Stylized Vulnerability

An Interview with Aubrey Neal.

Right now I live in Oklahoma City. I was born in San Diego and lived in Chicago for a long time. A little over four years ago, I moved back to Oklahoma City where my family is located. My fear about moving back to Oklahoma was possibly experiencing a lack of culture based on how the state was when I left it. Although I had lived in OKC during public schooling, my reason for moving to Chicago was for this very reason. I was wrong. While I was gone, Oklahoma started to experience a modern renaissance. When I moved back, I was almost overwhelmed by how much had changed and how everything I wanted was within a 15 minute car ride. 

There’s no lack of locally owned businesses, trendy restaurants and bars, art experiences, comedians and a hub of open-minded and talented local folks. Cost of living is cheap right now and our community is bringing experiences that you would only expect to find in larger, well-known cities. We have an Olympic training facility along our river, a jazz district, a fusion of foods surrounding our Asian district, great music venues, TONS of local breweries and just about everything you could want.

My friends from out of state have begun reading articles in magazines about Oklahoma City. For the first time, people have an interest in visiting the city and I'm thrilled when I can show it off and change their perspective of Oklahoma. There are a lot of topics that still need improving, but it's getting there, quickly. If anyone has interest in visiting one of the most up and coming cities, let me know. I’m happy to provide suggestions.

I moved away from Chicago because I was broke and exhausted. I moved back to Oklahoma City figure out what I was doing next and just relax for a minute. I met my partner who is from Texas and we ended up staying here because we were really enjoying it and excited for new opportunities. Right now, I'm trying to focus on making the right choices and saving money. 

I'm a full-time graphic designer for an architecture firm. Most recently I had a freelance business, helping local companies with their creative services. Photo shoots, web design, marketing materials, graphics... all of that. It gave me a lot of time to also focus on Art Cult Zine. Nowadays I'm focusing more on my personal projects, but I have some art direction ideas for photo shoots that I'm excited for. Being my own boss was gratifying, but hunting down money was stressful. My transition has been nice and I'm enjoying the stability. My job is in a historic district and I'm always ready to try restaurants in the area.

My partner and I just bought a mid-century modern home. We live there with our 2 dogs, Remy and Sparkles. On nights and weekends, I try to find something creative to do— like paint a canvas for our house, sketch out new interior design projects for our home or work on new photo shoot concepts. I NEVER thought I would buy a house in Oklahoma. Honestly, when I moved back here I was ready to save money and move somewhere else. I'm glad to be living here. I finally feel like things are working out for me. I'm finally happy.

Photo credit: Mack Myskey @mackmyskey

I’ve always loved print media. Growing up in the 90’s, I would always grab a teen magazine when I went grocery shopping with my mom. I would study the content and layout of each page. Even the advertisements. If I thought something was really cool, I would cut it out of the magazine and add it to my gallon baggie of clippings. On days when I felt inspired, I would pull out my clippings and create collages. No themes really– just imagery and creative writing that I liked. I guess my dream was always to work for a magazine– or creatively direct something. Music videos, advertisements, commercials, print, anything.

As I got older, I realized that every single thing in life was designed by someone. Although the arts are not typically the top priority when it comes to funding, I think it really should be. Anything visual sets the mood for the user’s perception and I think this has a lot of power.

A zine gives me the creative freedom to showcase art, music and culture without limits. I can highlight works from those who I think should be recognized– it’s empowering to curate. A lot of times in the creative community, you see the same people getting recognition over and over again. Sometimes it’s all about who you know– but I don’t think it should be that way. I think talent should be universal and not dependent on who you know. This publication grew from that idea– helping the underdogs. 

One theme that shines through my creative work is Stylized Vulnerability. This is typically based on emotions or moments that I had experienced in vulnerable times. It involves a little sense of familiarity, like themes of teenage years or angst but blended with something new. A new way of perceiving these thoughts. I wish I would have known at a young age that all of the feelings and emotion I held weren’t weird and they would grow to shape my personality. We all go through similar themes in life, more commonly than we might expect. We have to learn how to talk to each other, and sometimes people express themselves in a visual way rather than with their words. And that’s okay too.

I find influence through music videos, artist dates, museums, movies and live performances. There is something nice about not being able to talk and having to live within your thoughts for a moment. Most of these activities I would do alone before I had a partner. Those were very empowering times to put myself in those scenarios and leave feeling like I was ready to make a move on my next creative endeavor.

I also really admire the works of so many print publications like Polyester Magazine and Buffalo Zine. If I could get my magazine to the level of their work, I would be so happy. I fantasize about owning my own full-time publication or design studio and running it with talented, hard-working editors, photographers; creating jobs for people in a setting that thinks differently. A place where bold talent can express themselves comfortably.

To spur my creativity I need to be alone with my wild thoughts and I need a good playlist…and maybe a glass of wine. What resonates with me are just simple, raw moments. I think a lot about my past and my decisions. When I hear lyrics that hit hard within me, I want to replay that part over and over again until I go numb sometimes. When I made the Shut Up! And Listen music section in the magazine I wanted to share the albums/tracks that struck a nerve within me so that others could be affected too. In an empowering way, of course! So, I created the Art Cult Zine Spotify playlist where people could find these songs. It’s still on there and I still update it every now and then.

I’ve learned that for me to be deeply creative, I need to physically be by myself. Other people have a huge effect on my productivity and a simple comment can sway my original direction. Goes back to the vulnerability thing. I’m still working on it! I don’t want anyone to see what I’m doing until the end. Although I wish I could say I’m such a team player– I don’t think I am. I work well with others, but when it comes time to be creative. I need to be in my own zone. Also, if I get some music videos going and the lighting is just right in the room I can fall into a creative stupor for hours. But don't get me wrong... sometimes allowing myself  to do nothing for a bit can feel like I'm recharging. I tend to burn myself out, let my brain rest for a few weeks, then get back to it.

When I lived in Chicago, I made a lot of great friends who I still keep in touch with today. My friend Jana who had spent the week in NYC for a conference sent me a text one day. She said they were on the topic of publications and one lady started talking about Art Cult Zine. Jana said “that’s my friend!” 

That was a surreal moment! Every day I think about how wild it is that technology is keeping our artist communities so close without even meeting each other. After 11 issues, I still see those who I’ve featured commenting, liking and supporting each other. It’s wild.

I’ve also begun having people reach out to me for advice. I think that’s huge. For anyone to value my opinion is humbling. It’s usually about getting started doing something similar to what I do, technical things like programs or equipment, or just feedback on their current project. I feel that I’ve finally gathered up enough experience in my field where people are interested in what I’m doing and what I have to say.

At the end of the day, I want to be known for unique art direction, taking chances, and my empathy. I never try to recreate. I find inspiration in something and then I try to merge it with something else. I’m always looking for a way to take design to the next level. I do believe that art imitates, but I don't want to be compared to anyone else’s style. When the world is ready for my ideas I hope they will find something precious about it. I think that’s the most gratifying reward.

My name is Aubrey Neal. I’m a Multimedia Designer and the Creator of Art Cult Magazine & Design Studio. I’m an Art director and enthusiast of print publications, music videos and dreamy themes.

©Alchemy & Elegy