Aaron Fell-Fracasso

To Aaron Fell-Fracasso, the primacy of mark-making is key. He’s constantly searching for new ways of making patterns, and any object can be enlisted to create the diverse and richly textured paintings for which he is known. He’ll manipulate implements from his workshop, break prongs off garden tools, and browse hardware stores specifically looking for construction tools to repurpose. His curious mind is constantly imagining the mark something could make, and then working through how he can fashion it into a painting.

This playful approach is designed to keep a viewer interested, and he’s eager to throw them off the scent of how a work was made. As he states, “If I look at someone’s painting, I’m always trying to work out how they have created the mark, and when I’m making a work, I’m imagining someone doing something similar – and I hope to keep them guessing.”

The use of specially selected tools also helps to keep Fell-Fracasso’s works fresh and unique. “I try to avoid ‘methods’ as much as possible – so coming up with the implements is a way to avoid following the same sequences as before.” It also means he doesn’t get complacent and rely on preferred marks or things that have worked in previous paintings. The implements can be a springboard for a work – “I have no idea of what the painting is, but I have the tool I want to use. Imagining the mark it might make, I create the painting around it” – or act as a spontaneous circuit breaker when a painting isn’t working: “It tricks my mind from focussing on what I think the painting needs, to being more playful and experimental, and less intentional.”
This is an energetic, gestural way of working – in imagining the trace that an implement will leave, the artist is visualising how his body will move to action it. His mood and mode of expression will also influence his decision-making on marks and implements, for example “soft and sweeping movements versus vigorous stabbing and scratching movements.” Fell-Fracasso enjoys the physicality of creating, and it’s led him to increase the scale of his works over the last five years. “I have more freedom of movement and use bigger tools with a larger surface to work with. This allows a more laborious, full-bodied involvement. I enjoy that making a painting can feel like a hard day’s work – I enjoy the strain of making the works.”

Working larger has also helped to pull Fell-Fracasso out of the “micro-fussiness” he found himself caught up in, and the spatial expanse allows the patterned moments to surface. “Without the scale, the marks are not as interesting – you need the void . . . The marks that I make and spaces that I create allow for disturbance, tension, and serenity – not always in the same painting.” This tension between “marks and surface, texture and pitch” is becoming increasingly important to the artist, as he searches for ways to change the surface of a painting. Recent works incorporate sand, allowing the artist to build up the paint and create rich, luscious surfaces. The ridges and raked markings present in works such as Oh My God Don’t Even Ask Me, 2022, and What Sales Cars, 2020, appear like patterns etched into mud, visceral and sculptural in feel.

“I feel like I’m coming back to this idea of form: combining or building multiple surfaces before applying paint, rather than working on one plane.” This interest in architecture and construction is one that Fell-Fracasso continues to work through, with the artist “meddling with the fractured plane and looking at the tension between 2D sculpture and 3D painting, between assemblage and painting” in new works.

Colour is important to the artist, but over the past few years his works have become more restrained – homogeneous, earthy tones have been carefully selected in service to mark-making. “I’ve moved away from vibrant and vivid colours, coming back to wanting to focus on the surface rather than the paint or colour itself. I’ve reduced the palette so that texture and tone become a stronger focus. This also allows me to focus more on how light will play on the surface – and how that will impact the painting.”

Careful inspection of works such as I’m Not Going To Move Out Until 20 Metres, 2022, reveals that Fell-Fracasso hasn’t moved entirely away from colour, with bright tones lurking below, revealed where a surface has been penetrated by scrapes, scratches, and gouges. These colours (in this case, a fluorescent orangey pink) are selected to contrast with the base colour, and can be jarring as a result. This is entirely intentional, with the artist wishing to avoid overly decorative, pretty paintings. If a surface is looking too sumptuous, he will pull it back with the use of an “almost repulsive, uncomfortable colour.” The works are beautiful, but they also have an edge.

Fell-Fracasso lives and works in Wollongong, a coastal city around one hour south of Sydney. The artist has a long and deep connection to this area, growing up in Bulli and achieving an Advanced Diploma of Fine Arts from Wollongong West TAFE and a Bachelor of Creative Arts from the University of Wollongong. He is a major contributor to the cultural life of the area, as alongside his practice, Fell-Fracasso runs a gallery, Egg & Dart, which was located in Thirroul for eleven years, before moving to Wollongong in July 2022.

The artist feels it’s a “difficult thing” to be both a gallerist and artist, finding it challenging at times to transition between the two different roles and the thought processes they require. Like many artists, he finds it hard to strike the right balance between his artistic practice and his day job, and because he is passionate about supporting emerging artists and committed to his stable, he is inclined to choose the gallery over the studio. “It’s about validation and feeling like your work is worth doing . . . I want to do the best job for my artists, but my practice is not something I’m willing to give up. I’m always telling my artists to paint through their problems and spend more time in the studio, something I frequently need to remind myself of too.”

Fell-Fracasso also appreciates that his is a unique position, one where he can really explore how his work is presented and informed. This presentation often involves curating his works alongside other artists in his stable in small group shows. “It can be quite revealing – because you can connect and create dialogues between your work and other artists’ work. You’re not just looking at the painting, but the relationships between the works, exploring ways in which they can be seen and influencing how they are perceived by a viewer.”

This article was originally published in Artist Profile, Issue 62. 

Aaron Fell-Fracasso
19 May – 17 June, 2023 
Egg & Dart, New South Wales 

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