Aaron Johnson’s New Works Move From Foot To Canvas

Aaron Johnson is a master of the grotesque, with paintings that gleefully eviscerate the American dream (along with 21st century militarism, religion, and any other sacred cows you can think of.) My curiosity was piqued when Johnson told me that his practice had taken something of a turn recently: he’d been soliciting donations of socks from friends and acquaintances, and then using them to make paintings. (Each sock-donator received an original drawing in return.) An exhibition of the sock-based works goes on view today at Gallery Poulson in Copenhagen through November 16. I spoke with the artist about his uncommon new medium and the “metaphysical residue” of socks that are not your own.

Where did the impulse to use socks as a material come from? Were you at an impasse regarding your traditional working methods, and simply looking for something to push you forward?

Yep! I was bored with my standard process of reverse-painted polymer-peel paintings. The idea of using a sock was in a list of “other ways to make paintings” in one of my sketchbooks from several years ago. It was a goofy absurd irreverent impulse to stick a sock on a painting. From there it got serious; I became engaged in the painterly implications of the sock, and the paintings proliferated.

Did you notice any aesthetic themes among the socks that were sent to? Did different types of socks prove to have specific useful advantages, in terms of constructing a painting?

I got all types of socks. Christmas socks, and socks with cats on them, came in surprisingly high quantities. I have learned various uses for various types: stripes/patterns/argyles are good for ready-made patterns and detail. Thick wooly hiker socks are my favorite, because they’re so chunky and textural and bulbous. Baby socks are good for teeth. Long socks and knee-highs are great for lyrical gestures. Ankle socks eluded me for a while, until I realized that the opening props up nicely to make an orifice into the painting surface. Some personal favorite socks that came in were skull and crossbones socks (which became pirate hats), a sock with cows and dollar signs on it that said “we need a cash cow!”, and a Danish sock that said “Øl Smager,” which means “beer taster”. The weirdest sock donation: one person drew pictures and wrote things such as “Cindy Lauper touched my area” on his socks.

Did you wash the socks before working with them, or do these paintings actually carry with them the residual fug and residue of the sock-donators?

I did not wash them. They mostly came clean, but no matter how clean, a giant pile of socks still smells a little funky. The studio has an odor of feet mixed with fabric softener mixed with paint. I did get a couple of socks from a guy who works on a farm that came heavily dirt encrusted, and one was shredded as if it has been caught in a tractor. Physical funk aside, I’m interested in the metaphysical residue–that each sock may contain a particle of the consciousness of the sock donor–and that brings a sense of collective consciousness into the paintings.

You traded drawings for socks to prepare for making these works. What sort of drawings were they?

The drawings took 5 minutes, or sometimes 30 seconds: Sharpie on 6×11 inch legal pad paper. I make them at the breakfast table or late at night. They are stream of consciousness doodle-y things that tend to be little monsters engaged in demented little fornications. Over a hundred of these drawings have gone out in the mail in exchange for socks.

What ended up being the most difficult part of using socks to make art, in a technical sense?

The socks make painting difficult. That’s part of the appeal. They are an interference; they get in the way of the paintbrush. I think of the socks as a ready-made impasto, readymade brush strokes. Unlike a regular brush stroke, however, they can’t just be painted over to edit them out, the sock will still be there as a sock no matter what. Extra chunky pentimenti. The socks forced me to be looser, less fussy, less detailed, and more of a clunky expressionistic painter.

How about promoting these paintings with a limited edition line of AaronJohnsonsocks? I’d love a pair that came embroidered with the image from Hummer.

Brilliant idea! If anyone out there reading this can help get that together, please let me know.




we the people



Aaron Johnson’s “Sock Paintings” are on view at Gallery Poulson in Copenhagen from October 10 through November 16.





‘Nowhere Boy’s Aaron Johnson Chooses His Favorite Musicians

Aaron Johnson doesn’t listen to much new music, but he has heard of Lady Gaga. “I only know her because she’s all over the fucking place,” explains the raffish 20-year-old Brit. Stating the obvious, he adds, “But I don’t like her songs.” In fact, Johnson, who made an impression on American audiences as a clumsy masked avenger in the superhero satire Kick-Ass, isn’t all that fond of contemporary pop in general. “No one’s got anything great to sing about. It’s all about getting pussy in the club, drinking, being rich and famous. It’s all, I-wanna-bend-her-over-and-fuck-her-in-the-ass–type music. I find that music shit.”

