We had the good fortune of connecting with Aaron Bos-Wahl and we’ve shared our conversation below.
Hi Aaron, other than deciding to work for yourself, what was the single most important decision you made that contributed to your success?
I’ve always known that I wanted to be an artist, from the time I was a child in my elementary art class to an MFA program in St Louis. This part was the easy decision. The more difficult part was figuring out how to make ends meet. I’ve had many jobs over the past twenty years or so of my adult life, working in a range of industries, and most of these jobs weren’t that glamorous. I delivered pizza, worked in restaurants, and hung art in museums and galleries. When I was living in New York I worked at Trader Joe’s and a Chelsea art gallery. I enjoyed both of these jobs enough but neither was that fulfilling in a deeper way. And by this I guess I mean it didn’t feel like I was having a particularly positive impact. I’ve always made time for my art practice and rented studios wherever I left, often sharing with others, but for me the calculus didn’t check out – simply working a day job that doesn’t feel that meaningful so that I can support an artistic practice in my off time. But six years ago I took a chance and applied for an open art teacher position at an elementary school in Philadelphia, where I was living at the time. This was an incredibly difficult transition. I felt like a fish out of water despite having some training in art education and a lot of training in art. Teaching elementary school is just a hard job. But I eventually got my feet under me. I moved to Oakland last summer and was fortunate enough to find a teaching job here. Now, six years into a career as a teacher, I’m still learning so much every day and recognizing so much room for continued growth. But I’m so grateful that I took the risk, changed my trajectory, and tried something that was so challenging at first. Because teaching art has been immensely fulfilling and meaningful work, and feeling this way about something I spend so much time doing supports me in a larger, deeper way. Now, I don’t feel like I just work to pay the bills so that I can spend my free time on art. Now I feel that all my work is valuable, in and out of the studio. I feel that I found a work-work balance (now I just have to work on the work-life balance). I think I feel more at peace. Being an art teacher also helps me see art through a new lens, as I discuss art with my students, hear their perspectives, and try things as a teacher that I would never try in my own practice. I think I’ve gained a broader perspective, and I think my “day job” enriches my practice. And it encourages me to continue making art – to some extent, I do it for my students.
Can you open up a bit about your work and career? We’re big fans and we’d love for our community to learn more about your work.
In much of my current body of work I explore spaces in Philadelphia and Oakland through realistic watercolors and dense pencil drawings. These images contemplate how our physical spaces are charged with the richness of our cultural, spiritual and emotional landscapes, even when people themselves are absent. Often, they frame small moments of anonymous individuals’ public expression – creative gestures that are at once quiet, almost unnoticeable, and at the same time powerful and poetic. My work owes much to the tradition of documentary photography and its intention to capture a glimpse of a lived moment. I draw my imagery primarily from personal snapshots, translating these into detailed paintings.
It has been over ten years since I finished graduate school, and I’ve been pursuing my own work consistently since then. I feel like that alone is an accomplishment, to just keep going, to continue to find joy and meaning in it. One of the highlights of my career so far has been a two month residency in Paris. Since moving to Oakland, I’ve gained some additional momentum. I feel very fortunate to have randomly found an open spot at FM Oakland, a ten-person studio just north of downtown. The studio participates in Oakland First Fridays and Oakland Art Murmur, and I’ve met so many great people through these events. I’ve also sold a good amount of work and secured several commissions.
As far as challenges, it’s always a challenge. It’s also a great privilege to be able to get up and make art every day. But all the odds are against having a consistent art practice on top of working full-time – lack of time, money, and encouragement (to name a few) can all impact one’s will to keep going. If I had to give any advice, I’d say pursue your passions, focus on what you love (don’t worry about what’s in fashion), make time for it on a regular basis, and keep going even when it’s hard or no one seems to notice what you’re doing. And try not to be too shy (I’m an introvert). You’ll grow, find your voice, meet people, get inspired when you need it, and people will see and appreciate your work.
If you had a friend visiting you, what are some of the local spots you’d want to take them around to?
We would hike Mt. Tam then enjoy the sunset on Muir Beach. San Francisco is a great city for walking. We would hike up the terraced DIY botanical garden of Filbert Steps to Coit Tower then eat dinner at Yarsa in Telegraph Hill for some amazing Nepalese food. Back in the East Bay, I LOVE Tacos Oscar in the Temescal neighborhood of Oakland – I could eat there several times a week. There are some great little brew pubs and natural wine bars in Oakland, like Snail Bar and Roses’ Taproom. We’d definitely see some great art at Oakland First Fridays. And of course we’d pay Shuumi to the Muwekma Ohlone, because it’s their land after all.
The Shoutout series is all about recognizing that our success and where we are in life is at least somewhat thanks to the efforts, support, mentorship, love and encouragement of others. So is there someone that you want to dedicate your shoutout to?
I would shout out my parents and all my teachers for continually supporting me over the years.