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ARTS & CULTURE

Staff Report | Select Images by Janine Theobald

Down the Rabbit Hole

New art show at Oven & Tap features works by Aaron Bleidt

From world-class art museums to an ever-evolving art gallery scene, Northwest Arkansas continues to grow as an undisputed regional, dare we say national, arts mecca. But it’s not just in the museums and conventional gallery spaces. From public art murals to trailside art installations and rotating exhibitions of professionally curated fine art on the walls of restaurants and bars, visual art is truly on full display throughout the region.

 

One such rotating exhibition on view now through July is Fayetteville artist Aaron Bleidt’s solo show at Oven & Tap in downtown Bentonville, curated by Rogers-based MIXD Gallery. We caught up with the artist to find out more about the show.

CitiScapes: How did this show come to be? Does it have a title or particular theme? And how many works are on view?

 

Aaron Bleidt: I’ve been part of the MIXD Gallery artist roster since the gallery first opened in fall 2022, and Oven & Tap recently partnered with MIXD to curate its own quarterly art rotations, so I was thrilled when MIXD curator Allison Hobbs asked me to participate. I have about 20 works up at Oven & Tap, many of which are brand-new or on view for the very first time, including some of the largest formats I’ve ever done. There’s not a show title or particular theme per se, but for the sake of this answer and in light of the oft-random subject matter of my work, let’s call it “Down the Rabbit Hole.” Ha!

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CS: That feels appropriate! Your art’s imagery is playful and quirky, even a bit mischievous at times. What inspires your imagery and style? Tell us about your medium.

 

AB: My medium is primarily in the realm of digital art and printmaking. My freehand digital drawings and pigment ink prints explore a lot of different topics and themes. Generally drawn to clean lines and a minimalist aesthetic, my artworks seek to convey a thought, object, figure, situational experience or emotion in the simplest and most gracefully direct and balanced way possible — a visual haiku of sorts. Sometimes straightforward and realistic, other times trending to the more surreal or abstract. I also want to give the viewer boldness and color and depth but, again, only enough information to inspire a sense of wonder or a spark of relatable introspection — and to open a door for the viewer to fall down their own little contemplative rabbit hole. The art must tell a story, but I want it to also be in dialogue with the viewer and open to some degree of flexible interpretation.

CS: What inspires your art, and what might viewers expect to see?

 

AB: When it comes to inspiration, I’m a little all over the place! My imagination has always run very deep, and this is a labor of love and constant learning — an organic unfolding of new discovery and new ideas of things to draw each day. That said, I am inspired by nature and the critters in it, space and the great unknown, modernist design, concepts of escapism and wanderlust, symbols and myths, imaginative “what-if” scenarios, and myriad slices of everyday life that most all can relate to.

 

While some of my works present easily discernible figures or objects in readily recognizable settings or scenarios, others aim to explore more complex, even seemingly random or puzzling visual pairings. That could be a random stick of butter floating in an ocean about to wash ashore, a vignette of a mid-century modern interior, a pair of personified Converse Chucks stepping on a piece of gum as they pose on a red carpet, or perhaps an ivory-billed woodpecker perched atop a guitar that’s inexplicably growing from roots in a field. And that’s just the tip of the proverbial rabbit-hole iceberg. Oh no, now I feel compelled to draw an iceberg!

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Aaron Bleidt (Photo by Andrew Kilgore)

CS: Do you have any personal favorites in this show or anything you’re particularly excited about, and what do you hope viewers come away with? 

 

AB: Well, aside from taking a piece of art home with them, if I can achieve one thing with my work, it is to bring a smile or a pause of reflection to those who view it. And that the art serves as a reminder to folks to find meaning and beauty in everyday or unexpected places. As for any personal favorites, they’re all “my kids,” but I am excited to show my newest and largest works for the first time. And I have to say, I really love how the work looks in the textural setting of Oven & Tap’s vintage, warehouse-y architecture. This is also technically my first solo gig up in Bentonville, so I’m just very grateful for the opportunity to share my art with that art-loving community!

Oven & Tap is located at 215 S. Main St., just south of the Bentonville square. The show will remain on view through July. Follow artist Aaron Bleidt on Instagram @artfuloutsider or learn more at artfuloutsider.com. Works on display may be purchased through MIXD Gallery.

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