I chatted with Painter Aaron Grayum. Orginally, he told me he wanted to be a scientist or engineer, but in his senior year of high school, he changed his mind and wanted to be an artist instead.
"I went to MTSU and wanted to be an illustrator, but they didn't offer an illustration major (only a minor), so I picked a graphic design emphasis instead, and decided it was a great fit," says Aaron.
I then asked him a round of questions.
How did you get started as an artist?
Around 2005, like many Nashville artists at the time, I started showing my work at Plowhaus, an artist's co-op over in pre-hipster East Nashville. For about a year, I showed art that was in completely different styles, and to pretty much no avail. Then for one group show, I displayed some of the first paintings done in my current, childlike style, and all seven paintings I'd brought with me sold out in less than an hour. Needless to say, I felt I was onto something.
What is it about art that draws you in?
I've always been interested in art. It wasn't until 1998 when I was first MOVED by it. I was in college and visiting my friend Jelise in Washington D.C. She worked during the day, so I used that time to backpack around the city. At some point, I naturally found myself walking through the National Gallery and was struck by the most beautiful art I'd ever seen : Rembrandt's self-portrait. Dali's Last Supper. Leonardo DaVinci.
I couldn't believe I was allowed to stand with my nose inches from a Renoir. I could still smell the oil. But it wasn't until I walked down a hallway and turned a corner and saw the paintings that changed everything for me. Paintings that in my art history book did absolutely nothing for me. But there I was, in a room filled with massive Mark Rothko color fields and I felt my knees weaken. Giant rectangles of color flowing in and out, surrounding my field of vision. I'd never been moved by art like that. Art has the ability to grab hold of you and show you things about yourself that you've never imagined.
Tell me more about your book.
In 2013, my wife Michelle and I showed our paintings in Crema, the best coffee shop in downtown Nashville. We sponsor two little girls in Nairobi, Kenya, through an organization called Jacaranda Kids. We were donating half our sales from our show to help raise money for JK. One day Michelle and I received an email from a lady named Kate, who was sitting in the coffee shop with her husband and she tells us they'd been searching for an illustrator for a children's book they were wanting to produce. Sales from the book would help fund their Remember Me Mission, which benefits mothers and orphans. They loved the art and how we were using it to help people.
Kate's husband is Mark Schultz, a Christian recording artist. The book, "Remember Me," was based on his beloved song of the same name. Kate and Mark are two of the kindest people we've ever met, and working on this book with them, our first children's book, was a dream come true. I couldn't be prouder of how it turned out.
Trailer for the book on YouTube:
Purchase the book directly:
Tell me more about recreating old drawings and turning them into big paintings.
At some point, I remember my mom showing me some drawings I had done when I was in elementary school. I still remember the way I used to draw birds, trees, clouds, boats, airplanes, etc. Micro Machines were popular at the time, and I would use my mechanical pencil to draw them as tiny as possible. Throughout school, and in many, many meetings I've been in, I've drawn little characters in the margins of pretty much every sheet of paper I've ever owned.
One day after visiting a few art galleries around town, Michelle suggested that I should paint my characters on canvas. I was skeptical. Grown adults don't paint like they did when they were kids, and if they did they wouldn't be taken seriously. I don't remember seeing any drawings of toy planes at the National Gallery after all. Additionally, she insisted that I not only sign my paintings with my first name (I was against signing my paintings at all back then) but that I should sign my name the same way I did when I was a little kid. Are you kidding me? There's no way anybody will take me seriously. But she convinced me to try it. And she was right. WAY right.
"I don't know how seriously people take my art or not, but regardless, it's such a freeing feeling to give a new voice to the kid I used to be," says Aaron.
To let him say something now, thirty years later, to a world so different than anything he could have imagined.