|Some of Greg Auerbach’s artwork. Auerbach family|
Greg Auerbach has been awake for hours.
About 36 hours, in fact, maybe with a quick nap here or there.
The 28-year-old, who grew up in Oradell and whose parents still live there, is spending every minute possible designing and crafting his graffiti art, working in what he described as his “big studio, half of a commercial building covered in dust.”
Use your favorite search engine and you’ll find lots of stories about him. He has come on to the Los Angeles art scene in a hurry, bringing it his own brand of art.
Mr. Auerbach’s art involves stenciling an image of his subject over newspaper headlines connected to that icon’s persona. What does that mean? Well, so far he has tackled, among other figures, Alfred Hitchcock, Albert Einstein, Woody Allen, Humphrey Bogart, Audrey Hepburn, and Ernest Hemingway. His Hitchcock piece, for example, includes headlines about crime or mysteries. His art is hanging in trendy studios all over Los Angeles. And he’s quickly catching the eye of writers and art critics who love what they see, at least in part because they’ve never seen anything quite like it before.
Mr. Auerbach didn’t go to L.A. to be a visual artist. Instead, he went to Paramount to be a movie director, and made intricate newspapers as props for film.
He found himself hooked.
“I never thought it would develop into anything,” Mr. Auerbach said. “But I locked myself into my room for five days and made 12 pieces. I had no idea what I was doing. I never had cut a stencil before or used spray paint. I had no idea.”
“It was really straightforward,” he added. “Three years ago, I really liked doing stencil work. Add spray paint to the stenciling…” He paused. “Pop art has been around longer than I have,” he resumed. “I thought if I didn’t combine the stencil work with the spray paint than I’d be missing an opportunity to do something relative instead of iconic.
“I put these icons, though, in the context of my own work. I went out and bought a bunch of newspapers and copied and stenciled. The pieces I created are then hand layered into a collage.” The newspaper clippings are set in paste with the stencil placed over them.
When he emerged from those five months of solitary artistry, he was “flat out broke” and in debt, he said.
“It is easy to make a piece from your heart and love it, but you can also end up hating it,” he said. “I can strongly say that I don’t edit my ideas. There is so much room to add more to keep going. As an artist you have to learn to live and be strong.”
“My goal is to make these for myself,” he said. He wants to love every piece that he creates before he’ll part with them. He’s recently been commissioned by Norman Lear, the man who brought us “Archie Bunker,” to create a piece for the Lear Family Foundation.
“My life is completely unscheduled,” he said. “I can stay up until I just can’t work anymore. Then I’m up again working.
Yes, he has done a Hitchcock left profile and a Hitchcock right profile, but the two pieces are different. It’s impossible to do the same thing twice, he said.
He describes himself as “fortunate, because a lot of people want to see the work.”
That includes his family, particularly his parents, Paul and Randy.
Randy Auerbach said she and her husband knew that something special was going on with their son when he constructed his own working computer from ordering separate parts. He was in middle school.
“He could make anything,” she said. “He was always doing something or building something.”
Paul Auerbach remembers that his son would design art, cut it out, and paint it. He also remembers how much his son loved magic. “I still have his trunk of magic here,” his mother added. His parents have a Hitchcock hanging in their Oradell home; Audrey Hepburn looks down at them from a wall in their Florida home. “They are gorgeous,” Ms. Auerbach said said. “Everyone who comes over notices the art. It’s a conversation piece.”
Mr. Auerbach believes that one reason for his son’s success is his art’s crossover appeal to viewers of all ages.
“We were at the Beverly Hills Arts Festival,” he said. “We saw him interact with people from 25 to 90. We always knew he’d be talented, but to see his work and to see how people love him and his work – it feels good for us and we feel good for him. As a parent, it’s first kind of weird to see people looking at my kid. But he’s an artist, and it makes you proud. He’s the real thing.”
“What Gregory does, he does wholeheartedly,” his mother added.
The Auerbachs, members of the Jewish Community Center of Paramus, have three children – their son Josh lives in New Jersey and their daughter, Amanda, lives in Chicago.
Greg Auerbach compares himself to street artists who use mixed media. He said that the control graffiti artists exhibit and the statements they make are incredible. “But I don’t compare myself to them,” he said. “I’m making a statement in a different way.
“I think I’m unapologetic about what I do,” he continued. “I think I do stuff that is taken well and stuff that is brash.”
He added that he wants to learn more about his subjects. He studies each person, trying to find a deeper level that will stimulate art. Einstein, for instance, was a “person who we know changed the world. But we also need to know Einstein’s love of life and how he regretted nuclear power. It makes me look at Einstein differently. I’m big on self-exploration.” He wants to find that place where he as an artist connects with the subject he’ll research, cut, paste and spray.
Mr. Auerbach said he never expected to be as successful as he has been. He calls the L.A. art community family. “There are people I respect that have given me a lot of drive. Because there is a point early on where you still aren’t sure if you really are an artist.”
They tell him that “indeed, he is.”
“There’s a gentle humbleness to it all,” he continued. “I’ve learned I have a lot more to learn. An artist cannot get stuck doing the same work. But at the same time, it’s difficult for an artist to switch it off and try something new.”
Is he worried that his work will reach a tipping point?
“I guess we’re going to find out,” he said laughing. “Oy. It’s really important to separate a financial success and a personal success. An artist can run out of steam with the audience, it’s a tipping point with yourself. When I am going to look back at my life, I’m going to want to know I did what I wanted. But you do need a way to keep the art fresh.”
His icons in spray paint honor Mr. Auerbach’s passion for cinema, for the actors and the directors of the movies he most loves.
His academic background in film studies helps him craft his paintings almost as if he were writing a screenplay or directing a film, Mr. Auerbach said.
One on-line critic wrote that he has “created stories painted with main character arcs, settings, themes and dialogues. The near-impossible feat he has accomplished is that of creating motion pictures in singular, static images.”
This art comes from a man with no formal art training. What he does have is urgency and a real deep-seated passion for his subject matter. When that is connected to a 18-hour day in the studio, it turns into something beautiful.
Mr. Auerbach attended Ithaca College, majoring in film, for one semester.
He took a semester off, then dropped out and worked as a waiter. He re-enrolled at Ithaca and then transferred to Syracuse University. The film school wasn’t what he wanted, so he transferred to the School of Visual Arts in Manhattan.
He came to Los Angeles to work in film, and finished his studies at USC, taking postgraduate courses in writing and art as well. He admits that he was never really trained in anything other than film or photography.
“I don’t know how I got here,” he says. “I’m going to push the medium as far as I can.”
His “Film Icons in Spray Paint” are on his website, www.hollywoodgraffiti.com website.