Cross disciplinary artist
Bryce Zackery is a cross disciplinary artist who works with moulds and wood. He was part of “A Foothold on the Rocks,” a group exhibition at Equity Gallery in February 2016.
You hold a Bachelor of Science in Mass Communication from Saint Cloud State University in Minnesota. How has this background influenced the themes and approach that you take with your practice?
My education always came from the philosophy of intertextuality, finding ways to process things that are seemingly unalike and the ways in which they are interconnected and utilizing it in my practice. One focus of my mass communication work was in nonverbal communication and rhetoric. So with my work, I create visual narratives that attempt to motivate action. There is a theory that 50% or greater of communication is nonverbal, and I feel like the same can be conveyed in a physical object.
So there is a direct connection there?
Yes. I started doing a lot of video work while I was a student and it continued on after I graduated. Even now in my sculptural practice, it comes sort of naturally. I never really had a formal art education. Most of my education in art came from reading the same art books that I saw my friends who were enrolled fine arts programs, were reading at home or at the library. You start to see, reference, and understand things differently because you don’t have the opportunity to have real discussions or critiques. My “actual” art education came from the market side of the art world. I never had a studio or facilities at my disposal; my studio was my apartment until I saved enough money to rent one. I learned techniques from physically working with other artists and experimenting with materials on my own. I always had to work for my studio space and materials. I really learned the business side of art making by running my practice in this way thus far; you see the real nuances of it. So when I hear students/artists complain about how expensive things are, it falls on deaf ears.
You work with quite substantial mediums/materials to create sculpture/painting hybrids. How do you classify your work?
I struggle with that daily, because I’ve always thought of myself as a painter, but I haven't actually made a painting in about six years. With the painting, I couldn't get the impasto that I wanted, so that led me to more sculptural, mould-making and woodworking techniques. I developed my own hybrid style learning from various mould-makers and wood workers. I’m still producing this work in the same way that I would a painting, so it always comes back to that, but at the same time, there is no real painting in my work. So to classify my work, I don't know. The weird part is, I remember when I was a kid, I wanted to be able to do everything. I never believed in the philosophy of choosing one discipline. I think the idea that you need to just be a painter, or just be a sculptor, is a little counterintuitive to actually making art. You should be encouraged to achieve in as many disciplines as you want. Working in other areas informs the original discipline and improves your ability to create, or at least for my process. For other artists, this might not be necessary. My background is actually in television production and film, so I applied the concepts of set lighting to my paintings and carried it into the sculptural aspect of my work. My sculptures and paintings then began to inform my video works.
Is the material you choose to work with important to each particular work?
There are a few different elements to this for me. Is it conceptually relevant? In terms of my reliefs, I love the fact that they're one unified material. Even though they are different objects, they shed their natural identity and become one homogenized collective.That’s what coincides with the title of “landscape.” Landscape is made up of different elements, be it social or physical. In taking all these separate elements and combining them into one single, solitary, unified object, they become a landscape.
Another element is practicality, in terms of weight. I try to keep things on the lighter side, so that materials can be built up. You have to factor in everything like weight and shipping costs into your process.
Also, there are certain materials that I just like working with. I’m always testing materials, so there is always an element of experimentation with my work. It’s testing to see what’s going to offer the best result. The resins, primers, paints, pigments all must work together so that the work is archival. Everything should be working with each other. Nothing should be fighting.
Several of your works employ the use of monochromatic colour schemes. What led you to working with such a limited palette for each piece?
Originally, I used to work in a lot of color. When I was first developing the landscapes, all of the different elements were in conflict. Initially the black monochrome was going to act like a primer and help lead me to the colors for each piece. When I saw the result with black monochrome, I realized that no other color would have such an impact. There is so much happening sculpturally, texturally and aesthetically in my work and I didn’t want to distract or detract from it with extra color. By choosing to create in this way, it allows you to see every critical detail. There is a lot of power in the monochrome as well. A bright, big, beautiful color, or a very dark, rich, black. I like the way that monochrome works as a skin that allows you to engage the form and structure of an object.
In terms of community, what value have you found in working amongst other artists?
I’ve learned so much by working with other artists. I like to collaborate. In terms of artist communities, it’s critical that artists still engage and talk with each other and work with each other. It goes back to diversity of ideas, communication, interacting and seeing shows, both historic and contemporary. I think it’s essential to have a few artists that you hang out and work with, not only for the mental health of an artist but also for the survival of an artist, because I think that’s when the best ideas start to get developed, produced, and expressed.
