul Weiner:
How do you like the Berlin art scene?

Erik Nieminen:
The Berlin art scene is very vibrant, but very hard to put into a box, as there is a such a range of art that is always to be seen. A lot of it is quite experimental, as many younger artists come here to try things out because it’s cheaper in Berlin to get started on a project. However, there’s also lots of traditional mediums (painting, sculpture) on show, as well. Between the hundreds of galleries, several museums, or the occasional art fairs, if you want to see art, you always can. Most days of the week, you can find an art opening; however, I don’t go to openings all that often, as the type of socializing that one finds at such events isn’t necessarily something that I enjoy on a regular basis.

In any case, for the moment, I enjoy living in a city where art is always in easy access.


Paul Weiner:
How did you find yourself interested in painting? Why do you paint rather than create, for instance, photography?

Erik Nieminen:
I’ve always been interested in painting. My father is an artist who focuses primarily on painting, and there are and have been other artists in the family, as well. I have, thus, been surrounded by painting my whole life, so it was only natural that I might be interested in it or, at the very least, see the importance of it.

The wording of the second half of your question is interesting and actually points towards my answer. You asked why I would rather paint than create, for instance, a photograph. The key word here is create, as you “take” a photograph, but you “create” a painting. I am interested in the act of creation. Photographs are interesting in their supposed documentation of reality, although it is debatable whether or not it really does create a document, but it restricts the person using the photographic device due to the structurally mundane nature of a photograph.

A painting has the possibility to take on whatever form it wishes, only limited by the capabilities of the artist. The photograph grounds its reality in that of the one in which we live, as it repeats the answers to the questions we know. Painting does the opposite. The use of photographic sources in painting is not necessarily problematic if the photo is used as a tool to manipulate our definition of veracity and to create a new space through painting. Because photography is so readily accepted as a document of something real, that is what makes it so useful to a painter who can turn the photographic veracity into a painterly de-simulation.

As for other mediums, such as sculpture, perhaps I will turn to that at some point. I have many ideas that might function in three dimensions, but I haven’t dug far enough into it yet to warrant doing it. Film is also interesting, as it’s actually closer to painting than photography is, but it’s not anything I want to focus on.

Please view Erik Nieminen’s work at and “like” Critique Collective on Facebook at

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