“I’m giving other artists a voice, I’m giving them exposure which ultimately, in turn, puts money in their pockets when people purchase canvases from them. It just adds to the cycle of creativity, love, exposure, and happiness. I know the little things that I’m doing are actually making a difference in other people’s lives and that’s the bottom line…”
Art collector and founder of Esoteric Collection, Aaron Von Ossko, is exactly where he wants to be in life. He helps artists that deserve and need assistance. The inspiration behind his collective was instilled in him from a young age.
Growing up, the future California-based art accumulator would sketch for hours and used art as an escape from the physically, verbally, and mentally abusive home environment his father created.
His father who Ossko said was, unfortunately, just not a good person, would push him to pick up a different hustle. As Ossko developed into the man he is today, he would walk away from his father’s car franchise chain in order to pursue what he truly loves, art.
The art lover’s troubled past was the motivation behind many of the financial art investments he makes today and why he chooses to support some artists over others. His association with artists like Baltimore painter, Purnell Gray, proves that. Although the two are from different walks of life, there is one thing they have in common, they are “Diamonds formed under pressure.”
“I’ve been blessed to connect with so many different artists who are from so many different backgrounds, styles, and mediums because it started on a personal level. My connections with artists started with just the essence of; yes I like your art, I’ve been in contact, now I’ve met you, now we’ve hung out, we’ve had lunch, we’ve had dinners, now I know your story, I know your pain, I know the reality of your existence. Looking at a canvas means that much more to me when I have that connection. If I’m able to connect with the artist and there is some synergy there and we bond as friends, I’m telling you, it just ignites that fire in me to pay it forward.”
Ossko and I connected a couple of months ago after Swizz Beatz shared a photo of a KH article’s featured image of Gregory Siff’s paintings from his collection on IG (small world, huh?). Since then I’ve come to the realization that Ossko is probably the kindest person I’ve ever met.
From the jump, we connected on a lot of things, including, giving back to artists and what they deserve for their work. This notion is very important as many “upper echelon galleries and art fairs could be doing more when it comes to paying it forward.”
Ossko spoke about what it’s like to peer through the eyes of an art enthusiast and somebody that actually supports artists from a grassroots level. He said,
“I definitely think that there could be more support. I think some of the upper echelon galleries and art fairs should be and could be doing more when it comes to paying it forward. But on the flip side, there are people out there like Swizz Beatz who is doing an amazing job with his brand, No Commission. I think that’s amazing…”
In the beginning, Esoteric Collection started out as an anti-gallery movement. Still, Ossko found the perfect balance and was able to merge the business and creative into a cohesive crusade.
The art connoisseur expressed the importance of fairness within the industry. He said,
“Without being able to make money in the art business you can’t help give any artists a platform such as a gallery or an art fair to showcase their work, so you have to find the balance.”
Ossko’s hand will forever be extended to creators because of his deep love for art. He appreciates the industry. Without his passion, he wouldn’t have the fuel to keep doing more for other artists.
To date, Ossko works with 20-plus, carefully curated, creative visionaries. He chooses to work with each artist based on their drive. How do you think Gray was able to snag a spot on Ossko’s artist resource collective?
What separated the young painter from all of the other artists who hit Ossko’s IG DM daily was his approach. From the first message that Gray sent over, Ossko knew that the aspiring painter was more in tune with the art game than others.
Then at 19, Gray took a chance and rode a bus for 27 hours from Baltimore to Miami to meet Ossko in person at Art Basel for the first time. Ossko said,
“These artists have chosen me and I have chosen them and that’s why it’s a family. I’d say it’s a limited collective because they get it. They know if they’re asking me for something, well then you’ve got to pull your weight too. You’ve got to step up to it. I won’t take money from an artist. I’ve never taken a dime from an artist, not to this day. I haven’t needed to. I know I’m giving back to where I want to be. I’m helping these amazing creatives that, in a weird way, have saved my life…”
Beyond a doubt, Ossko is clocked in and knows how the artists he works with need to strive. It’s not just about the financial support. It’s about emotional support too. Still, in order for Ossko to manage the many pressures that his artists are introduced to, he had to find an inner peace.
