Illustration of Aaron Philby by Nate Kapnicky
Aaron Philby is a well known, Award winning live Caricaturist from the U.S. He lives in Korea and draws live caricatures for money. He takes the subway an hour to work and an hour back from work and doesn't smile but wants too. Many times he is scheduled to work at the slow stand where you can do 50 bucks on a ten hour day and that's not even take home.
2012 Interview by Jeremy Townsend for Very Underground
-Seoul, South Korea-
AP: of course
VU: What kind of name is Philby? is that German or something?
AP: it's British, but thanks for guessing.
VU: Does your weird last name make you sad?
AP: Excellent question. Sometimes I wish I had a really sturdy, traditional last name like Townsend or Goodwin or Jackson or a really caricatury last name like Meekins or Judkins or a really positive last name like Bluhm or a really dangerous last name like Kruger or Eftimov, but I got Philby. The most famous Philby in history was Kim Philby, a British spy, and Philby sounds like a spy, a philthy little spy, or a chimney sweep, so yeah. My last name makes me sad sometimes when I think of all the women I'm going to marry who will have to trade in their sturdy/sexy last names for chimney sweep last names, but I can assure you, a corny last name will be the least of their problems if not indirectly the cause of them.
VU: Where where you born and where do you consider your "hometown"?
AP: Another fine question. I was born in Findlay Ohio. My home is currently where ever I can make some money doing what I enjoy.
VU: Where do you live currently?
AP: Seoul Korea
VU: Wow, so you live in the Koreas, is that like a permanent thing? How long have you been there?
AP: I been here about a year and three months. I'm not sure about permanent. We shall see. When I bring forth a child, then will I be forced to commit to a permanent residence.
VU: How's life in Korea? You think Kim Jong Il is really dead or is he gonna pull a Lex Luthor type deal? You know where we find out the bad guy didn't really die and he was digging for kryptonite the whole time Superman thought he was dead...
AP: That's definitely a possibility.
VU: Do you like eat squids and shit now?
AP: sometimes. sometimes people eat live octopus. There's a korean movie where the guy eats a big old live octopus, but I don't do that.
VU: What difference between American culture and Korean culture did you least expect?
AP: guys go to the bathroom together and chat with each other and one time I saw one guy at a urinal peeing and his buddy was leaned up against him casually text messaging.
VU: What is a simularity between American culture and Korean culture that you didn't expect?
AP: I thought everything was gonna be Buddhism out here but there's a lot of Christian influence, maybe more so than in the USA, especially when it comes to a big city.
VU: Are you fluent in Korean now? Do you ever dream in Korean?
AP: not yet
VU: Do you live in the cool part of Korea? Are there hipster Koreans drinking coffee all around you texting on Iphones?
AP: you did your homework. People do indeed drink a lot of coffee and have iphones and send text messages. Also, a lot of people out here are really gungho for Samsung. Many people think Samsung is better than Apple, which may or may not be true. I don't know and neither do I care.
VU: What is the short list of fun shit for artist types to do in Seoul?
AP: They got game rooms where you can hang out with your friends and play wi. That's pretty neat. There's a short list for you.
VU: What is some stuff you miss about the US that you never thought you'd actually miss?
AP: I miss Matt Zitman
VU: How old do you think you where when you decided,"Fuck it, I'm going to be an artist?" Did anyone tell you that being an artist is stupid or was everyone like "yeah go for it!"?
AP: Everyone was like 'yeah go for it' and to be perfectly honest, I wasn't aware that you could make much more money being good at nothing than being good at something. I was naive. I thought you had to have skills. I was like Napoleon Dynamite in that way. I didn't know that people just want to relate to you before they hand over their money. I've gotten a lot of reluctant money as a caricature artist which isn't to say I've conned anyone but I kind of have. When it's all done they're clutching their dollar thinking "This guy didn't relate to me!?! I don't wanna give him my money....but.. he did have skills..
VU: Did you study art at one of them art schools? What is your opinion on art school? Do you consider it important to study art acedemically or do you prefer learning in a professional setting. Do you prefer to learn on your own or with collegues? Do you have a philosophy on learning art?
AP: ahh..I'm not sure. I think art school was good for me.
VU: what was your very first job in the world ever? Art or otherwise?
AP: babysitting a mentally handicapped boy
"I can't see live
caricature as anything
short of the greatest
art form in the world..."
AP: my uncle, when he came to town, would look at all my drawings and buy one off me for a dollar each time.
VU: Do you think drawing live caricatures has helped your art grow? or did you find the process to be a hindrance on your style that you have to constantly unlearn? Do you enjoy live caricature work?
AP: I can't see live caricature as anything short of the greatest art form in the history of mankind. I think it's in its primordial stages though and there's a lot of fine art baggage that has to be shaken off, but that will happen with time.
VU: You've been a international Caricature superstar for a long time now... do you still feel like drawing live exaggerated likenesses challenges you as an artist?
VU: Is drawing live something you want to do forever?
VU:Have you ever had that dream where you pull teeth out of you own head? how about the one about being naked at the bus stop?
AP: I'm sometimes naked at the store or at school. I have a lot of school dreams.
VU: In your studio work You're most definitely an intuitive artist, I've noticed through the years that you fear no medium... Is working in different mediums important to you? Do you just grab materials and experiment or do you follow a process with your studio work ?
AP: ahh..I don't know. I get an idea. I try to do it, and if I like it, I show people.
VU: what are some of your favorite materials to work with?
AP: I love acrylic. I've been enjoying brush pen lately. I want to do oil, but it's messy and it's been a long time since I've been anywhere that's conducive for that. I think oil is like having a kid maybe. you got to change your lifestyle. You gotta prepare. You gotta be ready to clean up. You need ventilation.VU: what's more important? skill or taste?
AP: There's a question. um. I like Bob Dylan better than..I don't know..James Taylor. I like Ronald Searle better than M.C. Escher. I like M.F. Doom better than Big Pun. I think in these instances "skill" is mistaken for "taste". It's all definitions. I like humans doing what only humans can do and leaving the busy work to the robots. If Bob Dylan wanted play guitar and write a song like James Taylor, of course he could, but he would rather fry other fish, fish that you don't even know he's frying until you accidentally eat one and then your like "WOW! that's some good fish."
VU: If there was anything about the world of Art or Caricature art that you could magically change, what would it be?
AP: I would want there to be a quality marker out there like the old design markers (which I've never had the pleasure of using, but I use to admire as a non-caricature artist) or the markettes with the good tip, and out here in Korea they made a maker with a good tip that got discontinued also. I want a marker with a good tip. That is all.
VU: Who were the first artists you ever got really excited about? What artists are you excited about in the world of art today?
AP: The first artist I got excited was a Christian musican named Carman. He was always took on a lot of different styles of music and got things pumpin. The artists I'm excited about now are Nate Kapnicky, Sae Mee Yoon, Eric Goodwin, yourself, many others, live caricature artists, close friends.
VU: When you where in school as a child and you heard that joke about a celebrity having 30 gallons of Cum pumped out of their stomach, which celebrity was it? For me it was Rod Stewart....
AP: Lil Kim
VU: What projects are you currently working on?
AP: Just live caricatures, some writing, also I'm memorizing a Korean Poem.
VU: Do you think the world will end in our lifetime? if so when? What will be the cause of our demise?
AP: I don't think the world will end in our lifetime
VU: Thanks for your time Aaron Philby!
Aaron will be acting as a contributer and a foreign correspondent to Very Underground