ZACH DEBOER: AN INSPIRING INTERVIEW

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Michelle St. Vrain Cover (1)

Zach DeBoer has been a good friend of mine since college. Although he’s several years younger than me, he’s always been the mature one in our friendship. He is a planner, someone who rallies the masses, acting as a source of guidance for the less motivated. The kind of person who cleans his housemate’s room for him if he’s feeling bored or particularly… particular that day. He’s not afraid to speak his mind, but the chances are he’ll be able to make you smile while he’s doing it. 

Zach’s work is reflective of his personality. Upon first view, you are met with bright, bold colors, much akin to the warmth of his attitude and outlook. Further inspection reveals concise placement, and well conceived content.  Work is created with purpose, and executed from start to framed finished. Zach works methodically, and carries his creative sense through to his business savvy. Although he received his education in Printmaking and Art Education, Zach is currently operating his own gallery in downtown Sioux Falls. The month of August actually marks the one year anniversary for Exposure Gallery and Studios being open under it’s new management. Zach has become integral in the Sioux Falls community, and I look forward to continuing to watch him grow. I’m proud of you, buddy! ~Amy

DSC_0874 copyWhat is the path that has led you to where you are today?

I was always into art; it was always my favorite subject. I was good at it early, drawing dinosaurs and superheroes. It was always the class I looked forward to the most, all the way through high school. I always had decent art teachers, they were good, but my sophomore year Chad Nelson, he’s a printmaker here in town, he moved to Brandon and starting teaching high school there. He pushed me even further than I had been. I was doing a lot more art, and taking it a bit more seriously. It wasn’t maybe until a year or so after that I saw art as maybe an actual career that you could do. What job can you really get with it? I saw what he did and I liked the idea of being a teacher and an artist and somehow it had never really occurred to me to be an art teacher. Chad was an art teacher that was a good teacher, but remained an artist. I think a lot of our teachers don’t. They enjoy making artwork, but it was never maybe their primary focus, or they never really pushed themselves much further than what you needed to help others appreciate art. Nelson was somebody that was making awesome art, and was making work all the time.

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My senior year I was taking an AP art class, and during that class the first semester he taught us a different medium for however many weeks, and then the second semester we had to create a portfolio, or a series of work and select a topic and make twelve pieces. The semester before he had taught us printmaking, which was really the first printing I had done. I didn’t really understand what it was until then, and I really liked it. I liked the graphic quality of it, that it involved drawing and precision. The craft was interesting to me. I decided to do a series of 12 linocuts of the 12 astrological signs. I can still look at those and think, that’s pretty good for a high schooler. I did ten, and then two details, because 12 is a lot for a semester in high school. That was a lot of fun.

I went to USD to study Art Education, knew what I wanted to do all the way through, and enjoyed it. I was taking art classes and staying involved, because when you get to art school and you’re around other artists and they find out you’re Art Ed, you usually get mocked. It comes with a stigma, so it was always important to me to be making work and taking as many classes as my peers who were just art [majors].

Ceremony collage, spray paint, and colored pencil
Ceremony
collage, spray paint, and colored pencil

In school I was a part of our Student Art Association, and I started to love being part of a community, or helping organize and form groups. Make art shows happen. Make ideas happen. I started working at the art gallery there and grew to love that side of the art world too. There were a couple of things, number one being able to help people show their artwork and put their work out there, but as another way to grow your skill base. Become more well-rounded. My plan was to be an art teacher, but if there are other avenues, having these other kinds of “tricks” in your back pocket it can help you get jobs.

After school I got a job teaching part-time at Memorial Middle School, and then a little later I did Memorial and Edison [Middle School]. I did that for two years. During that time I volunteered at the Pavilion and became involved with Exposure, the former Exposure. In-between my first and second year of teaching I started doing shows with them and being kind of in charge of the gallery for a summer. After that, I got restless with teaching. I loved working with kids and making artwork with them and showing them what art can be, just watching that growth. It was great, but I was a part-time art teacher and it looked like I would have been for a while. A job opened up with Downtown Sioux Falls and it seemed intriguing. It was also part-time, so it was basically a sideways move, but it was something different. I figured I have the degree and I can always go back to it if I want. I had already moved downtown and was in the process of reopening Exposure under my ownership, so it made sense to be a part of downtown. That’s where I am right now.

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Beyond Chad Nelson, have you had others that you’ve sought out for guidance, or that have helped you? Any help in the process of opening a gallery?

In college, the head of the Art Department, Cory Knedler, was always a big inspiration to me. He is a great artist, does collages and printmaking, and he was a printmaker and Art Ed major. I saw myself in him. He was always super supportive, and whenever I would butt heads or run into issues or be down he would always be around if I needed to talk to him. He’s someone I still kind of remain friends with; they come down for First Fridays.

Just having a good group of friends in college was huge. Surrounding yourself with like-minded artists, and artists in general, when you’re first starting off is important. Becoming friends with the older students is a really important way of learning new things faster. You can learn things in the classroom and you learn things from your professors and even your peers that are learning things the same way you are, but there’s a different kind of learning when you get those friendships from people who have more years of experience, of a different experience than you.

That was something that was huge for me. It died down a bit as I got older. I didn’t see as many young kids out and about, coming to shows or interacting with people. I think their work suffered because of it. Starting the gallery and having the support of my friends, I don’t know if there’s one person in particular that would have helped guide that. I learned things from working at the Pavilion and working in town at the gallery. I learned from Jeremy Menard, who runs Frogman’s, who was the first one that hired me at the gallery and taught me how to hang and space and do all of those things. He has a lot of cool connections with Frogman’s and all the printmakers. There’s a lot of history there.

Emperors, Bishops, Kings collage, spray paint, and colored pencil
Emperors, Bishops, Kings
collage, spray paint, and colored pencil

Do you want to give an overview of your work for people who may be unfamiliar with it? Where you draw inspiration from?

I do mostly mixed media collage. I started doing it maybe my junior year, starting with comic book collages. As a comic book reader it was very hard for me to cut up my first comic. (Laughing) I started doing those and I liked them, but what I really ended up liking was collage. That kind of immediate history and detail and information you can get without sitting down and drawing or painting for a long time. I already have these ingredients here ready to go, that have their own history and their own story. It’s really the imagery that’s striking and that interests me. I started to do those collages, and I would pair them with different things. Sometimes I would cut out the collages, sometimes I would do them in different ways, pair them with paint or colored pencil. I just recently, in the past two years, started using spray paint a lot with my work. It started by doing color gradients or marking off places within the paper to create different colors. I’ve started to do a little bit more and build scenes or areas to mask them off and create different gradients. Spray paint has become a major part of what I do. If I had heard that when I was a sophomore or a junior I think I would cringe. When people say they work with spray paint all I think is bad graffiti art, but that’s not how I use it.

21 Pieces collage, spray paint, and colored pencil
21 Pieces
collage, spray paint, and colored pencil

Lately I’ve been using a lot of old stone marble bust statues from different cultures: Roman, Celtic, Greek, Egyptian… really anything I can get my hands on. I pair those a lot of times with plants and flowers and things that are alive. I use a lot of loaded images like skulls. When you say that out loud it sounds corny. I’m using these loaded images that are primal: skulls and busts, angelic looking people, roses in bright, gaudy colors. I call them Bizarre Alters, which are shrines, and I’ve been building them up for a year and a half now. Using bring colors, fades, different stenciled out areas, I’m creating these 2D representations of 3D things. I’m building a scene or a still life and using these images that sometimes have contrasting origins. There could be totems or statues, laying on top of each other, interacting with each other.

The original idea to use those came from this idea of people cherry picking the parts of something. For example, people who are obsessed with being Irish, and proclaiming that, but all that really means is you go out on St. Patrick’s Day and that’s it. They have only a minor connection to it. What they’re doing is taking that idea [of heritage] and applying their own meaning to it. You see that with religion, any kind of culture it’s very rare that people will follow everything and be supportive of everything in it. They’ll cherry pick. I was thinking of that idea and using those symbols for whatever I wanted to. I removed their meaning and created these alter pieces to nothing, really. I use bright colors and big, gaudy frames and they became American or 2015 shrines to nothingness that people can cast whatever they want onto it. That’s what they really started to become about.

