The Esoteric Mind of Art Collector, Aaron Von Ossko
Who is Aaron Von Ossko? His name has quickly spread around the art world and his incredible collection has people talking and artists intrigued. Even more interesting is Aaron’s passion for artists themselves. A philanthropist and art enthusiast, Aaron has a personal collection of over 100 pieces (ranging from $50 to $100,000+). He’s rapidly made waves in a world most people find complex and even out of reach by curating from the industry’s most sought-after artists on the East and West Coast. This eclectic body of work he calls, the Esoteric Collection. His collection has been featured by both Art Basel Miami and the LA Art Show. Now venturing into his newest project the Esoteric Collective, an artist’s advocacy group, his mission is to assist artists in supporting their creative efforts through media outreach and career development services. The collective has already featured artists in magazines like FHM and Maxim. With a bold personality and a tenacity for life, we’ll just say Aaron has his own way of doing things. We sat down with the dynamic collector to understand how he fueled his love for art while simultaneously breaking down the industry’s boundaries.
Aaron, where were you born and raised? Redlands, California. When did you move to Orange County?
I moved to OC in 2010. You were previously in the car business.
Tell me a bit about how you got started doing that?
I actually grew up in and around it because my father was the owner of a car dealership. So, you worked in the car business for the majority of your adult life.
And at what point did you fall in love with art?
I fell in love with art an early age. I would definitely say I started drawing in 3rd grade. Art was something I could focus on other than sports. It was kind of an escape. Ultimately it progressed little by little and I learned the difference between a 4H and 4B pencil as opposed to the #2 that they issue in school. Drawing was my self-taught artistry. When high school came anything I had as an elective I would always try to base around art. I was really focused on art up until the point I graduated.
Did you ever think that there would be a point in time when art would be so heavily incorporated into your life again?
To be honest, not at all because in the car business you are basically living in either two-week segments or monthly segments. Your paychecks are every two weeks and your goals are based monthly. So outside of that you could have bigger goals but all you ever knew was the car business. I didn’t see anything else further than the next month. It’s really a business where you’re only as good as your last sale.
At what point did you start collecting art? And how did that come about? Did you even know you were collecting art when you started?
I would say that I purchased art but I didn’t consider myself a collector by any means. Instead of purchasing art from Target I always found original pieces of art from artists at the weekend swap meet and if I just happened to be there. Or at market night downtown where a local artist had work on display, but it was always original art from the artists themselves. I bought it because I liked it and obviously for decoration purposes. It was never going to be anything that everybody else had. Maybe subconsciously I knew I was collecting but at the time, I didn’t think of it that way.
What are the earliest pieces you have now?
The earliest pieces I have now I mostly acquired from social media (Facebook at the time). I don’t know how the connection with the first artist happened but somehow I came across his stuff, messaged him one day and said, “hey, I really like this piece, is it for sale?” He gave me a price. I tossed it around for a couple days and thought okay, I’m seriously interested. And from there, I ended up buying a segment of four pieces of art.
Was that the beginning of your art addiction?
Yes, that’s how it went for quite a long time. Then it was more or less Instagram that fueled my addiction. Because I then had the ability to see art from all over the world versus me having to drive from Orange County to the Inland Empire for local art.
How many pieces do you have in your collection at this moment?
I’m going to take a guess, I’d say close to 100. I think the difference between you and many other art collectors is that you actually got to know a lot of these artists on a personal level and have become very good friends with them.
At what point did that start to happen?
Well we’ll go back to Instagram and the fact that I was exposed to so much so fast. I had the ability to either leave a comment on someone’s art and direct message the artist. And the fact that I was at a place in my life where I could spend money on art and it didn’t have to be just somebody local. It could be a major name. That freedom blossomed into the connections I have now. It did happen fast but it didn’t happen overnight. Relationships were built because I could reach out directly. For example, a few of my artist friends like King Saladeen (who is East Coast based), Gregory Siff, Spencer “Mar” Gilbert and Tonia Calderon I first connected with via Instagram. Once I had reached out to them and we were on a first name basis and able to call each other those friendships really began to bloom organically.
What about networking at galleries and showcases?
