By Nadine B. Hoffman,
Special to the Independent
When Torrey Cook showed up at her Laguna Beach gallery recently, she was shocked and delighted to find a line outside for the art opening that was still hours away. The solo show, entitled “The Creative Dialectic,” presents the work of Zio Ziegler, whose provocative, mind-bending oeuvre is taking the contemporary art world by storm.
To call Ziegler a street artist is to call Freud a therapist. Does he create spontaneous murals on random walls when no one’s looking? Yes. Is he under 30, Tom Brady scruffy-gorgeous, jeans and Vans his personal fashion statement? Yup. Does he believe that art satisfies a fundamental human need and has the power to change the course of history? Indeed, as does virtually every aspiring 20-something artist.
Except that he is nothing like any other artist. Spend two minutes with Ziegler and it becomes abundantly clear that vast stores of intelligence, introspection and intensity churn behind his huge chocolate eyes and shaggy locks.
Unapologetically mixing graphite, watercolors, oil, acrylic, enamel, crayon and ink, Ziegler creates art that features intricately patterned, interconnected symbols rendered through a combination of bold, aggressive brush strokes and painstakingly detailed line drawings. His influences range from late medieval and early Renaissance painting to aboriginal, African and art naïf and the European graffiti movement. Enhanced by a playful use of white space, Ziegler’s work delves into the human condition, making frequent, if oblique, references to allegorical and mythical lineage. His paintings and large-scale murals can be seen in the U.S., Europe and Asia.
Early Signs Pointed to a Prodigy
Ziegler’s passion was awakened at age 2, when he discovered chalk sticks on pavement. Exuberant, freeform, multicolored designs, often featuring figurative renditions of his favorite object—trucks—materialized outside the family home. When the toddler wasn’t drawing on the street, he could be found in the studio out back: four art desks arranged in a face-to-face configuration by parents Mel and Patricia Ziegler. Accomplished artists and writers themselves, they were adamant about keeping creativity front and center in their kids’ lives. “Do what you love,” Mel would say, “and play will become your work.”
Despite his parents’ encouragement, Zio grew up leery of turning his passion into a profession. Thrown out of high school art class for not following the rules and chastised at Brown University and the Rhode Island School of Design for refusing to toe the (artistic) line, he watched as his friends chose mainstream paths to a secure future. He shuddered at the audacity of a lifelong career in art.
“It’s frightening to be an artist,” he said softly. “Art is the one item that perseveres throughout time. You’re toying with a vast history.”
Criticism Spurs Creativity and Conviction
When his instructors at Brown proved more hindrance than help, Ziegler began to print his artwork on t-shirts, hats and shoes, shipping boxfuls to friends at various colleges. His grass roots efforts not only paid his rent, they led him to realize that what drove him was the need to connect people, to themselves and to one another, through art.
“Kids were going to wear my art if it resonated with them,” he said, referencing the age-old ‘vox populi, vox dei’ (the voice of the people is the voice of God.) “My hand always made lines that looked a little different,” he said. “But so did Picasso’s.”
A voracious reader with a mind like a steel trap, Ziegler spits out quotes by philosophers and novelists, scientists and orators like so many watermelon seeds on a summer day. With nods to Cicero, Kant, Thomas Pynchon, David Foster Wallace and Lao Tsu, he boiled his own process down to a philosophical lowest common denominator.
“We’re taught in school to think in a linear fashion,” he said. “But thought isn’t linear; it’s spherical and deductive. Thought begins with a seed, a germ of an idea, and grows intuitively, by free association. Where my emotions and my logic intersect, there’s usually a painting.”
It stands to reason, then, that chaos features prominently in Ziegler’s work. Merely walking into his show delivers a dizzying jolt to the system. Deafening and dynamic, somber and stirring, the works beckon us to engage with them and unearth, from beneath the myriad lines, colors, figures and faces, a deeply personal connection. For which, surprisingly, Ziegler takes little credit.
“When I face a blank canvas,” he said, “I have no idea what it’s going to look like in the end. The work owns me. I am just the catalyst; my paintings are only complete when they have triggered clarity in the viewer.”
Ziegler’s show runs through March 1, at AR4T, 1175 S. Coast Highway. For more information about the artist, visit www.zioziegler.com.
Laguna Beach resident Nadine Hoffman’s NBH Communications provides copywriting, public relations, editing and marketing services.