In dealing with his past, he has had time for self-growth. Before finding himself he would rebel against the physical, mental, and verbal abuse he endured as a child. He’s only human and he knows it, but that angst has given him the backbone, heart, and grit he controls today.
“If you’re an artist in the collective I’m going to give you all of my assistance… I’m going to support you. I’m going to be there, I’m going to be present. You need my help, I’m going to make that drive to LA and I’m going to spend the time. You need my resources, I’m there. We do the work and we meet each other halfway.”
Even with the rise of social media platforms the seasoned art collector has adapted. He applies the marketing experience he learned while working at his father’s auto dealerships to fuel his passion.
He sees platforms like Instagram as a bridge between emerging artists and galleries. In a way, the artist/gallery partnership has changed for the better. With social media, an artist can quickly weave out the galleries that aren’t curating out of passion and providing a platform to take care of their artists.
Ossko spoke on the need to stop fighting the digital age. He said,
“As a platform for young emerging artists, I think it’s amazing you have marketing tools at your fingertips. That reminds me of a blown up picture of a rejection letter to Andy Warhol I saw at Agenda a few years back. It was a real rejection letter addressed to Andy Warhol from a gallery. Back in the day and not even that long ago, artists had to seek out galleries, pitch them, and sell them on a reason why they should be represented. That’s no longer needed. You can do this yourself.”
Apart from supporting the creatives, Ossko makes sure that each artist he collaborates with mix their passions with philanthropy. One project that he is specifically proud of is his work with Nike for the Boys and Girls Club in the city of Watts.
During the beautification venture, he had contemporary artists Spencer “Mar” and SEK work together on something that came out gorgeous. After eight hours of hard work, together, with Nike’s 40-plus volunteers, they were able to bring a smile to the children’s faces. Ossko spoke about how grateful he was to brighten those children’s day. He said,
“The kids were amazed, you could see it on their faces when they walked in. The jaws dropped, the eyes lit up. They really touched them because it seemed like, wow somebody really cared about us enough to come down and do this for us. And once again I got to be a part of that which I am so grateful for.”
Can Ossko’s heart get any bigger? Yes, his work with special needs persons proves that. For six straight years and counting, he has dedicated himself to his buddy Scotty. What makes this relationship very unique is that Ossko wasn’t introduced to his longtime pal, he approached him out of kind curiosity.
After making a connection over their common interests in baseball, Ossko would take Scotty to see his favorite baseball team, the Angels, play. However, these were not any ordinary seats, the soon-to-be inseparable pair would find themselves sitting right by the dugout.
The story doesn’t stop there. When Scotty turned 21, Ossko would give Scotty the gift of a lifetime and have a homie from the Angels pull up to his birthday celebration. Here Scotty would be showered with love. That day Scotty would be blessed with jerseys, hats, baseballs, field passes, and get to meet other players.
This friendship has blossomed into a beautiful flower and because of Ossko, Scotty became more social and more outgoing. In fact, Ossko now hangs with Scotty’s entire squad and throws artists from his collection into the mix at times as well.
“They are friends with all my friends, half of them can pick up the phone and call Gregory Siff directly and he will answer. They can message King Saladeen and they are going to get a text back or a callback. Anybody that knows me knows how important they are to my life. They fill anything that art doesn’t, they even more so. It’s them then art…”
If anyone is for the Kulture it’s Aaron Von Ossko. He’s an art crusader with one goal in mind — giving back to creatives. He knows the importance of supporting the artist of tomorrow as “money comes and goes but art leaves a lasting impression forever.”
Ossko wants everyone to know,
“I wish I could do it for hundreds, even thousands of people but at the end of the day… if you’re doing what you love and you have the passion, and I can support in anyway and I know you’re my friend, by all means, I‘m going to give you 110%”
This interview was transcribed by Raven Durán