Thank heavens, then, that his latest film, Nowhere Boy, is a biopic about a pre-Beatles John Lennon, not a young Marshall Mathers. Directed by celebrated British artist Sam Taylor-Wood (who fell in love with Johnson on set and recently gave birth to the couple’s daughter), the film charts Lennon’s teenage years and the formation of his friendship with Paul McCartney. For Johnson, it influenced how he listens to one of his favorite bands. “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band was my introduction to them,” he says of the Beatles, “but if I had to choose a favorite album it would be one of the earlier ones when they were just starting out, and still had that Buddy Holly feel. There’s something about an artist when they’re starting out, a raw energy you can’t quite put your finger on.” Here, along with 11 other legendary acts, he tries to do just that.

Elvis Presley. My only memory of my sister’s 9th birthday—I must have been about 4—was this Elvis song coming on, and all the boys and girls dancing with each other. Elvis sings, “I can’t help falling in love with you.” What’s it called? [Ed. note: It’s called “Can’t Help Falling in Love.”] When I hear that song, it reminds me of that party. There are a few songs that he sings that are absolutely beautiful beyond belief.

Velvet Underground. Lou Reed’s voice takes me to another world. It’s so dark, and Velvet Underground were so completely ahead of their time. They had a sound that no band nowadays can reproduce. Their songs were fucking meaningful. And the one about heroin! [Ed. note: It’s called “Heroin.”] Not that I’ve personally been through that, but the music puts you in a totally different dimension where you can almost feel this world of addiction.

The Doors. I was humming a Doors song today. I can’t even remember what it was, but it always gets me. Funnily enough, on the day my daughter was born, Sam and I went to the cinema to see the documentary When You’re Strange: A Film About the Doors, and we’re pretty sure that’s what brought her labor on, because the music was pretty fucking cool.

The Who. I keep thinking about what a fantastic drummer Keith Moon was. It’s just insane, and I love that song, “My Generation,” when Roger Daltrey sings, “Why don’t you all f-f-f-f-f-f-fade away.” You know they’re bad boys, so you think they’re going to say “fuck,” but they said “fade.” I love that.

Roxy Music. I’ve got an old record player in my bedroom, and one of my favorite records to look at is the Roxy Music album, the one with the young woman laid out on the cover [Ed. note: It’s called Roxy Music]. I love “If There is Something.” It’s a seven-minute song, and it’s just beautiful. Bryan Ferry’s voice, when it trembles, is so poetic. When he sings, “I would put roses ’round our door/ sit in the garden/ growing potatoes by the score,” it’s so fucking powerful.

U2. Recently Sam and I were in the South of France, where we met up with Bono for lunch, and he very kindly offered to take us to Hanover in Germany to see U2 perform. They have their own jet and fly as a crew. It’s such a family vibe. We took our daughter, Wylda Rae, with us for her first rock concert, and Bono gave Wylda a few shout-outs and dedicated a couple songs to her—it was unbelievable. One of my favorite albums is The Joshua Tree. Every song on there is a fucking classic.

Rolling Stones. “Wild Horses” is one of my favorite songs. I’m pretty sure there’s an interview with John Lennon where he says something about the Stones being months behind them. [In a perfect Lennon accent] “Every album we’ve brought out, about a month later, the new Stones album will have taken our songs and tweaked them.” He was in typical cocky, arrogant mode. But I love the Stones. The raw attitude and edge they bring to their music is different than the Beatles.

Joy Division. I love “Love Will Tear Us Apart,” obviously. And I love the way Ian Curtis moves. It’s fantastic to watch. When Matt Greenhalgh, the writer of Nowhere Boy, wrote Control [the 2007 Joy Division biopic], he really made Joy Division more interesting in Britain, boosting their popularity up. DJs started playing them in clubs again.

The White Stripes. Have you ever heard them do that Dolly Parton song—what’s the fucking name of it? “Jolene!” That’s so fucking raw. It’s just insane, it literally puts shivers up my fucking spine. I love the White Stripes. And I love the one that goes, “I’m thinking about my doorbell/Thinking about my doorbell.” [Ed. note: It’s called “My Doorbell.”] It’s banging, that song.

