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Q&A: Artist Billy Zinser

by Stephen Becker 15 Jul 2010 12:55 PM

Ahead of his show at The Public Trust, Billy Zinser discusses his dual life as an artist and gallery director as well as the figures he’s creating for the masses.


Guest Blogger Tina Aguilar teaches Humanities and Cultural Studies at Brookhaven College School of the Arts.

What textures and forms have you seen lately? We are surrounded by them, but do we really see them. This is something I consider when I stare into the work of artist Billy Zinser. Most recently, Zinser is the recipient of the Arch and Anne Giles Kimbrough Fund through the Dallas Museum of Art. And this month he aligns himself with cartoonist Jeremy Smith in “Jeremy Smith + Billy Zinser: New Work” at The Public Trust – opening Saturday. Playfulness and magnetism abound in Zinser’s paintings and plastic permutations. His charming creatures become friends, perhaps.

Tina Aguilar: When I see your paintings they seem to want to walk out and greet viewers, almost as if to offer a hug. Tell me about your process and how you work.

PULP, 2010, oil on canvas

Billy Zinser: I tend to want to preserve each painting and work it until it feels right. My layers can build up the thickness, and making it work is where I exist. There is an area between satisfactory and being done, being about 90-98 percent sure about a stopping point. I don’t know what the end result looks like, unlike a landscape or portrait. For me, it’s really when it feels right. It can take seven months to one month for my process. It could be through a study or drawing, and then it is how the brushstrokes evolve. When I was in school, I did more Terry Winters orb-like, drippy creations. But in my last year of school I found my style. In my work there is a connection to Philip Guston and Ernesto Neto.

T.A.: Recently, we have had a resurgence of how to experience and respond to abstract art. Do you like abstract? How do you describe your style?

B.Z.: Sure, well, non-objective abstract painter is the way I see myself, and this means a mixture of nothing and something in the work I do. For example, there are qualities of separation and brushstrokes perhaps similar to the form of a figure when you look at my paintings … qualities of line versus shape, and what you can do with paint. First of all there is the brush … line works with the paint and brush. Speed and intensity allow pushing even further. I like to explore the explicit and visceral experiences.

T.A.: How did you know you wanted to be an artist?

B.Z.: I tried other things, like guitar and soccer. But with my personality, painting clicked because of the instant gratification.

T.A.: So let me ask about the MACRODONS. What are they, and how did you develop them?

B.Z.: With my MACRODON figures, I think they have mass appeal and are affordable and I am using another skill set to create these plastic collectible figures. I was really into Legos as a kid, which is so counter to how I view what I do now, and the Ninja Turtles. I wanted this work to be silly and the forms to be bold colors and outlines. I like a whimsical object that you can play with. My paintings mainly came first, but I thought of the idea of a less precious work, more affordable, and that it could become a collectible. Some proto-MACRODON gestures began in my last semester of school in the form of prints and paintings. That led me to explore taking them into 3-D space. I made six at a time and wanted to further explore possible MACRODON figures. In the interim between Series 1 and 2, I decided to start a daily sketch blog to both exercise my brain by making a drawing every day and to push the project forward.


B.Z.: There’s something fun about it. I am not trained as a sculptor … I was anti-sculpture in school. But I also did printmaking, and that process and execution takes time to explore. With the creatures I use a clay original, make a silicon mold, and then cast each piece in resin/plastic. When I paint, it is very fluid, and with clay it is well suited to my style, too.

T.A.: Do you keep a list of what people see with the MACRODONS?

B.Z.: I don’t consciously, but I remember what people see most, and it amazes me … a hacked-up fur ball, an amputated finger or head.

T.A.: Tell me about the work you will do with the recent Arch and Anne Giles Kimbrough Fund award.

B.Z.: I am interested in doing a public piece and seeing how offering this idea will work. The idea of creating something that may be up for a short period of time offers an experience for someone to take away. Kind of like those blow-up gorillas at a car dealership or somewhere.

T.A.: What about your gallery director hat? Tell me what that’s like being on the other side.

B.Z.: Mostly my work at the Marty Walker Gallery involves variations of what it takes to make a gallery function and be successful. There is a range of responsibility of promoting the space, and yeah it is a business, so selling is part of the picture, and then all those who are making art and partnering to exist in the arts. I enjoy it and being around all the different artists and work. Wearing so many hats along with the owner, Marty Walker, make it an amazing experience. For example, in our current show, “Post – Now,” we have three photographers, Buster Graybill, Anna Krachey and Jesse Morgan Barnett, who all share a unity with their photography as painting, and yet each one has their own voice.

T.A.: Do you see Dallas through a particular lens?

B.Z.: Dallas serves as a launching point. Texas loves art, and we have our own personality. I dig Texas, there’s an ability to have your cake and eat it too.

T.A.: What’s it like working in the gallery and then in your studio?

B.Z.: I enjoy working in the gallery and making my art in my studio. You learn, as an artist, that if you have time, you seek to use it really well. My schedule works out where I have my own studio time and then time to share with my wife. There is a point when you need to recharge … you need to take a break. Painting is high energy for me, and I am lucky with my schedule. But I can enjoy Sundays with my wife and focus on my work in the early part of the week.

T.A.: Do you have any words of wisdom for emerging artists?

B.Z.: Geez, I don’t know about wisdom, but I do have a few tips. Exercise your “creative muscle” by pushing yourself to do things you perhaps would not ordinarily do – varying media, creating a stack of hundreds of sketches, painting over a painting you think is already satisfactory and then make it better. I suggest these things because they are things that I have tried and found very satisfying, and have helped my work improve and also broadened my artistic range. For example: my daily sketch blog wasn’t always easy, but it helped me stay away from getting in a rut and forced me far away from anything that would create an “artist block.” Also, as you can see in the drawings, I limited my materials to black and white: graphite, black India ink, white acrylic paint, a drafting pen and a few brushes. This helped keep the project contained and focused, so in this case, my drawings were a sort of research on form, gesture and texture, but not so much composition, color or technique. Make a website for your work. If you can’t do it yourself, there are dozens of free templates to use. But please, keep the layout simple – you are showcasing your art, not some flashy designed webpage. Cool effects and functions are a plus, but don’t let it detract from the art. Many people are sitting in front of a computer so much, that this is the easiest way to show someone your work. And, lastly, emerging artists seeking gallery representation: do your homework, research the galleries, start local. This way you don’t have to deal with the ever increasing cost of shipping right off the bat, and, plus, like most artists, you probably don’t know how to pack art … so wait until you get some experience until you ship things to New York, L.A., etc… And when researching galleries, look for galleries that show work that is in synch with your work, and it feels like your work would fit in nicely with the other work displayed.

Billy Zinser’s work can be viewed beginning on Saturday with the opening of Jeremy Smith + Billy Zinser: New Work at The Public Trust in Deep Ellum. Stay tuned for more in the future about his large-scale public work and new iterations of MACRODONS.

  • Emily

    So excited for the show!

  • William E.

    Great interview! It is fascinating to know how the mind of the artist works. So often artists don’t seem to have a sense of purpose or direction for their work or the techniques they train themselves to use, but Billy Zinser shows that through keeping your mind organized you do not need to know what the result will be to make it interesting, and if you are consistent, you will know when you have reached the end of the project you’re working on. He gives really good advice for any artist.