Death and All His Flowers collage and spray paint
Death and All His Flowers
collage and spray paint

Lately I’ve been trying to move away from these very symmetrical, everything-in-the-middle pieces. I’ve been trying to build more landscapes or still life with the collages, and some of the pieces are more like that. I hit a wall with them. I’ve reached as many arrangements I can do, so now I’m throwing different cogs into it, like 3D elements. The first I really did that with was Studio 301; I had a bust and used cinder blocks and live cacti. That’s been my thing right now, to try different things.

You’re challenging yourself with medium as far as trying to approach different aspects, such as adding 3D elements and different gradients. Do you think you’ll continue with using images that hold such strong implications? Do you plan on approaching different subject matter as well?

I don’t know. I think it would be something that would happen slowly and kind of naturally. It’s hard for me to hit the brakes on something like that. The first piece that I made in this series, if you back up three, four pieces before that, you can see hints of where I was going. I started to use some of the same images, but I was still using some of my old ones mixed in there. If you look at the body of work I’ve made since college to now it all very nicely flows into each other, there’s not a strong cut off.

It could be part of all the same series almost.

DSC_0888 copy DSC_0872 copyYeah, they fade right into each other. Once I hit something that I like, once that fade starts to turn into something I like, I’ll stay in that. There’s always the “ugly children,” your pieces you make in-between bodies of work, the transition pieces that you’re just like oof. You don’t throw it away necessarily, you might keep it, or just paint over it. You probably won’t display that or take a photo of it, but you keep it.

Do you go back and rework pieces? Or do you hold on to those as a tool to help you get to the next piece?

I don’t work back into pieces. A lot of times that’s just because of the medium I’m using, I’m doing collage on paper. It’s hard to work on paper too much, it’s hard to remove collage or go over it. I’ll take pictures of my work in progress on my phone, that’s usually how I do it. It helps me a lot when I’m arranging work. I don’t really work back into pieces; I don’t work on multiple pieces at once either. I wish I did. That’s always a better way to do it… I can kind of do it, but I get tractor beam vision. I’ll sometimes have different things out, but usually I work on a piece from start to finish. Like, from start to finish to frame to wall. Then I can start working on a new one.

Bizarre Altar collage, spray paint, and colored pencil
Bizarre Altar
collage, spray paint, and colored pencil

Tell us more about your creative process. When you start a piece, how are you approaching it?

I usually start with thumbnails. I have a pretty boring sketchbook, it’s barely a sketchbook. I start there, and all I’m really doing is just trying to think of arrangements. That can start off  by looking at what I have for collage pieces. I have a Tupperware that has the stuff I’m working on, and it’s kind of organized right now. If I’m making a new piece, I’ll go through there, and see one that I like I’ll keep that in mind when I’m doing thumbnails.

DSC_0886 copyThere’s always a lot of planning. If I’m stuck on something I’ll flip through and think oh I kind of like that. I never did anything with this. I’ll tilt that idea around in my head for a little while. I’ll get the paper I’m going to work on, cut it to a size I like, and then I start with laying out my collage pieces I have, just to see if it looks right, and to determine the size. Then I’ll take it to the basement and do a gradient. I don’t really know what colors I want to do until I get down there. I just have a couple different crates of spray paint. I try to do things I haven’t done before, or some colors that can be based on the collage piece I have in mind. I like to mix things up a little bit. The mood of the piece can depend on the colors. I’ll do a fade, and then I’ll bring it back upstairs, and depending on what else I have planned out, I’ll figure out if I need to make a stencil if I want to do another fade, or do another shape. It’s a lot of back and forth.

DSC_0883 copyThen it’s just arranging. I make sure I have all my pieces cut out and then I start moving them around. It’s a really, really great way to make artwork, because you can’t really mess up until you glue it down. I don’t glue anything down until I’m sure. I’ll arrange a piece, sit with it, leave it for a while, take pictures of it with my phone. I do that a lot. If I’m at work I can look at it on my phone, outside of it’s environment, and think does that work? I can think of other ideas and go from there. My pieces aren’t done until they’re framed and matted, especially with the work I’m making now. The matting and the frame are essentially part of the piece, they’re not something just to hold the artwork. I want to make sure that the frame is integrated. The frame and the matting are as important as what’s happening on the inside. They have to match and feel right, carry the same idea through.

DSC_0881 copyWhere are you sourcing your materials from?

