Aaron Chapman is one impressive Gold Coaster. A writer, photographer and sculptor, he was recently the recipient of a major commission to create new work at HOTA’s epic new gallery. He has been awarded many a prestigious accolade throughout his career and 2021 will no doubt see him make us even prouder that he’s one of us.
We sat down for a chat with Aaron about his stunning photography style and what we can expect from his upcoming HOTA exhibition.
How long have you been a Gold Coast local?
We relocated from Brisbane to the Gold Coast in 2000 after Dad took a job at the then Novotel Beachcomber in Surfers Paradise. He was a hotelier. We lived on-site and this was my first experience of the city. After high school, I spent a few years back in Brisbane chasing a professional rugby career but once that ended, I limped back down the highway and have been here ever since.
What do you love most about living here?
There’s no shortage of natural beauty in beaches, creeks, rivers and mountains which for me, makes the Gold Coast a perfect place to raise a family. But oppositely, the built environment is perhaps one of the things I love most about living here. It’s visually interesting. It’s home. From an arts and culture perspective, the grass is supposedly greener in cities like Sydney and Melbourne but as a young artist in a young city, I’m so lucky and excited to be involved in this community building a culture as opposed to arriving at an existing one.
You’re a photographer, writer and sculptor, how did such a creative career come about?
Well, the writing part came first. I studied creative writing and literature at Griffith University and for a long time after graduating I was writing poetry and short fiction. But working full-time as a copywriter killed my vibe pretty quickly. I couldn’t come home after an 8-hour day of corporate content writing and think about the perfect word for a perfect line in a perfect stanza of a poem. I still needed a creative outlet so I picked up the camera. But the journey into other mediums like sculpture, installation and public art came about as a recognition of the limitations of photography. I wanted to say things that photography simply couldn’t express. And I’ve realised my ability to say the things I want to say as an artist has strengthened and become far easier by working across multiple mediums.
Talk us through some of your most-loved moments so far?
I think I’ve gotten to where I am by believing that the best moments are still ahead of me. I’ve received so much good news this year that I have so much to look forward to (so much work to do also!) and no doubt what will become a few most-loved moments. But one of my favourite moments of 2020 happened recently. I was commissioned to document and create some large format portraits of community members for Christian Tancred’s ‘Done & Dappered’ barbershop project that just wrapped up at Bleach* Festival. It was a really profound, humbling and emotionally charged experience watching Tancred and lead barber Joe Tongi work with and guide the disaffected young men in the barbershop program. It really showed me the power and beauty of a socially engaged arts practice and has motivated me to pursue more in this space in the future.
You were recently the recipient of a major commission to create new work for exhibition at HOTA Gallery, can you tell us about this?
The new HOTA Gallery is nearing completion and earlier this year HOTA put forth an open call for applications to exhibit in the opening show. I threw my hat in the ring and am very fortunate to have been selected along with 19 other artists demonstrating a strong connection to the city. The commission was to create new work… but I can’t really share too much about the actual work I’m producing for the show so you’ll just have to come and see for yourself. Think big and bright though! The HOTA Gallery and the Solid Gold exhibition will open on the 10th of April in 2021.
You’ve won many awards for your work, any you’re particularly proud of?
I was selected to participate in an Alec Soth photobook masterclass in Vancouver in 2019. This isn’t really an award and probably shouldn’t be listed on my website as one but I’m really proud of this achievement. Soth is a very renowned American photographer and someone I’ve looked up to for a long time. I think coming from a writing background, I have a particular interest in narrative photography and the inherent storytelling capabilities of the photobook format, something Soth has championed throughout his career. The masterclass was obviously a great experience. I met some very talented artists, made some great friends, and then I travelled back to Soth’s hometown in Minnesota to intern where I learned a great deal about the professionalism required to be a practicing artist at an international level. All in all, it was an overwhelmingly enjoyable and motivating experience.
Can you share a little bit about your photography style and why you love it?
My photography, I guess, is a blend of documentary and fine art. I love it because it’s half driven by intuition and half meticulously planned. I’m generally working on a project that speaks to a particular theme or themes, so I’m immediately aware or ambitious in making a certain type of image while remaining open to the unexpected. For example, after my dad passed away a few years ago I began working on a project with grief, fatherhood and childhood as the narrative force. Throughout this process, I became really interested in masculinity and started making portraits of males. I photographed an 80-year-old and a 5-year-old and everywhere in between. Then early last year I realised that all these portraits of men, teenagers and boys weren’t fitting for this specific project. Long story short, my photography style is defined by time. I shoot all my work on my film so it’s a naturally slow process that allows plenty of reflective space which is important to me and to the work. The project I’m talking about started in early 2018 but I feel as though I’m only making my best pictures now. I’ve zeroed in on what I’m trying to communicate and I’ve got a clear direction of where I want to take it. But, like the masculinity portraits, perhaps the direction will change again which is completely fine. I’m aware of how lame this sounds (like, really lame) but you have to photograph with your heart, not your eyes.
What advice do you have for anyone looking to begin a creative career?
Do the work first, show people later. Invest time in yourself and enjoy the artmaking process without worrying about when and where it’s going.
How does 2021 look for you?
Despite everything, 2020 was a very successful year for me but things are shaping up to be even bigger and better in 2021. But aside from the Solid Gold exhibition at HOTA Gallery, I’ll be undertaking a residency and hopefully exhibiting a new body of photographic work. I’ve also been in creative development for a large-scale public art project since late 2019 and I’m excited to begin physically testing this work in the first half of the year, and then presenting it in the second half. I’m looking for participants to help me first test the work digitally in the coming months — if anyone’s interested in being involved you can email me at [email protected] and I’ll send you a short questionnaire.
Tell us your favourites on the Coast…
Restaurant for dinner: Rice House in Southport right before a gig at Vinnie’s Dive — a nice calm before a storm.
Cafe for breakfast: The hash brown eggs benedict at Blackboard in Varsity Lakes is one of the most memorable breakfasts I’ve had in recent years.
Coffee spot: Bonsai Espresso on Chevron Island. My daughter and I have a coffee date there every week.
How does your weekend usually look: The kids are usually up anywhere between 5 and 6am (I’d love to have a sleep-in one day!). We then get cracking with the day and will most likely head down to the beach / playground, or the markets on a Sunday. Once the kids are tuckered out, I’ll pick up a book, put the feet up and watch the afternoon slip away.