Upon entering Mestizo’s coffee shop and art gallery, I was in search of Aaron Wallis, the artist that was showing that evening. I was surprised to find that Aaron Wallis was a tall white man in a vintage baby blue suit, a tie and a bandana wrapped around his head who greeted me with a firm handshake and an eagerness to tell me about his well-executed traveling art exhibit he calls The Street Bible.
Aaron Wallis is one of those artists that makes you want to buy a house full of his artwork when you meet him because of how he instantly deflates any preconceived notation that well-educated artists are pretentious. Wallis’ Street Bible artwork is like looking at Baroque-style, gold-leaf haloed, filigree-framed, Louvre-inspired images that are historically reserved for holy Roman Catholic Church deities. Wallis said, “The early Christian martyrs were regarded as criminals by the Romans, and I don’t think it’s a complete stretch intellectually to say the criminals of today may be thought of differently in the future.” Wallis instead honored socially defined criminal titans such as the Black Panther leaders, rappers and cultural icons as neatly block print/screen print/intaglio-designed images that elicit one to question our beliefs about the corruption of our political and religious systems. “As a kid, everything I needed to know about life I learned from gangsta rap,” said Wallis. “It was how I found out about reality. … I wanted to do something that addressed relevant issues … getting closer to this core idea of counter-culture sainthood and deification.”
His strong political views made me want to know where Wallis lives (Jackson, Wyoming) where he was educated (Richmond, Virginia), where he creates his artwork (San Diego, California) and why in the hell more Utah artists aren’t slapping people in the face with neatly framed, politically charged, vibrantly colored pieces that make the viewer reflect on how our culture considers radicals and criminals. Wallis reinstates this idea of the American justice system: “In America, we now have this cyclical system of cops abusing their power, a lack of opportunity created by the greed of corporate America, and a for-profit criminal justice system that only represents the interests of the wealthy,” he said.
Aaron Wallis is comfortable talking about difficult topics. “My dad was one of the producers for the 700 Club and worked for the Christian Coalition the year Gingrich took over Congress,” Wallis said. “The adoption of religious iconography is, I suppose in some way, an attempt to deal with my incredibly fucked-up childhood in Christian schools. I have a profound sense of social isolation even still from being trapped in that kind of religion against my will.”
Wallis’ artwork will be hanging in Mestizo’s gallery for the next six weeks. I highly recommend swinging by, purchasing their amazing white chocolate cayenne mocha, spending some time digesting an art exhibit where a visiting artist grew a pair and voiced their views on our questionable societal, political and religious beliefs. More artwork from Aaron Wallis can be seen here and on Instagram at @aawallis.