Brian Zeigler is a friend of mine, an artist whose work involves play, the I ching, and thoughts on Charles Baudelaire. While his art sometimes responds to current events, his pictorial world reflects his belief in working the muscle of his intuition, chance and being in the ‘presence’ of this experimentation with materials.
The following interview flows from his context as a professional artist today rather than delving into the meaning behind the works I have presented here. These images therefore give us a glimpse into his visual world that leaves ‘control’ and ‘will’ all behind.
Brian Zeigler- Untitled, 20 x 16 inches, mixed media collage, 2014
1. Tell us about your work. What is it that you do?
I draw. This is simply what I am committed to, and I believe in drawing. Even if everything I do appears different it is all drawing. I think of all of my work as drawings.
2. What experience(s) did you have that made you realize you were an artist? Were you encouraged because you had a natural inclination towards making things, did you get positive feedback from the universe when you made things? was the impulse guided by something mysterious within you?, and/or was it from inspiration when looking at a Rembrandt or listening to the Bee Gees sort of thing…
It has taken me along time to use that word “Artist” and I still have trouble calling myself that. Even though I spend a lot of time making what people would call art and have an MFA. I still find it difficult to use that word and feel awkward when I do. Not that I am against the idea, far from it, I wouldn’t want to live in a world without it. I think I was interested in this title when I was younger. The mystery and magic of making art was something I wanted to be a part of. Watching someone turn lines into a shark or a lion was super exciting and I wanted to be able to perform the same sort of magic. When I got older the word ‘artist’ seemed to carry the weight of privilege and with this weight a responsibility to use skills, talent, whatever we want to call it, to do something that mattered. By mattered I mean something that would somehow effect what is wrong in the world. This is a simple statement or I have put it in a simple way to say where my brain goes with the title of artist. This has been a struggle and is one I keep coming back to. The important thing and the thing which has made the most impact is that I keep coming back to this thing called ‘art’ and I have not given up. I still believe in it and am trying to find my way within it. I have been thinking more and more about those early experiences or memories and have been trying to give them the weight they deserve. What I mean is realizing the importance of those early events that made me say “yes, I want to continue doing this”, there is something here that will teach me what I have to learn. One of my earliest memories of this is drawing with my mom. My parents gave me a Disney drawing device. I say device because it was this blue plastic machine with rollers. A long plastic sheet was set into the rollers and using a china marker you could trace the Disney characters, then paint them and put a background behind them and roll the sheet. This I was told was how they made the cartoons I loved and being able to physically and visually understand the process was something that gave me immense pleasure. From that experience I went on to hone my skills of copying cartoons from the pages of the Sunday paper and the bad Saturday cartoons on TV. These were my biggest influences and the beginnings of my training in becoming an artist.
BZ- BROKE, 36 x 24 inches, mixed media collage, 2014
3. Was this a liberating thing to realize or did the commitment seem overwhelming, thus you postponed or second guessed it?
I believe it has been both liberating and overwhelming. Making art is absolutely liberating in the time with mindfulness spent in the making. The creative process is the most rewarding experience in terms of personal meditation and health. I have found nothing better than consuming one’s whole self in the act of making. The absolute overwhelming part is how what is made should then live in the world, because for the process of making to be fully realized what is made must live.
4. How did you begin that journey after realizing you needed to make it? What steps did you take?
I took as many art classes as I could in high school and drew everyday at my drawing table at home. I went to college and pursued a BFA, majoring in life drawing. At some point after college I decided skill and talent were not enough and I began living. I put myself out in the world and did the things I believed in. I traveled the United States working and learning on organic farms. I became a baker and learned the magic of the rising dough. I worked with the elderly and children. I knew that more than being able to draw standing up and being a part of what I believed in would make me an artist. I am still on this journey of living while trying to connect the practice of making art to my ongoing experiences.
5. What keeps you making here in Vermont?
This is a good question and I mean it in how it sounds. For me I have just begun to make art in this place, I have been here since 2005, but the majority of what I have been making has been in a different time and place. This may be the answer the duel world of existence has much interest to me. The yin and yang of things. This exists because this does. I like black and white. I have been thinking about trees much more these days and rivers and snow, ice, rain and leaves. I have been settling into this natural landscape like a warm bath and it has finally found its way into my art.
