We often find ourselves stuck at the crossroads of life. Many of them are very unfamiliar. And some of them come so quickly that we need a bit of time to give them the right name. Many of them are given to us by society, positioned as logical life paths carved by the wise ones. But what if, what if one day you come across a simple object that has the power to change your tightened views on life and profession. What if something wakes you up from everyday thoughts, makes you smile, and at least changes your day for the better. All with a bit of humor! The artist Dave Zackin is tickling some of our unspoken thoughts with his art. Not aiming for perfection and with a unique language and in big bold letters. He is showing us that things can be done in a different unique way.
I grew up in Newton, next to Boston, but have been in Brooklyn for the past 18 years. I have always collected junk, and as a kid, I drew on my old adam/colecovision computer with a permanent marker. I drew on the old black and white tv we had in the attic. Drawing on top of things made them mine, and made them more than just junk. I did some drawings of Fred Flinstone as a kid and then added a mustache and told people they were drawings of my dad. I like modifying things to change their meanings.
What is the first emotion that drives you towards creating an art piece? Do you recognize the connection immediately and let yourself flow on the creative process? Or do you "bake" the inspiration for some time?
I probably make my best work when I am slightly stressed and sleepy -- looking for distractions. I went to art school at the Rhode Island School of Design (it was amazing, but they charge too much money). While there I never got great at drawing from life, but I have developed a set of tricks and use them in a lot of different combinations to create new work.
I try to paint myself into a corner and then make a messy path out. That means starting to paint a sentence on the outside of a vase without knowing how I am going to end it. I like when the mistakes show up. Mutations are important to evolution. When working with text I take a lot of inspiration from hand written signs on deli doors or advertising stoop sales -- they get the message across, but aren't concerned with too many rules and best-practices.
What is the back story of your design? Because every one of us sees the world through separate lenses. How hard it must be to transfer it to other people?
I make my work pretty accessible -- when I want the viewer to know something, I write it down in big bold letters. That revelation that it is okay to do things the easy way came to me as I was studying animation in school. I pulled so many all nighters in the animation studio with friends, joking and working. We were all making thousands of drawings, trying to pack so much into each drawing while creating twelve drawings for each second of film and everyone's films started to feel the same -- emotional, vague, and beautiful.
After making a few films like that I realized that I didn't want the drawing to do all the work -- no one watches silent movies anymore -- I could let the audio track do most of the storytelling work and let the drawings be the fun part. That liberated me to not take the art part so seriously. I still don't know how to draw a hand well, but instead of agonizing about it (or learning how to draw a hand well) I now draw ridiculous hands with extra fingers, and write text next to them explaining what they are pointing at. It works for me.
When it comes to making a living from your art, what are the main struggles? And what would be your advice for starting artists?
I go back and forth on making art for a living. I have always worked for non-profits -- a few years teaching art classes for adults with mental illness, ten years as the graphic designer at NYC's public hospital system, a year designing for the NYC Dept. of Sanitaion, and now working for rpa.org
- a policy and planning non-profit. My ceramic work has gotten popular enough that I could probably quit my day job -- but I want the ceramic work to be primarily for me -- that means wasting time on parts of the process and enjoying wasting time.
Once I decide that art is what I am going to do for money, I will have to change my practice and I worry that I will not allow myself to make as many mistakes. I want to keep making mistakes and wasting time for a little longer. I advise other artists to do the same. Also -- to only waste time if it is enjoyable. If you don't want to learn to draw hands well, don't do it! Leave that to people who are into that sort of thing.
What do you prefer, single pieces or storytelling through a whole project? And what approach do you use in each case?
Each piece is part of the larger body of work. I think of all of my work as a long running, not-quite-narrative comic. I also think a lot about the Tribe Called Quest lyric "you're only as funky as your last cut". I have 100,000 bad ideas in me. I need to get all of them out into the world so I can start getting into the good ideas that come next.
Why do you use certain materials? What connects you with them, and makes you feel they are perfect for your art piece?
I don't like blank canvases -- they are intimidating. I usually work with pots that my friends at the studio have thrown and don't want to keep. The challenge is personalizing those pots to make them feel like they are all mine. I end up accidentally destroying some of them, but since they were already going to be destroyed before I got my hands on them, I don't mind. It is pretty freeing. Clay is also great for me because it is less final than making marks on a page. Nothing is permanent until I want it to be. Everything is smooshable.
What does ART, in general, mean to you?
Art is everything we make. What your art does is the important part. I don't aim too high with my art. The almost-obvious is my sweet spot. I try to create very small eureka moments with the work I make. Hopefully those eureka moments will jar people out of whatever state they are in and help gain insight, empathy, or whatever else comes after a change in perspective.
His art transmissions pure positive energy. His cartoon-art approach makes us feel less overwhelmed and less repressed by society. And you can question yourself, why is that? And the answer is perfectly carried imperfections that are here to make our day better. To make us smile. To make us feel free. To make us realize - not only standards of perfection made by others can determine our happiness and success. Sometimes a simple message is enough to make a change.
The FOURLINEdesign team would like to thank Dave Zackin for sharing inspiring thoughts with our community.