You've exhibited work internationally for several years now. What advice would you give to other, perhaps younger artists in selecting venues to exhibit their work on an international scale?
The most important thing that I have found is to have confidence in your work, because that’s why you are there. Secondly, take advantage of visiting local museums and galleries. You should also try to research the local exhibitions prior to arriving, so that you know which ones to visit if you have time. That'll kind of offer you a little lead on what they're looking at, what they're thinking about and what they're showing in that particular area.
What are your work plans for upcoming projects? What are you interested in addressing in the future? What would you like to see addressed more?
I’ve always loved to be kind of that invisible oddball. In my work, there is a little bit of poetic identity involved, but again it always comes back to semiotics and communication. There is always a narrative aspect to my work. I want to tell a story without saying a word. That’s the goal. With any exhibition I do, there is an overall story, a journey, that offers new perspectives on the known. I want viewers to walk through this series of ideas and thoughts and be able to feel my voice in theirs.
In terms of themes and topics, I always look for people to continue to push the ideas past the conventional talking point. At times, it seems like artists are doing the same thing over and over again, in terms of identity or political based themes. If that’s what artists are focused on and passionate about, then that’s great. But I feel that many others are just doing it to make a quick buck, and are hiding behind a social issue to prevent a critique of the actual work they’re producing.
How do new and unfamiliar environments influence your work? Is it important to displace yourself every now and then?
I'm really comfortable working anywhere. When I visit a place, I seek to get the full encompassing nature of their culture, but not in an anthropological sense. I end up finding beautiful little corners of existence and have conversations with different people, both positive and negative. I think my perspective in making art directly correlates with social interactions, both observed and experienced. Talking to people forces me to think about things in a different perspective and I take that lens, a new or different perspective, and I carry it with me. It may not be at the forefront of what I’m doing at the moment, but it does kind of pop back into play when I contemplating my work. These people exist like characters in my mind, and as I build a narrative, I often use them because they are a more appropriate protagonist than myself. So for me, environmental diversity is somewhat critical.
Is it important to share work with other people in public spaces, public interaction?
It all depends on what you want. If you have the desire to exhibit and have other people interact with your work, then do it. If you just make your art for you and you're content with that, then no. You have no responsibility to seek exhibitions and want to show your work. Personally, I think that there is an exchange that has to happen, at least in the way that I work. In a professional aspect there is a necessary exchange between not only yourself but the rest of the art community and the general public. It’s about balance and considering what you want as an artist. You have to be realistic about your expectations and goals as an artist, and about how much you're willing to work for these goals. That’s the truth in art. You have to be putting in the work.
How does commercial appeal fit into your practice?
Commercial appeal doesn't really guide my practice. If you try to ride the wave of commercial appeal, you’ll always be behind. It’s like a greyhound dog chasing a stuffed rabbit. You can beat out everybody, but you’ll never catch it. In terms of art, you’ll just end up exhausted. If your goal is commercial appeal, I think there are better ways to make money then being an artist. You have to water things down to a very mundane level in your work to have mass commercial appeal. You have to really ride the line of banality. Commercial appeal for me is more about maintaining my price points. For my own practice, the only element of commerciality is keeping the price point as low as I possibly can for as long as I possibly can. It sounds counterintuitive, but it's the smarter thing, at least for me. It’s better to let things naturally grow instead of trying to push things to grow. I think that there is a level of honesty and clarity that is necessary. At the end of the day, yes it is art, and yes it is creative, but it also is still a business. I think you need to carry yourself and the way you operate ethically, so that’s how I choose to do it. My biggest thing is archivability, making sure things last, making things that are built to last, making sure everything is finished and perfect and polished. I don't want any boomerangs. When an artwork leaves my studio, I don't want it coming back. I want it to stay out in the world.
What do you find exciting (in art) and in the world around?
Art is what motivates me, it’s what I look forward too, seeing new forms of expression through diverse mediums both conventional and non-conventional. When I see a painting or a sculpture that just fills my soul with this raw emotion, it’s crazy. I think about the first time I saw Rauschenberg’s “Canyon,” it blew my mind. You have these moments in life and in art. There are certain periods like Suprematism or certain artists like Bhabha that produce works that get me so fired up. It motivates me. It’s my cure, it’s my passion, it’s my life. So the thing that gives me hope is art.
Interviewed by Jared Boechler