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Zachary Royer Scholz

If I were to seek out materials I would only be able to find things that I already had some preconception about, but working with materials that just arrive, exist on site, or are even forced upon me,... requires that I discover before I begin to determine, and the things I discover are almost always better.

By now Klea and I have visited quite a handful of artists while they are residents at Headlands Center for the Arts and it’s always interesting to see the way in which the space and surrounding landscape influence their work and process. The former army barracks that now house artist studios are voluminous structures with big windows, echoing surfaces, and a palpable raw-edged feel. And the landscape that sprawls out beyond the buildings is lush and moody; the rich green hills, the damp air that’s often heavy with fog, and the shifting light all contribute to create a very particular setting that simultaneously expresses austerity and possibility.

By employing pre-existing objects and sites Zachary’s work explores the intersections of material and meaning, and while talking with him I was struck by his pared-down aesthetic and unhurried, meditative approach. When we visited him he was working on a few different things— “paintings” made from pieces of paint splattered drop cloth canvas as well as others made from sections of velvet taken from old, disected couches, and he also had large swaths of foam and some pink boards that he had found that he still wasn’t quite sure what to do with. When I asked what he envisioned for the foam he said, “Right now, I’m just interested to see how this environment affects the materials. Like, for example, how much will the foam yellow from the sun?” I sensed no anxiety in his answer, no worry that he hadn’t yet begun to make something with the foam— instead his response revealed the patience, curiosity, and generosity he felt towards his material. Central to Zachary’s approach is this act of “waiting”… well, it looks like waiting, but it’s actually not. Though he had not yet transformed the foam, Zachary continually engaged with it— moving the big pieces about, considering them from different angles and at different times of day, and observing how they occupied the space and interacted with other materials. This is how Zachary works, and all this shuffling, this continued touching and considering, brings a great deal of intimacy and discovery to his process. I must say, to me, for all its slow and ruminative qualities there is actually something incredibly brazen about this approach— it rebels against the constraints of time, it challenges the natural impulse to know, to do, to have a plan, and ultimately it suggests that a work might actually never be finished. And I suppose, the thought of something never being finished has the potential to make people uncomfortable.

I appreciate that Zachary doesn’t frantically grasp at possibility or meaning in his work, instead he lets those things show up on their own time, welcoming them whether they are in fragmented or whole states, shifting or standing still, blatant or obscured. At one point in our conversation Zachary said, “I embrace the idea of the work mirroring real life in a literal sense: the constant changing, re-authoring, and deteriorating. I’m always changing, re-authoring, and deteriorating, and I want my work to as well.” I think this statement, and Zachary’s work, speaks to the constant interchange between us and the world that surrounds us, revealing the ways in which we shape it and how it shapes us.

What mediums do you work with?
I work with a range of materials and methodologies to make artworks that could be classified as sculpture, collage, painting, fiber-art, drawing, video, installation, and photography. However, I see all of these ways of working as a cohesive investigation.

How would you describe your subject matter or the content of your work?
The notion of content or subject matter is odd to me. It supposes that artworks operate as vehicles for meanings that are separate from them. I am not interested in this kind of facilitated meaning. I seek to make things that exist in the world. I know that a piece is working when it becomes something beyond my intention and its ontological presence starts to prompt me to discover things about myself and reevaluate the structures through which I construct meaning.

You work collaboratively with pre-existing elements, using what is available to reshape and remake. What do you think is the impetus to alter and manipulate, yet to do so with a minimal touch?
I work with clearly pre-existing materials and structures, because every material we use is an appropriation. At a cosmic level, the particles that make up every organism or substance on our planet were generated through gravitational fusion, particle bombardment, and decay in exploding stars. At a more immediate level the molecules we use to build and run our bodies are appropriated, and the properties that we exploit within the materials around us—be it the color of a pigment, the tensile strength of a fiber, or the ductility of a metal—are all pre-existing qualities that we bend to new ends and uses. The minimal touch that I employ when working with materials keeps these histories visible and active and allows me to bridge their previous meanings into new terrains.

The materials you use convey their own presence and history, but they are often fairly ordinary. How do you go about choosing them?
It is important to me that my materials are ordinary. Gold is incredible stuff, but it is hard for anything made out of gold to operate substantially beyond the visually seductive and culturally significant place gold holds in our collective imagination. Slick materials, like gold, embody a delusional bid for immortality. Banal materials wear their insignificance and ephemerality openly. Their honesty is beautiful and slightly tragic.

I used to think that once I found a material that I was interested in working with I could go out and find more of it, but I have since discovered that I am really only interested in working with materials that circumstantially appear. If I were to seek out materials I would only be able to find things that I already had some preconception about, but working with materials that just arrive, exist on site, or are even forced upon me, I have to start from a space of blankness that I find particularly rich. Working within unchosen potentials and constraints requires that I discover before I begin to determine, and the things I discover are almost always better.

Do you see your work as autobiographical at all?
All work is autobiographical. Since I only ever work with things that I happen upon, everything I make is directly connected to my own idiosyncratic experience of the world. Additionally, the way I work with material is an accumulated methodology that is informed by my accumulated experience. It now operates largely within an art milieu, but it is also shaped by my previous studies in geology and mechanical engineering, my childhood tinkering in my parents’ garage, the smattering of books I read and music I listen to, and the array of topics that periodically interest me.

Do you have a day job? What is it? What does it mean to you?
In addition to my making practice I dabble/cross-train as an art-writer and curator. I write regularly for Art Practical and occasionally for SFMOMA’s Open Space and KQED. It takes a lot out of me to write, but it’s nice to sometimes take a break from making art. I used to also hustle a variety of ad hoc work, but for the last couple years, I have spent that time taking care of our daughter Aurelia.

What does having a physical space to make art in mean for your process, and how do you make your space work for you?
Any space that I work within is always an integral element in my process. This is perhaps more evident in exhibition spaces where I often create site-specific and site-responsive artworks, but it also operates in my studio environment. I find it highly productive to generate artworks and installations that are specific to my studio and never intended to exist anywhere else. I am also dramatically influenced by the particular ways of working that different spaces prefer to support.

What are you presently inspired by— are there particular things you are reading, listening to or looking at to fuel your work?
As I said previously there is a big soup of things that feed into my work, but my most immediate influences are at present the location of the Marin Headlands itself and the incredible space I have been given here at the Headlands Center for the Arts. It is a magical room and I am letting both its voice and the Headlands as a place, guide the work I make. More broadly, I am being intellectually charged by ideas related to plasticity, including selective gene expression and the way unrelated areas of the brain will take over the functions of damaged areas. More viscerally, my practice is increasingly being influenced by routine actions. For the longest time I felt burdened by the need to continually pack and repack the materials and past works stored in my space in order to access various things buried within the mass. Now I see this continual shuffling as an integral part of my working process. This base-level interaction fundamentally changes my relationship to these materials and grows a relationship that eventually shapes the way I use them.

Has there been a person or experience that has steered your work in new or significant directions?
I haven’t experienced radical shifts in my work that I can link to a specific person or event. Individual voices have certainly been important in my studio, particularly when I was in graduate school. But, what I have more readily experienced is retroactive reevaluations of the position I occupy. The first substantial rethinking occurred at the end of my undergraduate when I came to see my art making as a methodical framework through which I could combine interests that I had previously thought of as separate areas of intellectual inquiry. The second came toward the end of graduate school when my practice began to absorb not only my more consciously pursued activities, but also the less articulated forms of making and interacting with material that I had been doing almost subconsciously. Over time, these two large shifts in my practice have increasingly combined. More and more I do my thinking while engaged in activity, allowing the act of making to structure and influence my cognitive process. Different activities preference different ways of thinking. Some actions, like walking, provide linear structures that are useful for linguistic cognition. Other, more amorphous actions, produce sub-linguistic spaces that preference aimless discovery.

Is there something you are currently working on, or are excited about starting that you can tell us about?
While at Headlands I have stumbled into making a number of works that are essentially paintings. I haven’t made “paintings” in a very long time and there is something exciting in the way this new work participates in a painting-based discourse, and at the same time, does something very different that allows it to avoid the pitfalls I feel are almost inherent in painting.

How do you navigate the art world?
Schizophrenically. Mostly I am an artist, but because I also write criticism and curate, I often find myself experiencing aspects of the art world that are usually invisible to artists, or at least eschewed by them. I weather this confusion by trusting in my work. Not so much the things I make, write, or curate, but my commitment to active and honest discourse and engagement. The opportunities and success that I have enjoyed have not come from strategically networking or promoting my work, but by genuinely contributing value without the expectation that it will benefit me, and trusting that I will reap what I sow.

Do you see your work as relating to any current movement or direction in visual art or culture? Which other artists might your work be in conversation with?
My work draws on a long lineage of influences that include Da Da’s stupidity, Minimalism’s literalism, Arte Povera’s banality, Situationalism’s conditionalism, Light and Space’s profundity, and West Coast Conceptualism’s playful materiality. It is impossible to trace exactly where my work connects to each of these precedents in part because they are themselves all interrelated and overlapping. However, much like this amalgam of influences, I reshape banal materials through situational actions in order to produce objects and installations that through their literal presence confront viewers with the material and phenomenological profundity of their existence. Thankfully, I am not alone in this terrain; my preoccupations echo in a wide range of other artists work, including many based or shaped by time in the Bay Area. An utterly incomplete list of these might include: Mitzi Pederson, Gedi Sibony, John Beech, Kjell Varvin, Angela De-La-Cruz, Felix Schramm, as well as many of the artists that I am lucky enough to exhibit alongside at Eli Ridgway Gallery.

Do you have a motto?
Things will become clear.

What three things never fail to bring you pleasure?
I find continual pleasure spending time with my wife, Felisa, playing with my daughter Aurelia, and performing routine actions like cooking, cleaning, and pruning our Meyer lemon tree.

Are you involved in any upcoming shows or events? Where and when?
I don’t have all that much on the immediate horizon. I am starting to work with a new gallery opening in Chelsea called Durable Goods, but things are a little up in the air with the recent flooding; I have a public art project that I have been developing off and on with Invisible Venue that I am going to start focusing on again when my time here wraps up; and, I have a couple other small things that I will start working on before 2013. But for now I am consciously taking a break, even saying no to a few opportunities, and trying to focus on being present here at Headlands.

To see more of Zachary’s work:
Eli Ridgway Gallery (representing gallery).
ZRS Studio (for older stuff, writing, and other projects).