Photographer JORGEN AXELVALL
Styling KEITH WASHINGTON
Interview JUSTIN ROSS
Aerosyn Lex Mestrovic has made a name for himself creating mesmerizing calligraphic works on canvas that reinterpret multiple cultural influences, providing insights into his own diverse background and the globalized world we all live in. Since developing his signature approach, Aerosyn Lex has transformed his practice into an all-encompassing multimedia concept that deftly translates between fine art, video, fashion, and products.
For his high-concept ability to synthesize poignant topics into impressive pieces of art and design, his work has been recognized by the New York MOMA, the White House, and the SCOPE Art Award in 2014, as well as through collaborations with noted contemporary fashion designers such as Kenzo, Givenchy, and Public School. We sat down to discuss his work in both art and fashion and the underlying symbolic concepts that drive each of his recent projects.
This versatile artist has much in store in 2016 as he adds even more to his arsenal with projects in the pipeline including risqué perfumes from Sixth Sense and deeply researched chocolates with Park Hyatt in one of our favorite places, Tokyo, Japan.
Tell me a little bit about the two-dimensional, calligraphic works that you make.
The basis of the work is language and communication, that is what is interesting to me. Also weaving through everything is this concept of multiculturalism. My background plays a role—I’m from Argentina, born there, but I grew up in Miami in the US. I’ve been in New York now for fourteen or fifteen years and went to school here. I’ve lived in Japan and I’ve traveled a lot. My father’s background is from Croatia in Eastern Europe. My own experiences are very global and through the tapestry of this multiculturalism what is interesting to me is how technology is compressing the idea of cultural identity and then at the core of that is this aspect of communication. I’ve studied calligraphy since I was a kid. This notion of calligraphy being the visual representation of our words as humans—of how we tell stories, of how we communicate, and how record or have recorded knowledge in the past—the fact that there are very key visual elements of each culture be it Arabic or Sanskrit, or something more Western, or with the brush strokes, perhaps more Asian. It’s interesting to throw all those things together and still tell a coherent story.
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It’s a really brave thing that you are doing because calligraphy is a very precise art. It looks instinctive but there are a lot of rules within it. But you are taking these techniques, and through a multicultural approach you are redefining these rules and using them in a more aesthetic sense.
You are totally right. Especially that Eastern style of Japanese calligraphy, you can’t fake it. You have to be present in the moment and it demand a certain amount of focus, confidence, and presence of mind. There is an honesty to that that you can’t fake. As a kid I was always really drawn to it. This kind of abstract, gestural, very emotional powerful type of work, I always really loved it.
Is that how you work today? What does the process look like when you set about making a painting?
As it happens, it is in the moment, but there is always a plan and there are always countless iterations before the actual final version happens. There is a very deliberate aspect to it. Some of the recent works I had on exhibition in Tokyo, for example, they have to work on two scales. There is the view from ten feet away, but from ten inches, there is a whole different aspect with the pigments and paints themselves, of the intermingling of the different pigments. I make a lot of my pigments by hand to get a certain type of saturation and chemical reaction on the page. It might not be evident at first glance but it is something that you can continue to look at it and find new and interesting little bits and pieces inside of my work.
Is that one of the reasons why you went on to create the live video versions of your paintings? To capture that interaction between pigments?
Definitely. That came about when I was commissioned by the BBC and Channel 4 in the UK a couple of years ago to direct a short film based on my calligraphy. I had never done anything in film before but I had the opportunity to do it and it was the hardest thing I’ve ever had to do in my life. It took a year to make about six minutes of film. I really wanted to capture the painting but I’d never done it on film so we came up with this whole system and process where I built a whole lighting setup with a mounted table and using a very high-end 5K high-def RED camera system to capture the work in really exquisite detail. That experience really opened things up for me and led to an exhibition of my work at the MOMA a couple of years ago.
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You have an underlying conceptual approach which ties your work together, no matter what medium it is in. How does that influence you when you cross from fine art into fashion?
There has been a sort of taboo around art in fashion, and I think that’s true, but in fashion, there has always been a precedent for these types of experiments. You had Schiaparelli using Dali for scarves, you had Yves Saint Laurent working with Piet Mondrian years ago, and now you even have Jeff Koons doing H&M. There have always been artists collaborating with fashion. I think that now it has become normalized. Since Takeshi Murakami or Stephen Sprouse for Louis Vuitton, for example. For me, I really love fashion, I’m invested in it; I’m interested in it from a passionate standpoint. Whenever I get the opportunity to work on something, whether it’s a collection, or a sculpture, or a painting, I approach it with the same level of creativity and focus and meaning and intent that I would do a fine art piece. They are all equally as challenging and gratifying.
I would love to do that, I haven’t done so before. Working with 4SEE on this shoot was the first time I got in contact with eyewear in such a close way and it was a really interesting process. Let’s make it happen!
How does eyewear fit into your personal style?
It is something that I’m just coming into now. I’m realizing that eyewear can be something that is an accessory as much as it is utilitarian. For me, eyewear was always of utility. If you need to wear glasses you would, but otherwise not. But now, seeing that I really enjoyed the Max Pittion, I really enjoyed the pieces and the whole history of the brand.
Tell me about some of your upcoming projects.
I’m working now via the White House with a new program called the United States Japan Leadership Program which is a fellowship program which is going on for the next two years. It’s very interesting, its’ people from the military, doctors, scientists, and then somehow I’m the one visual artist in there. There are delegates and we work across a couple of different conferences to establish a greater connection between the two nations. That is definitely fun and interesting.
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The main thing right now is that I’m launching a range of fragrances, a range of ‘parfums’. As part of a brand that has been around for seven or eight years and is called Sixth Sense. Sixth Sense had a few different collections, and each collection they would collaborate with up and coming fashion designers. Back when Alexander Wang was just starting they did his fragrance, also Gareth Pugh, Domir Doma, Boris Bidjan, and Juun J from Korea.This is their first concept collection which is called ‘les potions fatales.’ It’s nine fragrances all based on poisonous fauna such as Hemlock, which Socrates drank to commit suicide, digitalis which is used for assassination, and poppy, obviously connected with Opium. I did all of the packaging, the bottle, the artwork which is included, it is all interwoven with the concept of the fragrances which we based of aposematism, a scientific term for the coloration of poisonous animals. Oftentimes, poisonous tree frogs and snakes, they are the most vibrantly colored animals. We took this concept to the very brightly colored artwork and wove it into the whole ethos of the packaging concept for this fragrance range. It is set to come out in just about a month and it will be distributed worldwide.
In Japan, what I’m working on now is a collaboration with the Park Hyatt in Shinjuku. It is famous for the film ‘Lost in Translation.’ When I celebrated New Years there at the Park Hyatt this year I met the general manager and was introduced to Frederico, their executive chef who is from Argentina, where I’m also from. We hit it off and had an idea to put together an art installation and create a product at the same time. So we are planning to create a range of chocolates for the Park Hyatt and this would be a collaboration. We are looking at the pre-Colombian origins of Cacao, where for the Inca, the Olmec, for the Aztecs, for the Maya, chocolate was the drink of the gods. It wasn’t chocolate bars, it was a very bitter drink, and they would put spices into it and use it for sacrifices. We are looking to create something that bridges these two cultures, Japanese and Latin American cultures. Along with a busy exhibition schedule, these are the two major projects on the horizon for me this year.