Aaron Bondaroff was one of those characters seen at every major downtown party or event in New York in the early 2000s. Back then, he’d been talking about starting a clothing label and was organizing parties. Today, Bondaroff has built himself into a brand, a platform for bringing together eclectic minds from a diverse set of subcultures and genres. Bondaroff is an entrepreneur and somewhat of an artist wrangler. Co-owner and creator of OHWOW, the contemporary art gallery, and publisher and producer of an array of special projects in between, Bondaroff always seems to have something up his sleeve. Aaron sat down for a casual interview conversation with his friend, writer and actor Eugene Kotlyanrenko, after a game of tennis to look back on the old days, and speak about the path ahead.
Do you feel like even as a kid you were trying to set the bar? Start something?
In my neighborhood, in Brooklyn, yes. I thought I was really setting the bar, until I got to Downtown [Manhattan] and I thought I’m kind of behind. I better get on this. I was interested in developing my thing and bringing it to the playing field of Downtown. [I related to] people on the streets of SoHo and the Lower East Side.
Was that pre-Giuliani SoHo?
This is right at the end of Giuliani. The city was definitely interesting. I started finding kids who had the same story as me. Didn’t fit in in their neighborhoods. Not stimulated and would leave or drop out of school and would come downtown to find excitement and things to open up their minds to.
At what point did you find yourself where you were like: I’m not taking the train back to Coney Island, I’m going to stay here, this is my life now.
I needed a job and got a job at a health food store called Wholefoods, not “the” Wholefoods; it was on Prince Street, it was in SoHo. That’s where I met a lot of people because I was working at this health food store. On my breaks, I would hit the streets of Downtown. At that time I was a part of the whole holistic health food scene. I was still taking the train from Brooklyn and then that’s when I met a lot of people. A lot of the skaters I met hanging out on my break, skating. The store Stussy was across the street from Wholefoods. That’s when I met a lot of the people who were running that store. Then they said “Hey, why don’t you come work with us, you have an energy, that health food store Zen energy.” And I was about seventeen and I shifted over there.
What did you like about them? Did they inspire you; did they open a door for you?
Yeah I guess. Stussy was like a cult brand at a young age when I was intrigued by the whole surfer skate street culture thing that they had going on. And I was all into subculture genres, cause back then you really had to hit the pavement and really learn things on your own. You couldn’t look it up. You only could get a magazine and put the stories together with the pictures. Again, it was that pre-internet thing.
It wasn’t underground on your smart phone.
Yeah, it was hands on. You had to get dirty, you had to find it, you had to search it out. You had to see if you could get accepted or if you could contribute to it. It was definitely not an easy entry to whatever it was. And I was intrigued by all that stuff, so for me Stussy played a role in a particular scene. And at the same time, this is when they just opened up the Supreme store, which is when there was a lack of skate shops in New York City.
I know you were just in New York, what brought you back to L.A.?
I have a gallery out here that opened up about a year and a half ago called OHWOW. My partners live here, and I like to spend time with them in developing the stuff that we’re doing with the gallery. We show a lot of New York artists, but at the same time there’s such a bubbling scene in L.A. and I’m really interested in what’s happening in L.A.
There are a lot of active art scenes out here.
It’s very spread out so it takes a little more time to figure out how to navigate through it, but there’s just a lot of great people out here. I find L.A. a really productive place for me because there are less distractions, and it’s about what I’m going to bring to the table and get done. That’s why I like coming back and forth.
Do you like the energy here (in L.A.)?
The energy is here, I’m inspired. The creative scene out here is so spread out and you have to search it out and find the people. In L.A. they have a little more time to nurture their projects because New York is a bigger stage, everything is so short lived in New York. Because it’s so quick, people want it fast. But out here [in L.A.] you can buy a little more time to really develop your voice. Which is kind of cool when you find those artists.
What’s important to you when you’re collaborating with people?
There’s times when things just happen organically, times when you’re inspired to have fun with somebody and there’s no end goal, you’re just having fun. You’re just doing something because this is what you do in life when you’re creative and you just make things.
Do you think community is something really important?
Yeah it is. A support system is really important. Again, I’d like to say that your friends are your toughest critics. For instance Eugene, you make movies. You can make your friends sit through your movie for the tenth time in a row, and you know they’ll tell you what they feel. So I feel like if you could satisfy your friends, it doesn’t even matter what goes out of your community.
How often do you feel like you get the response that you expected?
Woooo (sigh) … well…
A lot of people could be discouraged.
Well, in the past, I haven’t been as active as I’d like to be. I’m in this place where I have been really relaxed about how I’ve been working.
Yeah but your “relaxed” is having a gallery, curating here and there and everywhere, designing shit for everybody.
Los Angeles relaxes me and helps me to nurture my projects. I’ve been working with my partners at the gallery and with a collective working on the internet pirate radio station. I’m in a better headspace in LA to be more productive.
What’s the radio station called?
It’s called Know Wave radio. The K is for radio stations anything West of the Mississippi, and W is anything East of the Mississippi. So it kind of makes sense.
Is there something you’re excited about that you want to share?
Right now, I’m really focusing on the gallery, OHWOW, and it’s going great. We’re re-launching the internet pirate radio station which is another way for me to create content, document my community and select and curate. That word ‘curating’ gets thrown around, too much. And I feel like people are more comfortable not with a camera in their face but rather a mic. I’m really using the radio station to document and capture a moment with the things that are around me. And I’m bringing it from L.A. to New York City. We have a bookstore in NYC with OHWOW gallery. I’m going to turn the bookstore more into a place where people can come and record, broadcast and interview each other, catch the atmosphere. I’m really into atmosphere. Like listen… (Waterfall sound in the background). I’m really into that kind of thing. Capturing an atmosphere, at that moment where we are. We’re doing this interview and there’s something going on. You hear a giggle, you hear the feng shui.
What is your WISH Wish?
I wish for more venues in the future to show case and platform great projects and ideas. I wish for never-ending budgets to fulfill the needs to create, to be able to collaborate and work with a lot of the great and some of the unsung talents. Where you believe in your ideas and you don’t have to compromise.