Monash Fine Artist named Fresh! new talent

Image: Aaron Billings outside his Fine Arts Honours studio at Monash University getting ready for the Fresh! exhibition, while working on ideas for his next art projects.

Fine Artist Aaron Billings has been named one of eleven finalists to showcase his artwork in Craft Victoria’s Fresh! exhibition from 23 March to 4 May 2019.

Aaron is a contemporary artist who works across the areas of comic and textile art. He’s interested in activism, poetry and humour and co-runs Pink Ember Studio, a not-for-profit art organisation in Coburg.

Aaron graduated from Monash University’s celebrated Bachelor of Fine Art in 2018 and has returned this year to complete his Honours studies in Fine Art.

We sat down with Aaron for a chat about the upcoming Fresh! exhibition and to find out more on his art practice.

Congratulations on being named a finalist in Craft Victoria Fresh! exhibition. Being one of eleven selected to exhibit is great. How did that feel?

I’m honoured to be a finalist in the Fresh Awards. To be recognised by an institution like Craft Victoria is humbling and amazing, and to be one of eleven graduates to be selected from across Victoria is an honour.

The artwork I’m showing at the Fresh! exhibition is from my graduate work titled ‘The Quilt Project’. The quilts were inspired by the AIDS movement and incorporate screen printing, embroidered lettering, beading and quiltings.

Tell us more about the Quilt Project.

The project came about from a show I had at Tinning Street Art Space Brunswick, where I made some quilts out of screen printed remnants. Around that time I started to learn about Cleve Jones and the AIDS quilt movement and I began making artwork that responded to that history. Initially I wanted to learn how to make artworks that could respectfully commemorate this movement. The quilts took the form of flags with the names of men killed at cruising spots in New South Wales, and huge banners with my queer heroes sewn onto them.

Eventually, I wanted to make work that focused more on a projected queer future, which is what these two quilts came from. The final quilts incorporate screen printing, embroidered lettering, beading and quilting. These quilts are a self-portrait of my connection to my community, they are quiet protest signs and gentle provocations.

Image: Aaron's artworks speak to the tradition of quilting during the AIDS crisis and blend personal memory with public tragedy.

You are a bold artist who puts pieces of yourself into your artworks. Describe yourself as an artist.

I am primarily a comic artist and a textile artist. I like to make work that contains a strong narrative, and I use many mediums to get there. When I make work I am normally going for a mood, a joke, a feeling, something immediately charming. I am a compulsive maker and I feel like I am called to do it. I see it as the most beautiful and most interesting part of me, like a fantastic set of wings I can unfurl.

Tell us about Pink Ember Studio.

Pink Ember is a studio space I co-run with my sister Aoife Billings and two good friends, Frances Cannon and Gemma Flack. It is a new not-for-profit arts organisation in Coburg, Narrm / Melbourne, running classes and workshops and hosting studio spaces, a gallery, and retail space to support local artists. We are a co-operative run by women & queers, and we aim to support marginalised folk in what we do.

What was your favourite part of studying Fine Art Monash?

Dressing up for class, you can get away with some pretty hot looks! I also enjoy how far away it is from where I live, once you are there it feels a bit silly to leave right away so people hang out a lot, which is really nice. There is always someone hanging around that you can talk to.

I have to say the teachers are amazing, Leslie Eastman, Bridie Lunney and Marian Crawford, as well as many others. I always felt challenged and supported by both the staff and my cohort.

What would you tell someone who is interested in studying fine art?

I like Monash because it is radical and unpretentious. It is rigorous and irreverent and as far as art school goes it has a diverse range of people from different cultural and socio-economic backgrounds.

*Update: It was announced at the Fresh! exhibition opening night that Aaron was the winner of the Frankie Award, presented by Sophie Kalagas, Editor of Frankie Magazine. The award includes an online feature and a prize pack including subscription and products.

Discover more on Aaron's work and the Fresh! exhibition:

Craft Victoria’s Fresh! Exhibition is open from 23 March to 4 May 2019.

View Aaron’s artwork on Instagram and get involved in Pink Ember Studio

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