The Raw Economics of Art
San Francisco, Milan, Tokyo, New York, London, San Francisco, Parma. Somewhere along this zig-zagging voyage, I meet up with artist Zio (yes, that is his birth name) Ziegler, Californian, class of 1988. Ziegler is the latest evolution of those Bay Area baby geniuses who mixes canvases and concrete walls with art galleries, venture capitals and start-ups.
He’s been dubbed a prodigy for his propensity to produce. His work is totemic and visceral, figurative and abstract, painterly and street, all rolled into large scale murals and sought-after canvas paintings. When he’s not painting, he’s reading and writing, or drawing, whether in his head, on a napkin or on the bike trail, leading him to a broad range of collaborations, natural for a kid born and raised in the Bay Area.
I am get exhausted just looking at his Twitter and Instagram feeds. You can imagine how it feels to talk to him. When I caught up with Zio in Milan, he was finishing up a series of projects including a one-man show at Antonio Colombo Gallery, a wall mural at the Repubblica metro stop and the monumental front entrance of the Cinelli bike manufacturing company outside of Milan. To paraphrase Ziegler’s own words about artists Julian Schnabel, “the kid can’t be pinned down”.
Ziegler’s been painting since he was old enough to hold a pencil, encouraged by parents who wanted him to ‘be the best’ at whatever he wanted. Though his high school and university (Brown/RISD) experience may not have been as encouraging, Ziegler has foraged a career based on instinct and acumen.
ZZ: I never understood while I was painting, for many years. I’d kind of, try to rationalize how those painting works, but it was more visceral than anything else. . . All of a sudden, the idea comes after the painting. Sometimes I’ll have a dream about a painting but otherwise, it starts with gestures and lines and then all of a sudden it has to work, it’s like a visual anomaly that I’m trying to solve. Paintings are like Rorschach tests in a way. It’s sort the filtration process of the mind. There’s no boundary between the mind and the canvas.
Painting is all about new materials, it has to be new and fresh and conceptual. I am so, not against conceptual work, but I’m against dull painting. I want life. I want beauty. I want something that pays homage to the past and builds on top and has a dialogue and honesty.
On California and Shifting Frontiers
Digital gold fever is still raging in California, leading many to feel that the West is the place for creative, in particular artists who no longer need abide by gallery and critic limitations.
ZZ: I had this sort of theory that the West Coast is ever evolving because it’s at this sort of geographic point where people said, the frontier is always evolving, it’s always being pushed and I think right now I think there’s this big paradigm shift taking place in art where it has to be both. The printing press was sort of reinvented with the phone.
[San Francisco/West Coast] is a world where digital realities and life blend, where one can image a reality and turn thought into substance. The west has always embodied possibility, opportunity, the ability to discover or create anything in order to survive and adapt. It’s a place that inspires man to constantly break past the pre existing van guard. Maybe because of its geographic location, or its distance from European influence, or it’s combination of urban and natural so harmoniously blended, but it seems to be a place that preserves the searching spirit.
Ziegler was born with enough of the so-called wild west impetus in him to reach out to companies leading to brand collaborations with Pottery Barn, Stance Socks, Vans, Cinelli Bicycles, and Urban Outfitters.
ZZ: It’s the raw economics of art. With the accessibility now of art via the phone, I think it’s very important for an artist to accommodate this sort of adjustment in the economic system. I don’t think it’s selling out to work with Vans or these companies because selling out doesn’t exist anymore. Selling out is an internal sort of dialogue. It’s not an external one. It’s the artist’s role to engage in the same way Rafael did with birthday parties and cakes and whatever. It’s the artist’s role to answer to humanity rather than art history, I think, right now.
Like everyone else, Ziegler embraces technology while at the same time wanting to kick out of the door.
ZZ: There seems to be such a growing dependence on technology, and I think the only thing that will bring independence back to our lives free of the grid will be analog experiences. The hyper awareness of the grid means that it seems as though everyone else is always doing something more interesting than you, the world is moving so fast that its hard to get a grasp on a value system or a perspective of what you want and how you want to live, The zeitgeist now seems curated through what you choose to expose yourself to on Social Media- we are all choosing our poisons or choosing which content will feel as though we are not enough.
If I wake up, and look at the internet, my day becomes relative. It exists next to the curated lives of others, and there is this sort of dependence on living better, or on being smarter and achieving more in order to keep up with the pace of the world. It’s breeding a mobile bovarism. It’s the double edged sword of the new printing press.
ZZ: I’m interested in the world of the artist now as the most relevant in the world. Like what does that take? I think it takes a lot of vertical integration. It’s like your paintings are the inspiration for everything else. I want to write TV shows and produce them about authenticity. I want to write books and develop hotels with the art . . I like this idea to have the artist taking on all these different roles now, you know?
I love painting. I love the work, I love the process, but I need to keep myself, I’m never satisfied with the work that I’m making. I think in order to be the greatest, you have to know, you can want it, but you’re never going to touch it. You’re never going to be the greatest, there’s no end point. The path is the goal. You constantly touch it and it leaves. Some of these paintings have touched, it’s the best painting I’ve made and then the next day I need a greater one. I think it’s the same thing with that. It’s like a Sisyphusian sort of process. With me, that’s just what keeps the fire under my ass.
Zio Ziegler is a contemporary artist known for his bold, colorful paintings and murals. He often incorporates abstract forms and symbols into his work, creating a sense of movement and energy. Ziegler’s work can be found in galleries and museums around the world, as well as in public spaces such as streets and building facades. He has also collaborated with brands and organizations on projects and campaigns. In addition to painting, Ziegler also works in sculpture and printmaking. He is based in San Francisco, California, but his work is highly sought after by collectors and art enthusiasts worldwide. He is known for his unique style, which is characterized by the use of bright colors, fluid lines, and abstract forms.
A version of this article appeared in Wired Italia.