Andrew Au Serves Up a Double Dose of Scares and Social Commentary [Interview]
Like your favorite horror movie, Andrew Au’s work pulls double duty, serving up scares that also illuminate deep-seated cultural anxieties. Working with a variety of digital and analog printmaking techniques, the Cincinnati-based artist illustrates a dark, wild ride through the terrifying corridors of his own mind.
Horror films have long acted as a vehicle of expression for underlying personal and social fears: paranoia bred out of religious frenzy (The Witch), panic over women’s bodily autonomy (Rosemary’s Baby), and the nonsensical brutality of war (Night of the Living Dead). Au picks up where surrealist filmmakers David Lynch and David Cronenberg leave off, creating an insular world for his fearsome creatures to frolic. “Mostly driven by my fears and anxieties, these spaces are a way to put those fears into a safer space of reflection and expression,” he says of his work.
With its blend of human characteristics, creature features, and mechanical details, Au’s work is reminiscent of H.R. Giger’s painstaking biomechanical illustrations. His practice was molded by an early fascination with “science fiction, religion, reading, and art,” as well as his own childhood fears. “My work becomes these physical manifestations of anxiety and fear—like residue from another world,” Au tells NOT REAL ART. “It makes sense within those worlds, but maybe feels alien from our end of things.”
In Today’s Q+Art Interview…
Andrew Au discusses ignoring the demands of the art market, going down a Midwestern rabbit hole, and the perils of buying Beanie Babies over art supplies.
Which books, art-related or otherwise, belong on every artist’s shelf?
Andrew Au: A People's History of the United States (Howard Zinn), Guns, Germs, and Steel (Jared Diamond), Ishmael (Daniel Quinn).
Which cultural concepts, themes, or philosophies inform your work?
AA: Politics, religion, science, science fiction.
If you could have dinner with any artist, living or dead, who would it be?
AA: David Lynch and William Burroughs (at the same time).
What is the best advice you’ve ever received? What’s the worst?
AA: Best advice: be willing to pay for education and tools. Worst advice: buy Beanie Babies.
How do you maintain a work/life balance?
AA: Separate your spaces. If you have a separate space that you can say, "In this space I am free from mental constraints," and then your daily space where you say, "This is where I get things done." So a space to dream and a space to work.
What does generosity mean to you as an artist?
AA: Generosity is sharing of yourself. It can be sharing ideas, processes, books, work, drawings, music, food.
What does success mean to you as an artist?
AA: Success means connection. Art has the ability to find people where they are separated by time and space. I stumble across someone's work and I say, "Whoa! Why have I not seen this?" It resonates with you, and you get what they are doing, and you say, "That's clever," and it stays with you.
What role does the artist have in society?
AA: Art is the gauge of a society. I see it as the litmus test of culture. Art museums aren't necessarily to me the "best of the best," but more snapshots of history. There are major currents and undercurrents throughout. Sometimes those undercurrents are reinvestigated, or there are counter currents, political movements, etc.
What’s the worst job you’ve ever had?
AA: Working in the prison system. It has to be the least creative environment I have ever worked in.
If you had to pick one, would you rather be a historically significant or commercially successful artist? Why?
AA: Historically significant. Sometimes what is commercially viable isn't what is ideologically significant, and vice versa.
What role should money play in the art world?
AA: Money is whatever it takes to exchange something from one person's possession to another.
What’s your relationship with money?
AA: Money is a means to an end. I feel you can gauge the health of a society by its ability to support the arts. Creativity being at the top of Maslow's hierarchy.
How do you deal with the ups and downs of the market?
AA: Teaching affords me a living where, in my art, I can be free to explore what I want visually. I feel that my work would be very different if dependent on the market.
Have you ever turned down an opportunity? Why?
AA: I try not to turn down opportunities unless I know that I am an extremely bad fit. I've had commission requests that I know I would do a horrible job with—it doesn't play to my strengths, and there is someone else out there that would knock it out of the park.
How does your geographical location affect your work and/or success?
AA: Being in the Midwest, I feel allows me to work in a way that is true to what I want to do. It's like being in a space that doesn't try to follow the trends, but you can go down rabbit holes.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity. All photos published with permission of the artist.
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