I’ve met many artists at exhibits and galleries (which is always cool to meet someone in person). Through events like that I was able to set up lunch meetings with them to see the art and get to know them personally. After that I realized what genuine people I had met. And I’m not saying every artist is. But I’m lucky enough to know the ones that are. They’re genuine, they’re creative, they’re humble, they’re fun, they’re interesting. And they have some really cool stories. It was so different from the cut and dry numbers oriented, goal driven, black and white world of the car business. I’m sure the car business was very relentless. That’s what I’m saying, just cut and dry. You’re only as good as your last sale. You could be on the top of the world in April but come May you’re irrelevant to a dealership. Wow. Art is literally the exact opposite of that. You take Gregory Siff for example, Greg can make a piece but that piece becomes its own entity. It’s timeless. Exactly and art is subjective. Billionaire and world class art collector Eli Broad once said, “art is either our passion or our addiction. But I don’t know which one. Probably both.” And I related to that right there. There’s somebody that I understand.
Looking at your collection cohesively it says something – you can look at the smallest pieces and the biggest pieces and feel something from all of them!
I have pieces from people from all walks of life. From 21 year old Purnell Grey over in Baltimore who is just painting for the love of painting (and the fact that he’s trying to make it out of the streets). I have respect for that. His story adds so much more to the collection because I took the time to build that relationship. The artist’s stories make collecting mean so much more to me. The experience that I’m going to have with that piece of art is nowhere near what somebody else is going to have. Not even close. The average person doesn’t know what this young man has gone through. The fact that he saved the money to buy canvases to be able to do this is a blessing in and of itself. Sure you can walk into a gallery and see a piece of art that you love and a gallery owner or salesperson is going to tell you some canned speech about the artist and why you should buy the art. They’ll regurgitate the 20% that they know about the artist to you — an artist they’ve most likely never met.
That gets us back to the Esoteric Collection. What is your collection about?
You know when it started it was just my art. Loving art and feeding this addiction.
You have pieces that are valued at $100,000 plus and you have pieces that are valued at $1,000. Or even $50. In the last few months people’s intrigue in the Esoteric Collection has risen, why do you think that is?
At the last LA art show I got tapped on the shoulder by artists like “hey, you’re that guy.” I think it’s because we were making an impact by taking the time to speak to these artists and learn their stories and I just felt like I was doing something right.
Why do you think some artists are gravitating to you right now?
Obviously, you’re buying and collecting art which works in the artist’s favor. Well, I’m buying directly from the artist but there’s another thing to this and I think it’s the fact that we are not only taking the time to get to know these artists but we’re sharing their stories. We’re sharing their stories be it through social media and Instagram or through what we’re publishing with the MUSE Society. I think these artists are looking at a group of people who genuinely care about them and not just the art because I think for so long it’s always been a sad thing that we don’t appreciate the artists until they’re gone. I think what my partner and I are doing is really starting to change that and change the way that we view artists and their art.
What is your focus right now?
That’s what I’m focused on right now. It’s not about sales or flipping art. Sure, is it great to know that I bought a piece from one of my friends for X amount of dollars and already within six months that somebody’s offering me 20, 40 or 50% more than what I paid for it? Of course. That’s wonderful because now I know my friends (the artists) are doing great. There’s nothing better than hanging out with your friends and knowing that they’re doing good. I’m doing great. We’re happy. I’m happy. You’re happy. Living life and spending money with friends and enjoying it. I want to see everybody successful. Because when everybody’s successful everybody’s happy.
If everybody’s happy then you’re really living life. What’s the premise of the artists advocacy side of your business “the collective” and your ultimate goal for that? What are you trying to achieve?
Right now I’m not really focused on an end goal. Nor do I know it because it keeps taking different avenues and twists and turns daily, weekly and monthly. The artists advocacy side of this started with my friendships with three artists from southern California prior to Art Basel in Miami. I thought it would be really cool if I could take a handful of guys that are my friends whose art that I own and do Art Basel together as a group. I wanted to be able to experience Art Basel from the artist’s standpoint to see what it takes to get there – from shipping the art and receiving it, to setting up the display area, to facilitating the sales, dealing with the venue, booking it and contracts. I wanted to know everything it would really take as an artist do it on your own and I was surprised by how much work it is. There are so many steps to it. There’s certainly a lot of money involved because we’re talking cross-country shipping, flights, renting the space, advertising, marketing and flyers, the whole nine. I knew it was going to be phenomenal exposure for the artists and a wonderful experience for me. I really got to see it full circle. I got to do the VIP parties still and go to several exhibits with millions of dollars of art, priceless pieces from living and dead artists, world renowned stuff. And I also was able to see it like the entry level artist just trying to make a name for himself.
Was it a lot of work and a lot of money?
Yes. Was it worth it? Every bit. Wouldn’t change it for the world because now I really got to see it, live it and experience it. That’s what spring boarded me into the next aspect of the artists advocacy side and my desire to help artists further their reach and expand their audience.
Have you done any showcases with your art?