Jay-Z. I think one of the best videos I’ve ever seen on MTV is “99 Problems.” I was younger when it came out, and whenever I saw it, I was like, this is a fucking tune! “I got 99 problems but a bitch ain’t one!” That was one of the first music videos I’d ever seen.

Mozart. When Sam was pregnant, I played a lot of Mozart, because they say it’s supposed to be good for the baby. There’s a part of your brain that everyone has, but no one uses, and Mozart used that part, which is what made him such a fucking genius. When you listen to him, it exercises that part of your brain.

‘Kick-Ass’ Star Aaron Johnson on Playing a Superhero, Nic Cage, and Rihanna’s Filthy Lyrics

Most people seeing Kick-Ass this weekend will have no idea who the actor in the green suit is. There’s McLovin, and there’s Nic Cage, but who’s the kid with the bushy hair and creaky voice playing the superhero? Well, if you must know (and yes, you must), his name is Aaron Johnson, and he’s been acting in his native England for years. Oh yeah, that’s another thing, he’s British, something that will surprise you once you see how seamlessly he blends into the role of slightly dorky American high schooler-turned crime fighter Dave Lizewski. To say that Johnson is nothing like his onscreen character (the kind of guy who pleasures himself to his math teacher) is a gross understatement. He wears an earring, possesses a debonair style, and swears more than anyone I’ve ever met. He’s very charming, if not a tad uncomfortable with his upcoming fame. He’s also, at 19 years old, engaged to the 42-year-old British artist Sam Taylor-Wood, who directed him in the upcoming young John Lennon biopic Nowhere Boy. Wood is expecting their first child together, a prospect that would terrify most 19-year-olds, but that has Johnson excited. Here he is on playing “a stupid kid in a costume,” the fucking brilliance of Nicolas Cage, and Rihanna’s filthy lyrics.

What’s the promotion crush leading the film’s opening been like? Last night I was on Jimmy Kimmel and then jumped on an airplane and arrived here this morning, and I haven’t fucking slept. I’m not even fucking staying in New York tonight. I’m going to Miami.

Do you like traveling? Yeah, its fucking mad.

How was Jimmy Kimmel? He set me up with so many fucking stories, fucking this story and that story.

I noticed you swear a lot. Was it hard not to swear on Kimmel? Yeah, he tries to set you up with so many fucking stories. Back at home when you do talk shows like that, when they say they’re live they really ain’t. You just film for about 30 fucking minutes and they cut it down to about five. But this they just do it and you’re like shit, I was supposed to do all this stuff. But yeah, you’re supposed to be funny but I don’t try to be, its not my thing, especially when it’s on fucking camera like that. It’s like, you just don’t do that, man.

Did the movie end up the way you imagined it when you read the script? Yeah, definitely, probably more than I expected. I don’t think you can visualize all of that in one go. It met expectations and more so. I knew it was going to be violent just because I knew Matthew Vaughn knows how to deal with British gangster movies. If he had that edge on a comic book movie, I thought it was going to be fucking interesting or sick. It’s going to be different. Straight away, Hit Girl definitely reminded me of Kill Bill and I’m a huge Tarantino fan. The thing for me, was more sort of character-based stuff. I saw a character looking for a journey, a sign in his life. He kind of gets caught up in the imagination of it all.

Did you and Matthew Vaughn share a special connection as Brits? Yeah, we did. I was in the audition and it was quite hard to even convince him that I was English because I went in as an American. I said I was from London and he said “Fuck off.”

Do you see this as your superhero role? What drew me to him was that he wasn’t the typical superhero. I liked the fact that he was original and kind of quirky, a stupid kid in a costume. What I see nowadays is kids are just so fucking insecure or conscious about what they look like. I just wanted this role to be a role where I didn’t give a fuck about that sort of thing. Because I don’t care, you have to give all that shit up and be in the moment and kind of forget about those things and be creative. I like the idea of a kid that’s this weedy kid who can’t get girls and loves tits, and doesn’t know how to fucking hold tits and shit. It’s the weirdest thing to me.

How many times have you seen the film? I’ve seen it about 8 or 9 times.

