Zio Ziegler is one of those artists who I’ve admired for a while, but not given nearly enough attention to on Vandalog. Actually, I’ve hardly mentioned him at all. And maybe it’s good that I didn’t because even though he’s based in SF, I thought he was based in LA. So, to make up for all that, I thought I’d do a quick interview with him to try to get the facts straight. So here’s Zio…
RJ: How did you get into painting murals?
Zio: I grew up fascinated by graffiti, wild style stuff especially, down to looking at the color layering and the black books and hand styles- and I began to think about art as a distinct intuitive mark rather than a representational struggle. A mark that searched for individualism and aimed to keep the viewer’s eyes plastered to it, that reflected the surrounding culture through osmosis, rather than photo realism. Work that had vast scale but also audacity, pieces on bridges and billboards, and with this as my fascination I began translating my drawings from the page on to on hats, shoes and shirts- with paint pens and sharpies- for me the billboard and the accessibility found its form in clothing. Then I began to paint canvas and on wood, and mixing up the gallery formula by sometimes leaving these pieces in public areas so they could find a home. At this point, I was really searching for the same things in my own work that had initially inspired my making. I was a Junior in college and I was frequenting the same popular breakfast place in Providence RI multiple days a week, The Brickway Cafe. It had what looked like giant primary color sponge paintings all over the walls. So I figured why not ask if I could paint them? My canvases where getting larger and larger, so I figured a trade for free pancakes couldn’t hurt. It took about a month, working from after my classes ended in the evening until way into the morning. The mistake I made was to use my small brushes and thinking of the wall the same way I thought of a canvas. But it was an awesome experience, and I’ll be forever grateful for the free pancakes and wall space. After that, I was addicted to gigantism. The next mural I started, was 20′ by 8′ and it was incredibly intricate as well. About three weeks into painting this, day in and day out- I grabbed a can of spray paint out of frustration, and decided to paint in an illustrative black and white style on the opposing wall. The style was more akin to what I had been doing in small drawings, in the margins of my notes, but somehow it came out as the missing link in what I had been searching for in murals. They where the same lines that had initially found their ways onto clothing, and into my black books, but it took the process of re-learning that it was the intuitive that is beautiful. It was fluid and fast- allowed me to make “mistakes” that I had to quickly adapt and learn from, errors that rather than having to start over, showed me a new way of viewing the form. And since then, I’ve been making these intuitive mistakes on a larger and larger scale.
RJ: Many young artists who do street art or even just legal murals use pseudonyms, but you’ve always gone by your full name. Why?
Zio: Because I do not view painting, as long as it’s respectful, as illegal. Without art an urban atmosphere looses it’s soul, so I might as well stand behind my pieces with my identity.
Many of the walls I paint are legal, and I’ve found that if you just ask if you can paint many people say yes. So while I was out there in the middle of the day painting legals, I began to study the public’s reaction. With the movement graffiti and street art becoming somewhat mainstream and accepted by the fine art world, no one quite knows what is legal or illegal anymore within reason. You could hypothetically paint a wall directly across from the police station in the Mission in SF, in broad daylight and people would come pat you on the back as long as you looked like you where supposed to be there. It’s the veneer of legality that matters, It’s being respectful, painting on temporary walls or ones marred by careless tags or buff paint, and looking like it’s a commission. The public views it as a legal mural because its figurative rather than letter oriented, and legal because its often 10am on a Sunday. I tend to keep these kind of murals to temporary wooden walls, and just paint directly over the posters and advertisements that previously covered it- and in this way the piece itself is ephemeral and doesn’t “damage” anything should the owner of the property not like it. But I think in many ways it is a public service, people see that you love your surroundings and inspire them to do the same. It’s a rest from the bombarding of ads, and provides something that is thought provoking for the passer by. I actually received a gracious thank you tweet for one of these murals, which was as much of a surprise to me, as my mural must have been to them.
RJ: Does your work generally tell a story or have some sort of hidden meaning, or is it more about getting out random images that are in your head?
Zio: Yes, my work is allegorical. However it’s an allegory that makes more and more sense as the piece finds it’s form. It’s not preconceived- in many ways it’s entirely subconscious. I tend to use the same symbolism time and time again, but by changing the context and scale it assumes a different meaning. The titles often hint at the story behind the piece, or as a thread that the viewer can unwind until the metaphor is clear. I’m fascinated by primitive painting and sculpture- work that simplifies the human condition into narrative on a wall, and so I think in many ways I try to do the same thing. The figures first and foremost react to the size of the wall, the neighborhood that It’s in, and then as the scene begins to build, I sometimes will step back and understand what I’ve made. I try to take my mind out of the painting as much as possible by making it fast and gestural. To this point I’ve always finished murals in one sitting, that way for me they preserve the honesty of expression that tells a clear story.
Photos courtesy of Zio Ziegler