Monday, March 31, 2014


Michael Zachary, Studio Space, 2014

BR: We’re looking at your drawings and I’d like to open it to where are they coming from? And since diagram seems to be pretty big maybe you can go from there?

MZ: I came from an abstract hard-edged painting background, and a lot of things had kind of been percolating in my head for a long time. For one thing I had been worrying that things had become too hermetic and oblique for a viewer to really enter into my paintings, and I had been banging my head against the wall about that. At the same time I had begun to teach and I had been working with students who were beginning to learn how to paint and draw, and they were getting so excited that they were able to capture content through likenesses, and I became jealous of that. I wanted that kind of thrill back in my process on some level. And finally I was also becoming very preoccupied with this generational gap between my students and I; with the way they consume images from the computer and use visual technology.

BR: The Real vs the Virtual?

MZ: On a more fundamental level, just an attitude about which one looks and the speed with which one looks – and I was constantly advocating for a very slow kind of painting, a very slow close looking, so that things unfold as you spend time with an image.  And it was just becoming very clear to me that, that was not the way that they’re brains were functioning. They’re brains were functioning in this kind of quick, quick, quick, montage, pastiche kind of way.

Michael Zachary, studio view, 2014

Michael Zachary, An Ordinary Evening

BR: Hyperspeed?  And so their way of looking was having an influence on the way you were thinking about the image?

MZ: I was thinking about that, but what I wanted to do – I wanted a Trojan Horse. I wanted to take something that would initially function within that trope and just kind of inject things into it that would take everything that I loved about a 300 year old painting and reframe it into that context. All these different things were going on in my head so I made a sign in my studio. I made this sign that read ‘Make a Painting for the Computer’ and I thought about it for a while and left it hanging in my studio. And at a certain point, I thought “what if I take that literally” – what if instead of making these modular blocks of color out of oil paint, I reduce that even further and start making marks that were actually just data, just vectors and a limited color palette. Was a data set like that something a computer could understand?  What would that look like?  I kind of shied away from it for a while – it seemed silly, and I had all this training as an oil painter that I was trying to override. And then I just did it – and it was a breath. All the things that I was trying to address that had always been on the table: the work being more about decision making than technique, making the process very transparent and the painting read as an overall gestalt, it all fell into place. And then were off to the races so-to-speak. That’s how I originally came to this.

BR: Is this the way this one is oriented?

MZ: This is a strange grouping, because I’ve just brought many of these drawings up to Lowell for a show and this grouping is kind of like a set of weird little orphans that haven’t fully formed.
This one is a piece that I wanted to deal with frontality ­– that would flip back and forth between a dense abstract field and a low relief, I don’t know is fully resolved.

BR: In this one I’d say that distance is key and distance brings resolve.

MZ: That’s true of all of them.

Michael Zachary, process drawings, studio view, 2014

BR:  How do you begin?

MZ:  When I begin, I use drawing, brush and computer interchangeably.  My process starts with a very intense gathering – I spend a lot of time walking, hiking, almost in a performative way – a forced march gathering all these images.

BR: Do all these images come from your own photographic capturing?

MZ: Yes, and drawing and sketching as well. They all come from places that I have experienced and spent time in. None of the images are appropriated. That’s very important to me, that they function as a distillation of sensory experience.

BR: That’s a big shift in terms of understanding how you come to the imagery.

MZ: A lot of my process I think replicates this idea of the way we see and remember places: In terms of a pastiche, taking little pieces and constructing a found space rather than constructing the most “correct” analogue. For example this is photo of a place I stumbled upon in Ireland – an inherently weird situation, a very bleak stone landscape and then there’s this crazy strange almost California Modern house, pink stucco, there’s this complete dichotomy going on, there’s this inside/outside thing going on and I’m immediately interested. First thing I do is I make some quick small sketches. They get pretty beat up, I don’t consider them final works, I consider it a way to come to something – just understanding the way things come together formally, because it’s in those decisions that the art starts to come in. So I’m real interested in this strange container style box stuck in this very bleak, open, romantic landscape – so then I start poking around, maybe there needs to be more of these things. Maybe one isn’t enough. And I find this trailer park 30 km away, and its crazy interesting, so then I think maybe its not one building I’m interested in but some kind of ad-hoc city. So then I start making a drawing like this, with many more small houses. I start making these brush drawings. And I always use this intensely chromatic ink when I do brush drawings, because it allows me to make a notation about the intensity and saturation of color, which drawing in traditional black and white would not.  And that’s important later on, important to how you layer the fine-point elements. That intensity and saturation of color is the engine that drives the final product, so I find these notations helpful.  Anyway, the trailer city idea turns out to be a dead end, because when there are too many of them they are small and don’t read well. So I backtrack and I start thinking about the landscape, I do more exploring, go back to one building in the landscape, and then looking at the top (of the drawing) I realize it needs a pressure up there, to create the sense vastness pressing in on the structure… and one arrives at a composition, something like the final drawing. I do use some projections to help with the final layout when I am executing. The whole thing is a constructed space, and you have to go through this whole crazy round about process to arrive at building a space that is in some way analogous to all the important things about the space you remember even though it is not a direct translation. And those are the decisions that I find very engaging and very revealing because they say so much about the way we process information and the way we think.

Michael Zachary, Trailer

Michael Zachary, studio view, 2014

BR: You are choosing a single point line, can talk about the felt tip or ball point?

MZ: In Terms of the fine-point thing, that sort of functions… we talked a little about how I want them to function like a memory to replicate how memory is made. But I also want them to more closely replicate the way we see – and one of the things I love about that consistency of mark is it really blurs distinction between edges and eliminates details.  It forces you to back away from the image, and this curious thing starts to happen where you can best see the image by moving back as far away as possible. And what that means you have to look at overall relationships, details cease to matter. Which is really how we perceive the world, as a gestalt. We only subdivide it into individual parts much later.
BR: And what about the ghost of Serat?

MZ: It’s something that I wrestle with everyday.  A lot times people say “oh you’ve come up with this crazy new way of painting” and I say “I’m pretty sure Seurat has come up with pretty much everything I’m wrestling with a long time ago” and I'm just trying to play with it and push it forward.

BR:   But maybe now is an apt time to be revisiting that with our newfound placement of utopia in computers isn’t so much different from Serat’s time of being inspired by science will save us?  We are now are in an age of the computer will save us?

MZ: Exactly.  That’s what I want to do with these.  I want to take that utopian computer world and I want to problematize it and make it a little more weirder and a little more oblique and a little more human.

BR: What do you think about your borders?

MZ: I think showing the borders is absolutely essential, because that’s where me being machine-like really breaks down.  I’d like you to see it as machine-like from far away, but I’d like the ragged edge to be slowly revealed --- I’d like there to be a couple points where it shows that I fucked up --- maybe a couple lines where I’m not perfect.

Michael Zachary, studio view, 2014


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About Me

Boston, MA, United States
I'm an artist originally from Flint, MI now residing in Boston, MA. In-between I practiced my art in NYC and overseas in Scotland. I've been using this blog to situate Boston art and artists amongst the International scene of contemporary art. You can find my art on