Are you sick of it? No, no. I just look at Nicholas Cage, man. It fucking blows my mind. He’s actually one of those people that’s got it down to a tee. People first were like, What the fuck? And then he grows on you. He’s a character, and you have to keep going back to him and just going “Wow, he’s actually fucking brilliant.” And then you just focus on him.

The movie is getting criticized for its portrayal of Hit Girl. The Daily Mail wrote “Pedophiles are going to adore her.” That’s fucked in the head. What about these fucking little kids that are playing with Barbie dolls and are like, That’s what I have to look like, I want to look plastic with some Barbie doll tits, and I want my mom takes me to beauty pageants.” Like, fuck. That’s just wrong. Also, don’t get me wrong, I like the Rihanna song “Rude Boy,” I just think it’s fucking disgusting. She’s actually got some fucking fans that are old enough to understand her music, and then she’s got some of them that are fucking eight years old. Their moms have their eight-year-old girls doing fucking cheerleading dances to “Come on rude boy/Can you get it up/Are you big enough/Can you take it/Take it?” Yeah, that’s what you should teach your kids. Yeah, that’s what love is, to get a hard cock up your ass.

But let’s get this straight: you do like Rihanna. Rihanna is fucking sick. I don’t want to diss her work, but what I’m saying is that fucking eight year old girls—what we’ve done is put a certificate on our film that says it’s an R-rated movie, but Rihanna is playing on the fucking radio and little girls are singing along to songs about having a cock up her ass.

After Kick-Ass, you have Nowhere Boy coming out. Which film is closer to your heart? I guess Nowhere Boy is closer in a sense, because the director is my fiancée, and I had a fantastic time with that. I like Kick-Ass too, but in a sense Nowhere Boy was a really personal, spiritual thing, and then this year we are going to bring it out in October, on John’s 70th birthday. It’s a film I’m really proud of, from many angles.

How did you prepare to play a young John Lennon? I checked every fucking thing out. He was inspired by Elvis and Buddy Holly, but the big fucking one was the Rolling Stone interview which was about an hour and forty minutes long with him and Yoko, and he is such a free-spirited person. He just says everything in I, like The Beatles were a front, and he was bitter inside, and his mother died, and he was angry and mad and we can see it in the fucking videos. He’s angry, he’s fucking aggressive. But there is also a vulnerability there.

I read somewhere that you had a fascination with Brad Pitt. Really? I mean, he’s a great actor. He’s a really cool guy, I met him and he fucking shakes your hand and gives you the fucking time. He’s incredible. Who the fuck said that?

I believe it was Interview magazine. So you’re going to be a dad soon? Yeah, that’s true.

Are you scared at all. No man, I’m excited. I’m already like a step dad to two anyway, one’s three and one’s twelve.

Are you worried that fatherhood might put a hold on your career? No, never, fuck no. I’ll be there for my kid all the time. I can’t wait to be. I think I always had it in me to be a fucking father, so it’s time, and I know I’ll be a good father.

Movie Reviews: Kick-Ass, I Love You Phillip Morris, The Greatest

I Love You Phillip Morris – “This really happened. It really did.” So read the subtitles at the beginning of I Love You Phillip Morris, informing the audience that the mind-boggling exploits of protagonist Steven Russell (Jim Carrey)—con man, embezzler, impersonator and frequent jail-breaker—are all true. But 15 minutes into the film, when the camera cuts away from Russell, a seemingly cheerful family man, dedicated Christian and potluck-frequenting police officer, to Russell euphorically sodomizing another man while chortling in voice-over, “I’m gay, gay, gay!” those subtitles take on new meaning. Forget the neutered “Will & Grace”. Forget the tortured Brokeback Mountain. This is a movie starring Hollywood heavies Carrey and Ewan McGregor (playing the love of Russell’s life, Phillip Morris) as unapologetic, unconflicted homosexuals who like to screw. This really happened. It really did. If neither Carrey nor the film is plausible in the more earnest moments, well, it’s the movie’s sexual politics, not its weaknesses, that will have everyone talking.—Willa Paskin

