In this Artist Spotlight, Wes Riley, a 4th year Drawing major in the School or Art + Art History, interviews Zac Thompson, an alumnus who received his BFA in Drawing in 2014.
Zac Thompson is a contemporary artist who lives and works in Los Angeles, California. He received his BFA from the University of Florida in drawing and currently works at the Peter Fetterman Gallery. His work explores ideas of historical legitimacy and the multiplicity of the past through multimedia works, which are often made with found photographs, collage, charcoal, and beeswax.
Wes Riley is a current Drawing major at the University of Florida. His works focus on isolating and observing the nuances of experience and emotion so as to further explore the subversive, evocative dialects of the subconscious.
Wes: Your work includes the repetitions of certain motifs like houses and portraits. What is the significance of these images for your work?
Zac: The portraits are from found photographs that I've collected and the houses come from old New England architecture books that I've found. These images are significant to me, because they're both historical. The portraits and houses are like hollowed out memories that invite me to fill with my own imagination. I come from a conservative southern background and growing up there was always a sense of history, like everyone in my Grandma's town was somehow related to me and I couldn't drive past a house without being told a story of how so-and-so used to live there. But once I came out of the closet, I felt detached from my own past and had a hard time relating to my family's history. So by mixing and playing with images of houses and found photographs I feel like there's a chance I can create my own history, one where I don't feel like an outsider.
Wes: What mediums and processes do you use in your practice and how are they important to your work?
Zac: Typically, I use charcoal and beeswax for my drawings on paper. Both these mediums create a beautiful dirty sepia tone quality that I love. Also, by sealing the paper in beeswax, it acts as an archival process and helps give the drawings an aged look.
More recently I've been doing a lot of collages. I start out the process by scouring antique shops for found photographs and old carte-de-visite portraits. Then I search the Internet for old New England architecture books to buy and proceed to cut out all the houses from every page. Once I have all the houses cut out, I'll stain them in coffee to match the color of the faded photographs. Then I’ll combine the houses on top of the found photos and glue them down. I also just discovered this amazing iridescent paint that mimics the effects seen on butterfly wings! It's a paint that is only visible at certain angles and I've been using it to highlight areas of my collages. I'm still experimenting with the paint, but I'm really excited about it.
Wes: What influences and inspires you?
Zac: So many things influence me! Photography, old things, music, zines, tumblr, museums, RuPaul, movies, music videos, my siblings, the list can go on! But I'd say the biggest things that inspire me to work are history and queer culture.
Ever since I can remember, I've been really into history and wanting to research things, people, and events from the past. That's why I love going to antique stores in search for old photographs. I get to rummage through someone's forgotten or abandoned history with my own hands. I also love to go on guided tours when I'm visiting a new city or going to a museum. I was recently in San Francisco for the first time and went on one of those double decker bus tours by myself and had a blast. I learned that a large part of the city on the waterfront was built on top of old ships. That area used to be the shore where all the ships would dock. It blew my mind that below my feet were all these buried boats. That little nugget of history made me stop and go, "WHOA" and that's the same kind of reaction I try to elicit with my own work.
I've come across a lot of those "WHOA" moments in a book I've been reading by Louis Crompton called "Homosexuality and Civilization". It's essentially a history textbook devoted to recording homosexuality in civilizations beginning with Ancient Greece and working up towards today. As a queer person, the book has had a huge impact on me, because I'm learning all these things I never knew before. The history of the LGBTQ community is usually skipped over in school, so I had a hard time finding a point of reference or historical figure to look up to and help ground me as an individual. I think that what people know about their past subconsciously plays into how they feel about themselves. So, for a while everything I knew about the history of gay people was either negative or largely incomplete. But Crompton's book has shown me that queer people have played pivotal roles in history since the beginning of civilization. Every LGBTQ person needs to read this book!
Wes: What are you currently working on and where can others see your latest pieces?
Zac: I’m excited to announce that I have a show, “False Family: The Architecture of Found Photographs”, opening on April 16 at the Craig Krull Gallery here in Santa Monica, CA. It’s a collage exhibition that also features 3 other amazing artists, Lou Beach, Stephen Aldrich, and Joseph Heidecker. I’ll have about 20-framed collages in this show and they’ll be on view until May 21. I also got accepted to a residency at the Hambidge Center in Georgia this summer. I’m looking forward to experimenting with new materials and getting back into drawing.
Wes: How has receiving your BFA in drawing impacted you?
Zac: Getting my BFA in drawing changed my life! In school I learned how to problem solve, be creative, and use my hands. These are skills that I use everyday, and there's no way I would have been qualified or prepared for the job I have now as the registrar for a gallery. If you can draw, you can visually communicate your ideas, which is great because a lot of people have a hard time just communicating.
To learn more about Thompson and the Craig Krull Gallery, visit: