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Art&Seek Q&A: Artist David Zvanut

by Stephen Becker 29 Oct 2009 6:24 AM

Commerce-based artist David Zvanut talks about technology’s role in producing Music on Parade, his winning entry in the 4th Annual Catholic Foundation Plaza Artists Competition, as part of this week’s Art&Seek Q&A:


The guidelines for the Annual Catholic Foundation Plaza Artists Competition are pretty wide open. The main requirement is that your piece fit on the 28-foot by 9-foot, 8-inch wall in the Plaza. But given the Plaza’s location in the Arts District, working the performing arts into your design seems like a smart way to score some extra points.

That’s the logic that David Zvanut rode to winning the 4th annual competition. His piece, Music on Parade, will be displayed in the public spot for the next year and earned him a $2,500 check. The piece is a combination of digital photos of four of Zvanut’s paintings and two of his glass mosaic panels that he layered together using Photoshop. The composite image was then blown up and pieced together on the wall.

So how does one go about conceiving such a large-scale piece? The Commerce-based artist talks about technology’s role in producing Music on Parade, as well as how his piano training influenced the creative process, as part of this week’s Art&Seek Q&A:

Art&Seek: You’ve said that Music on Parade is part of a series in which you try to, “convey some of the passion evoked by a serious musical work using purely visual means.” How do you define a serious musical work?


David Zvanut: Well, you know I don’t want to make anybody mad, but I’m thinking more like stuff that would be played in symphony halls. Not pop music. But not necessarily strictly classical music. I’m talking about anything from Beethoven to Philip Glass.

A&S: Do you listen to music while you work?

D.V.: Sometimes I do, sure. Not all the time, but sometimes, I do.

A&S: When you are thinking about how to visually represent music, what do you focus on?

D.V.: I’m an amateur musician – I’ve played music since I was a kid and studied it a little bit in high school and college. Then I went into visual arts, and I got into the Abstract Expressionists – especially Jackson Pollock and the emotional content of splashes and drips. And in trying to organize those splashes and drips, I hit upon, well, why not try to drape those forms across a musical notation, which I was somewhat familiar with. … One thing about visual arts, and a painting in particular, is you are able to get the full experience of the work instantaneously. And in music, you have to devote time to the work in order to get everything the work has to offer. I think that might be for me, being biased, one reason why painting is a little more superior art – it can convey its image instantaneously. So I’m trying to get that experience that you would get over time in a musical work to happen right away.

A&S: In addition to painting, you also work in glass and sculpture. What’s the benefit to you in working in more than one medium?

D.V.: Well, for one thing, in my glass work and my sculpture work, a lot of the materials I come across don’t cost me any money. They’re free materials, they’re recycled materials, found objects. With painting, you’ve got to buy paint. And paint’s not cheap.

A&S: But besides the practical benefits, does working in one medium affect how you work in another?

D.V.: I don’t know about that. I think for me it’s good to be able to do different things just so I don’t get bored.

A&S: When you submitted your entry to the contest, you knew that the painting would be nearly 30 feet wide by 10 feet high. How does that large scale play into how you conceive the painting?

D.V.: One reason I was very interested in entering that concept was that they were going to take this image and enlarge it. I had done a couple of things where I had taken photographs of my art work and combined them in the computer and just produced them as small, I guess you would call, Giclée prints. And then I saw this opportunity, and I thought, “My gosh, this is the perfect thing. They want me to submit an original art work that’s going to be blown up.” (Click here for a series of photos showing how the piece was assembled on site.) If you take a painting or a drawing and blow it up, you can’t really call the resulting work an original work. It’s a print of an original work. Whereas what I was doing with combining these painted and glass images and producing this digital print – every time you produce that digital print, it’s an original work. For the contest, I produced it in 1/12th scale, which was 9 ¾ by 28 inches, which is what they specified. That’s a digital print. Well, the print that they enlarged for the wall was also a digital print, and to me it’s just as much an original work as the small, original work that I had produced. So instead of reproducing a painting, they are producing an original print.

A&S: It must be an interesting process to combine these different pieces that you have created and watch as technology interprets how they should fit together.

D.V.: Yeah. I got my MFA in the mid-80s, and computers were just starting to come out. I was kind of dissing them, saying, “Oh, I’m never going to use anything like that.” And now, the MFA classes at this particular school in Commerce are devoted to what they call new media, which is a little bit of that – using computers and different kinds of mechanical ways to reproduce work to try to get something new. So I guess I’m a part of that tradition, and I’m lucky enough that the underlying work is strong enough to where when I do put them together in this technological fashion, the image comes out and it’s strong. And I can still call it all my own.

A&S: What does it mean to you personally to know that your piece will be on display in such a high-profile location for a year?

D.V.: I wake up every morning thinking about it. And I think, “Gosh, I wish I was closer to Dallas so I could go see it more often.” … It’s fun for me to go down there and watch the symphony let out and watch the people come over there and get a look at it, and then to see it from inside the symphony hall with people milling about – it’s very meaningful. I wish it could be up there forever, but I’m glad that it’s there for the time that it is.

  • Cynthia Hovey

    What an astute interviewer to ask such open-ended questions that brought out David Zvanut’s thought process so realistically. His work is intriguing, and I plan to find it wherever it is. His website,, shows the breadth of his work and the resounding musical theme he so embellishes. Here, Here for the Catholic Foundation for supporting such artistic endeavors and for creating the space for art in the middle of downtown Dallas. My wish is David’s wish, that “Music on Parade” could stay a centerpiece of Dallas forever.

  • Deborah Drake

    I am glad that the Dallas Fine Arts District has benefited form the Catholic Foundation’s Plaza Artist’s Competition. How about this mural, or its offspring gracing a plaza in Houston’s fine arts district? How wonderful it would be to have this extraordinary gift for the spirit and soul, as the curtain closes and you step out side the theater doors!. Can’t think of a better way to end an evening…
    This piece draws you in and will not let you go.
    Wherever it is displayed, there will be people looking at it, touching
    and feeling it, being calmed as well as energized by it. Mr. Zvanut’s expressed wish that his work might bring a smile to one’s face or provide a few moments of relief from one’s troubles has certainly been granted. We can surely all benefit from that.