Most recently it’s been gallery owners putting on art events and charities that I’ve been working with. It’s tough to choose where you want to apply your time. I am lucky enough to own some very significant pieces from some very popular artists and I was invited to display my collection at the official LA Art Week after hours event. We displayed some major names including Banksy, Retna, Space Invaders and Shepard Fairey. I felt pretty honored to do that in collaboration with Gallery Go and the Artist’s Corner Gallery.
How did you begin to make it official that you’d be starting an artist’s advocacy group? I had the crazy idea to team up with MUSE Publishing in Los Angeles so I could share my experiences with all these artists. I feel like there’s a gap between art lovers and the artists and I really feel that gap is the gallery’s fault to a degree. Maybe, maybe not. Who am I to speak on that? But at the same
I had the crazy idea to team up with MUSE Publishing in Los Angeles so I could share my experiences with all these artists. I feel like there’s a gap between art lovers and the artists and I really feel that gap is the gallery’s fault to a degree. Maybe, maybe not. Who am I to speak on that? But at the same time, there’s just more to it than the art, the canvas or the sculpture. These artists have been painting their entire lives and people need to hear their stories of sleeping on couches or not having enough money to pay for simple life necessities while pouring their heart into art. Ultimately subjecting it to the world to be criticized or appreciated. Like I said, it’s all very subjective. It’s very vulnerable. Very. Why has nobody told the stories of these artists? Why are the stories only told once they’re dead? Why haven’t major publications and magazines taken
Why has nobody told the stories of these artists? Why are the stories only told once they’re dead? Why are the stories only told once they’re dead? Why haven’t major publications and magazines taken a wholehearted interest in these wonderful stories of struggle and survival and success? Is your goal to share the stories of these artists?
It’s really a very American story. We frequently talk about the immigrant that came from Europe here with pennies in their pocket in search of the American Dream and is now a multi-millionaire. It’s really a very American story. We frequently talk about the immigrant that came from Europe here with pennies in their pocket in search of the American Dream and is now a multi-millionaire. Why don’t we ever talk about these artists that didn’t have anything and struggled until they ultimately succeeded? They subjected their art to the world to be criticized and now they’re making it. Is that too not the American Dream? Nobody knows that they spent sixteen hours spending time painting for the children’s hospital in Los Angeles or teaching kids in their community how to paint. They’re giving back silently and nobody takes the time to know. I don’t get it because it’s very heartfelt. It’s inspiring. It’s genuine. It’s organic. It’s everything that you would want to aspire to be. The story of the artist is often the story of the underdog. I think the reason you feel this way is because it’s the story of all of us. Certainly, because you can relate to it. The stories are incredible. Gregory Siff, starting as an actor and coming from New York to LA to establish his career and then develop into an artist (while being one of the nicest, most genuine human beings on the planet). Then there’s somebody like King Saladeen, a true underdog with an incredible story coming from the west side of Philly and now he’s doing collabs with Neiman Marcus and being featured coast to coast at art shows and art galleries. It’s like wow, this is the American struggle to success.
If there was a thing that you wanted readers to take away from this what would that one thing be?
That you don’t have to be a millionaire to acquire great art. You don’t have to be any type of connoisseur or know the difference between art genres. If you like something and you have access to social media, go get it. Let the artist know you really like their work. Some things might be too expensive but don’t let it deter you. Trust me, I’ve negotiated with some artists on pieces. Of course, never trying to disrespect them but just articulating that I have a budget and then finding out what they have that might fit. I’ve purchased lots of art like that. And on the contrary there’s been tons of art I’ve paid probably too much for but I really liked it.
So your best advice is to reach out?
Yes, even for me in the beginning that’s where it all started. Anybody can do it. If you’ve got a love for art and an appreciation for it, you don’t have to walk in a gallery to feel intimidated. It’s all at your fingertips. You can have it.
Any more advice for new art collectors?
Everybody loves receiving compliments. Be honest and tell people how much you appreciate what their art brings to the world. And it doesn’t take millions of dollars or anything else to own a couple pieces of art that you like. You’ll feel good that you have this interaction with the artist that you messaged. And everybody’s happy. And it’s very, very simple. It’s very genuine, very organic. And like I said it doesn’t take a lot of effort. You don’t have to be wealthy. I know people that have a lot less money than me that have much more art than I do. You build the relationships. Some artists even have no problem taking payments. You don’t have to go to Target and buy that same black and white print of the Empire State Building that everybody else has. You know what I’m saying? That’s so true! Now you own something that spoke to you. There’s several aspects of the art world, from the people that buy and sell art, to auctions and those who collect art for profit – I don’t want to be that for profit guy. Like you said, there are very few advocates for the artists out there.