Kick-Ass – “How come nobody’s ever tried to be a superhero?” wonders Kick-Ass, and then spends two twisted and exhilarating hours answering: “Because it’s a bloody, dangerous, delusional occupation.” To break the monotony of high school mediocrity, Dave Lizewski (Aaron Johnson) turns to vigilantism, becoming the masked avenger of the film’s title. The problem is, Dave is Peter Parker without the IQ or the spider bite—the only ass getting kicked is his own. When Dave gets caught up in a war between some seriously skilled justice-seekers and a mob boss, we’re introduced to superheroes played by Nicolas Cage, Christopher Mintz-Plasse and, best of all, 12-year-old Chloe Moretz. As the pint-sized assassin Hit Girl, the foul-mouthed Moretz steals the movie from its lead and earns herself a spot in the superhero pantheon. The violence is visceral and real; the humor is R-rated. Needless to say, the movie kicks ass.—Ben Barna

The City of Your Final Destination – No one comes from a nuclear family anymore. The Gunds are no exception. Director James Ivory (Howard’s End, Le Divorce) follows aspiring biographer Omar (Omar Metwally) as he travels to a Uruguayan estancia to save his fledging academic career. Omar hopes to persuade the family of Jules Gund, a deceased and celebrated author, to give him permission to research the literary hero. The film follows the academic as he eases into the Gund family’s extraordinary, damaged lives. A talented cast—Laura Linney as the late writer’s wife, Charlotte Gainsbourg as his mistress and Anthony Hopkins as his brother—plays out a complex soap opera against an enchanting South American backdrop, rivaling the best Merchant- Ivory productions.—Eiseley Tauginas

The Thorn In The Heart – Michel Gondry’s latest, a documentary about his aunt Suzanne, a schoolteacher, never justifies its existence. Suzanne is a charming, lively, no-nonsense woman, but as Gondry takes her through places from her past, he never makes clear why hers is a story worth telling. The film’s meandering narrative torpedoes any chance of Suzanne’s mildly dramatic story appealing to a broader audience. Beautifully shot and gently dreamlike as it is, the movie is uncomfortably similar to a stranger’s home videos.—Michael Jordan

The Greatest – Like Ordinary People and Moonlight Mile before it, The Greatest is a small drama about a family coping with death. One irony of this particular genre is that it insists on the vast pain and messiness of grief, only to tidily resolve said grief before the closing credits. Pierce Brosnan and Susan Sarandon (who also starred in Moonlight) play the parents of an 18-year- old student (Aaron Johnson of Kick-Ass) who dies in a car accident shortly after losing his virginity to Rose (An Education’s lovely Carey Mulligan). A pregnant Rose arrives at the grief- stricken parents’ door, and, ultimately, healing ensues. The Greatest is memorable mostly due to Mulligan, Johnson and Johnny Simmons, who plays Johnson’s former burnout of a younger brother. Mulligan and Johnson, already two of Hollywood’s brightest rising stars, seem deservingly destined for long, impressive careers, but Simmons outshines them both. —W.P.

Sam Taylor-Wood Thinks She’s Still A YBA, Gets Knocked Up by Star of ‘Kick Ass’

The YBA (Young British Artist) movement was a loose moniker given to a group of rebellious conceptual artists who thrived in the 1990s. They reveled in creating shock-art for gallery patrons (see: Tracey Emin’s bed, Damien Hirst’s shark), incorporating into their visions sloppy confessions and evidence of all sorts of bodily functions. Twenty years have passed since these aesthetes with punk tendencies first made headlines with their aggressive, confrontational works of art. But don’t tell any of them, all pushing 40, that the YBA title no longer makes any sense– they’re all diddling pretty young things.

Damien Hirst, 45, was recently romantically linked to pop star Lily Allen, then 24. Meanwhile, Tracey Emin, 47, was, until recently, in a serious relationship with a war photographer named Scott Douglas, who is roughly 10 years her junior. Now, most shockingly, comes new that Sam Taylor-Wood is engaged to — and has been impregnated by — the 19-year-old star of Kick-Ass, Aaron Johnson, whom she recently directed in Nowhere Boy, a John Lennon biopic. She might wanna change the title to Nowhere Man at this point.

Johnson doesn’t mean much to American audiences just yet, but he will soon. The ultra-violent, big hearted Kick Ass is being drooled over by fanboys and, according to a few members of the BlackBook staff lucky enough to have seen the film, it deserves the hype. It should be interesting to see if being a baby-daddy with a wife 20 years his senior, even if she’s a sophisticated artiste, will put a crimp in Johnson’s walk to fame, or at least keep him out of the pages of Tiger Beat.