BZ- Untitled, 48 x 144 inches, mixed-media, 2014
6. How do you start?
I start with play. Then I rely on intuition. Sometimes imagination but, always experimentation. Lately I have been trying to work with chance and I have always stayed open when working with the ‘accident’. I have stopped starting with knowing and become more comfortable with not knowing and admitting that. Most drawings start with a line and go from there. Decisions are made but the ‘being’ for me is unknown, I am just responding to the continuous moment of making. I like the journey the making takes me on. I like the interpretation of the viewer. Most of the time I don’t know what I am making until long after it is done and I have spent time in its presence. This is my truth; of being less of a seeker for the right answers, and moving from that place of ‘what I see’ and ‘respond to’ instead.
BRIAN ZEIGLER, Untitled, 60 x 144 inches, china marker/ink on Yupo paper, 2014
BZ- Untitled, 60 x 144 inches, china marker/ink on Yupo paper
7. Do you think being an artist now is the all time best in the history of art, or do you see yourself suited to another time period?
I am certainly influenced by the AB-EX painters and a lot of the art that happened in the seventies, eighties and nineties. I think anytime I entertain the idea of being in another time period it is because I have the knowledge that what they were up to worked. Now creating is different, I use what has worked in the past to make the work I make. I do believe now is the best time because the past and the present coexist as they never have before and as artists we are free to do whatever we want. The pressure of being original is not hanging over our heads anymore, it has all been done.
8. Who are those that have influenced you, who have you learned from and do you feel you need to pay homage to them in anyway?
I will say I learn best from reading the writings of artists I like. There are many but some of them are…Philip Guston: http://www.sfmoma.org/explore/multimedia/videos/178 , Julie Mehretu: http://www.pbs.org/art21/artists/julie-mehretu , Mark Bradford: http://www.pbs.org/art21/artists/mark-bradford , Mike Kelley: http://mikekelley.com , The Situationists: http://theanarchistlibrary.org/library/jan-d-matthews-an-introduction-to-the-situationists , John Cage: http://johncage.org , Walter Benjamin’s essays on Charles Baudelaire: http://www.hup.harvard.edu/catalog.php?isbn=9780674022874 and older influences like Kathie Kollwitz: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Käthe_Kollwitz , Leonard Baskin: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Leonard_Baskin , Edvard Munch: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Edvard_Munch . The research I get the most out of is when I focus on a particular artist and read what has been written about them but even better if they themselves have done any writing or have done any interviews. So in that way I do think I owe them the time to really try and understand why I respond to they’re work by doing the research required.
Brian Zeigler, Untitled, 24 x 36 inches, mixed media collage, 2014
9. Do you think your work exists and flows within a tradition? why/Why not? Can you explain?
I feel now in this period of time we are living in as artists we can choose to do whatever we want. We can use any tradition, any time period, and anything to express ourselves. I do in some ways still cling to the idea of mastery and this is what keeps me drawing the way I do. It is like the practice of Tai Chi; I want to achieve the perfect relationship between movement and breath or in the case of drawing hand and eye, but I don’t know that this has anything to do with saying anything important or not, just some hang up I hold onto, maybe as result of too many kung fu movies as a child, you know, the mastery of a particular practice, and mine just happens to be drawing which I try to push as much as I can.
10. Do you think the art of painting could radicalize like it did with the Impressionists, Cubists and Ab.Ex painters?
No, I don’t believe painting can radicalize the way it did in the past. We are living in a time of maximum image soaked reality and the slow process of painting is no match. Not that I don’t believe it is still relevant or important but definitely not radical. I would say that it is really barely visible amongst all the other options out there and possibly most cynically it exists for a certain customer who has newly emerged to fit in with they’re appreciation of high design, as something to accent the illusion of high end with a pinch of soul. This is a dangerous road of thought though and only leads to something much worse in this day and age then complacency, contempt. I for one refuse to level this sort of criticism at any fellow artist knee deep in the muck of making and instead save my anger for the things that need changing.
11. If you could would you overthrow the tyranny of tradition and/or how the contemporary art market works?
Yes, I would say anything that sells for over a certain amount of money say for the hundreds of thousands should no longer be considered art. If you are getting rich off of art it is no longer art. That is sort of silly but the truth is art should come out of the life you live not out of the expectations of the market.
Brian Zeigler- Tracks, 49 x 144 inches, mixed media collage, 2013
All images are the intellectual property of Brian Ziegler. For more information about this artist feel free to visit his website at http://brianzeigler.com