Creating in COVID: Aaron Fink '73

By: Grace Talusan

Aaron Fink '73 has taken over his son’s childhood bedroom, turning it into a home studio now that he can’t get to his art studio as much as he’d like. “I used to go to my studio pretty much every day because I am self-employed as an artist,” he says. 

Fink is that rare artist who has enjoyed a long, celebrated career selling his work. After earning degrees in art from the Maryland Institute College of Art and Yale University, with a brief stint painting houses right after graduation and on very rare occasions teaching a class, Fink makes art. He is known for his unique paintings of seemingly simple subjects such as coffee mugs and slices of pie that are rendered in multiple versions through a complex process that explores and challenges the medium itself.    

“I’m working with the materiality of the paint,” Fink explains, “building it up and then scraping it away. It reveals a background so there's a different sense of space that's more like a physical space than a rendered space. It's almost sculptural.” 

He continues, “Oil paints tend to take longer to dry. So there's just waiting.” 

Over his four-decade career, his work has been exhibited at the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston, the Museum of Modern Art in New York, the Art Institute of Chicago, and the National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C., among many other major collections.

Art is the family business; Alan Fink, his father, founded Alpha Gallery, which still exists today and is currently run by Joanna Fink, Aaron’s sister. Barbara Swan, his mother, painted in her studio next to her son’s bedroom; he still remembers the odors of paint and solvent wafting through the wall. 

Before the pandemic, Fink regularly visited area art museums, wandering around in the afternoons for an hour or two. Now he longs for “the physical sense of community with other artists or people who like to look at art. I miss those sorts of conversations about art.”  

Fink’s mother modeled the importance of community, belonging, and creative collaboration through her rich, lifelong friendships with poets Anne Sexton and Maxine Kumin. Fink met poet Paul Genega when they were both students in Baltimore in the 1970s and they have since collaborated on several projects. One is “Perhaps,” a portfolio of letterpress broadsides of Genega’s poems with Fink’s etchings in response, which is in the collection of the National Gallery in Washington, D.C., and the Fogg Museum at Harvard University. 

Fink pauses the interview and asks if he can read aloud a friend’s poem, a piece written before the pandemic that is still “the perfect meditation on the idea of the shadow and the times we are in.” 

He holds up a print, poster sized, of the poem and the image he drew in pencil in response to the poem. “It’s something I did recently,” Fink says. “It definitely had to do with feelings about the present moment.” With this drawing, Fink relies on the simplest of materials, pencil on paper, reminiscent of childhood and school days, but the image belongs to a mature artist expressing a certain anxiety that hangs in the air.

Author and educator Grace Talusan is the recipient of a U.S. Fulbright Fellowship to the Philippines and an Artist Fellowship Award from the Massachusetts Cultural Council. She is currently the Fannie Hurst Writer-in-Residence at Brandeis University. Her first book, The Body Papers, is a New York Times Editors’ Choice selection.