“Want to hear something interesting about neon?” artist Aaron Axelrod asks. “The only color that actually is neon gas is red.” He points around the gallery space at West Hollywood’s Roseark, where his newest series, String Theory, is hung. The works feature splattered, dripping paint atop reflective, patterned canvases. Squiggling neon lights are clipped to the work like glowing technicolor staples. Some are, indeed, red.
“Isn’t that kind of interesting?” he asks of the different lights, noting that argon can also be used to color light. He then shifts to another aspect of the works’ scientific quality. “They last hundreds of hundreds of years,” he says recalling the so-called “World’s Oldest Neon” just miles south of his current show.
This conversation is very much Axelrod’s style: a leap deep into a subject to offer you–a viewer, an acquaintance, a fast friend–a peek into the many overlapping subjects that he’s injected into his work. For String Theory, the work dips into physics and philosophy, art history and design movements, manifesting as work that could be passed by and enjoyed as fun, approachable visuals. Upon digging a bit deeper, the works unfold to reveal Axelrod’s many moving parts under the surface.
“I’m inspired by other things,” Axelrod says. “Nature, music, science, movies.” He points around at the work. “This is inspired by string theory, an astrophysics kind of thing.” He elaborates on the subject, that humans are all here randomly, without a grand plan or godly vision. He doesn’t know if this is fact, is entranced by the possibility. Hence, a body of work where neon tubing represents the smallest elements of the universe like atoms broadcasting their light over the “puddles of randomness” that they’re creating.
The work incorporates reflection too, a recent development in his practice. It started from the way a purple tube of light interacted with the underlying paint, the glow resonating off the surface’s glossy finish. “That looked so sick that I wanted to think of another surface that brings out reflections, to bring people into the work,” Axelrod says. This took him to gold and silver foils and other mirrored surfaces. “When I look into a work and see my reflection, I look at it a little longer. I notice that too with other people, in museums, in galleries: If something is reflective or they see themselves, they look at it a little longer.”
“Maybe it’s the selfie culture,” he posits. “I don’t really know what it is.”
The element of finding the self along with the artist’s ability to send viewers into spirals of thought gets at the core of the artist’s practice: performance, a means to draw himself and others out to interact with each through art. His Melting Rainbows series is a great example of this, a performance piece where he pours and drips and massages and spits paint over a planetarium that captures the process by camera from within, projecting the process nearby. It’s like 1990s spin-art toys on a grand scale, conducted by a man who often dons bunny ears when seen publicly.
His performances, like his paintings, allude to a process and a thinking. To him, the finished piece isn’t what the focus since it is the act of making that he values most. “Everything is about the process rather than the final work,” he says. This, in a way, brings out his bunny ear wearing way as he hopes to invite you down a rabbit hole, taking a cue from Alice In Wonderland. It also sets a tone, for himself and others, to let loose and get weird. He has two pairs of ears too: the original, made by an ex-girlfriend and inspired by [Gummo](http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0119237/), to be worn while performing and a fancy, Swarovski studded pair to be worn at openings and events, to evoke performance with a different sort of flash.
The latter, while great, do have crystalline problems. “They’re so heavy,” he explains. “They’re probably eight pounds! I can’t hear when I’m wearing them either.” He laughs. “But they look really cool!”
Axelrod intends to continue deeper into his practice by basking in light: He’s developing works that involve painting in three dimensions, using technology like Google’s Tilt Brush to create light sculptures in space. “That’s the next formation, evolution, of the practice,” he says, recognizing it as just another tool he would use. The only difference, to him, is that these sculptures light up when you plug them in.
These works aren’t necessarily neon but light, in general, which he has another scientific draw for him. “When you’re outside, in the forest, and a light bulb turns on, every bug, in their own way, is attracted to it,” he says. “Humans are attracted to light too. They’ll go towards the light.”
“This is maybe my way of forcing people to come to [the art],” he adds, “to look at it and to experience it.”