Today we’d like to introduce you to Aya Kneitner.
Aya, we’d love to hear your story and how you got to where you are today both personally and as an artist.
I’m originally from Brooklyn, NY. I’m a mix of Japanese and Serbian. Both of my parents are immigrants. My mom is a contemporary abstract expressionist, so ever since I was conscious, I would see my mom’s canvases and her world of color surrounding me.
I was not in visual arts most of my life though. I pursued music, piano, saxophone, and percussion, pretty much up until the end of high school.
I became interested in drawing through architecture, drawing cats, childhood cartoons, and comics such as Pokemon Adventures and Koro Koro Comics. My dream as a kid was to become an architect. I would design houses, decorate the interior, and fill them with Pokemon and cat figures. Even when I concentrated on sophisticated architectural drafts, little goober cats and their banter were my main focus growing up as an artist.
During high school, I became much more focused on my drawing and painting skills and left music as a hobby. I would draw on the train while commuting to school, observing the different types of people. I was exposed to ceramics, printmaking, painting at Laguardia High School. After school, I would go to the Arts Students League, or Society of Illustrators to take extra classes in figure drawing. During the Summers, I went to SVA and RISD illustration programs. At home, I drew on my tiny Wacom tablet and posted my work online, where I interacted with different artists there.
Upon graduating high school, I was accepted to the Character Animation program at CalArts, where I drove across the country to start my life as an artist in LA. I hadn’t thought about living on the west coast or studying animation, but I ended up there because I enjoyed drawing cartoons and making gifs. There, I met artists from all around the world that I’ve befriended and collaborated with.
My art was a form of escapism from problems at home, and outside of it. I created funny drawings and comics with cute characters to get out of tough times. During my years at CalArts, my parents finally divorced, and I made short films that reflected what I was thinking and feeling at the time, with characters I could find comfort in. The art I made there helped me create for myself and to uplift others going through similar problems.
Finding what stories you want to tell, hearing from friends who have their unique way of storytelling, collaborating, and helping each other out… is filmmaking. If there is an idea constipated in the brain, you gotta let it out! And that is still true to me today.
We’d love to hear more about your art. What do you do and why and what do you hope others will take away from your work?
I make animated films, illustrations, comics, and dancing cat gifs. I like to make soft, ethereal, tranquil, textural, work. I also like to create characters that think way too much, and also characters that bring you to a cheerful place. At CalArts, I made short animated films. They range from a journey of a crab that wants to go see the world beyond the ocean floor, a flower stuck on a planet thinking about existence, and two kids who are framed for stealing the Mona Lisa. These films were a reflection of what I was feeling when I was making them. In the crab film, I felt emotionally submerged – I wanted to reach as high as I could but learned that if I get too greedy, I’ll end up back at the bottom. In my second year, the flower is my mind overthinking and my body was the cat, the vessel. In my third year, I just wanted to have fun with the process and have others see exciting visuals.
I wanted to create different types of short films with different visual styles, which require a lot of planning because it is easy for something to go wrong. But it’s okay when things go wrong- it happens- I trust myself to reapproach it and the process to the finished product. If you have fun with it, then people will find the fun in looking at it and connect with it.
I am currently making a comic, ‘Sunny C,’ about a hero who is tired of saving the world because she knows it has an imminent end, but her friends give her find a reason to save the world once more. The inspiration is the character, ‘Anpanman,’ and my cat, Kewpie. I’m making ‘Sunny C’ to explore as a millennial how the world is transitioning and the foundation is collapsing, but it’s gonna be ok. Everyone has something that makes them sad, whether it be their worries, family issues, bullies, mental health, guilt, and trauma, and the current groundwork crumbling. But in the end, there are people out there to help you, and yourself to empower to be a hero to those around you.
I’m also developing a series pitch called ‘Bud Bugs.’ It’s about a snail, whose house is a shell, and an ant who lives in the snail’s shell house. I created this because I want to see a world of bugs. I used to collect bugs as a child in Kyoto and found a deep fascination with them. Although people perceive them as nasty, I see them as miniature humans living with nature, and I think it’s fun and cute.
Currently, the push and pull of Western and Eastern animation make me reflect upon my work and evolve. I want people in animation and the audience to see that there is more to the medium than just anime and picture-perfect CG. Being influenced and learning techniques is important, but not to the point of regurgitating ideas. I’m continuing to create, and I’m excited for where it’ll take me.
Have things improved for artists? What should cities do to empower artists?
Artists today mostly rely on social media and uploading their portfolios onto websites. It brings artists together and makes it easier to find artists. With so many artists you see and discover every day, it’s easy to feel overwhelmed. Some people will judge you and put pressure on what you put out. But it’s also fun to meet an artist who you admire, or finding out that person likes your work, or finding a gallery that holds an artist’s work you’ve seen online.
Posting online makes life easier. I can share my work easily. However, as I get older, balancing artistic freedom and maintaining a presence online and in-person is challenging. Everyone uses social media apps, so it’s just another part of being an artist to figure out for yourself in this generation. It makes it seem like it is almost like another job to curate your presence online: a cyber gallery.
So, I’ll say that yes, it’s easier for artists because of the internet. But like anything, every new platform comes with responsibilities.
Coming from NYC, I would see art whenever I commute. I’ll run into funny graffiti, people selling trinkets, go into different shops and be inspired by what everyone is sharing. It makes me want to create and meet people who have the same interests. The infrastructure of LA is mostly driven by driving, and it indirectly suppresses artists. You can’t find gems inside of the car. LA is heavily influenced by social media; algorithms target clout chasers. I think that if galleries, social media platforms, and the people of LA shared artwork more, then artists could thrive.
Do you have any events or exhibitions coming up? Where would one go to see more of your work? How can people support you and your artwork?
You can find my work on Instagram, and my website! I also have a limited shirt out right now.
I’m working on more products including shirts, prints, subscription perks, etc, and comics and animations that’ll I’ll be updating on both Instagram and my website.
- Website: ayakneitner.com
- Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
- Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/papayacats/?hl=en
- Twitter: https://twitter.com/papayacats
- Other: https://vimeo.com/papayacats
Portrait: Brian J Kim