Thrift stores. I haven’t gone in a long time, just because Exposure rules a lot of my free-time. I thankfully have a lot of material to go through. I usually know what I’m looking for; it’s to the point now where I can quickly scan and if I see something interesting I can page through it real quick, like paper quality, what the gloss looks like, how old the book is… something made this year isn’t going to have the right kind of look for what I’m looking for. Not only is glossy a bad contrast with the paper, but there’s also less tooth, less history. Collage is that history, not only history but the need to save and preserve, and give meaning and use to old things. These books are forgotten or old or crappy or whatever, some of them have great images and were doing fine as books, but there’s something about collecting and organizing and saving, giving meaning and new use to something that I really like. I love historic preservation in buildings, taking what already exists and giving it a new-found purpose and putting it up on a pedestal. Making it important again.

How are you finding new artists? Are you keeping yourself in check with your peers? Does that matter to you?

Online is where most of that happens. I look at the same three blogs. BOOOOOOOM is my favorite one, it’s always a really great source. I subscribe to New American Paintings. That’s always a good way to see what’s happening, but also a good way to be frustrated. (Laughing) You start to see patterns and then you try to convince yourself you like it, and you wonder if you’re getting old and stupid. I’m constantly looking for inspiration. It’s important to be engaged with what’s happening.

Who are some of your favorite artists?

I love Peter Reichardt‘s work. I saw his work at Fresh Produce, he was in a show there just after he had started teaching in Brookings. I wasn’t able to go, but I saw pictures online and I was dumbfounded. I hadn’t seen work like that in Sioux Falls. I had seen stuff like that, but on art blogs, very contemporary, exciting stuff. Things I was interested in. I love looking at his work; you can spend hours looking at his website. There’s so much! He’s someone new in town that I am just fascinated with. The show at Fresh Produce, the Lucky Number Show was all my favorite artists in the area, they’re all in that show. Those are some of the best artists. Andrew Kosten and Diana Behl do phenomenal work. I’d like to see more of Andrew Kosten’s work around here.

Pink Tableau Collage, spray paint, colored pencil
Pink Tableau
Collage, spray paint, colored pencil

As far as entering your work into shows, how are you approaching that?

Not enough! My post-grad life has fallen to the way side, with Exposure, with life. If there’s a show locally that’s juried I’ll for sure enter it, but I’ve done a terrible job getting elsewhere. It’s always this little tickle in the back of my head. Like… come on, it’s relatively easy. Just do it. That’s been the next step, that or getting my work published online or somewhere else. I’ll be submitting to New American Paintings [this year]. That’s been something I’ve been wanting to do for the past two years. Especially now, I feel that my work is strong enough and I’m confident with the pieces that I have. I feel like I could submit and have some chance of getting in. Just trying is something that I need to start doing. Creating your artwork and doing your job, it’s one of those things that fall on the wayside, and it sucks.

How often are you working on your art?

Lately? Lately has been rough. Basically three months ago there was a long stretch where I made artwork in February of 2014, and didn’t make another piece until October 2014. During that time I was trying to get Exposure open, so that ended up ruling my life. All the work I’ve made in the past six months has been because there has been a thing. It’s been nice to have those, because then I have to make time for it. I said I was going to be in that show, now I have to make something. Studio 301 I made a piece for that, which involved a lot of pieces, I did a cover for Skullmore, I did a piece for the Habitat for Humanity ReStore Auction, I made a piece for an Exposure challenge show, and for the Lucky Number show. Those are the pieces I’ve made in the past seven or eight months. They’ve all been “homework.” (Laughing) I’ve also had a lot of more ideas and a lot more things that I want to do, so I’m getting back into the habit of creating more regularly.

Being a gallery owner in the downtown art community, what would you like to see happen for our area? What do we need?

I think something that’s starting to happen that I really like, and I think JAM has been a big part of it, is the creation of a community. If you back up 5-10 years, I feel like that maybe wasn’t happening. There were galleries and people would go to them and it was nice. I feel like the collaboration we’ve had with JAM and with Fresh Produce being our neighbors now, there’s kind of an atmosphere of excitement there. I would love to see more community building with the other galleries. Seeing that, and pooling our crowds together. It’s already starting to happen a little bit, and there’s a lot more places that are seeking out artwork, like coffee shops, bars, businesses that are seeking local artists.

I’m two and a half years into the art scene in Sioux Falls, and it’s already kind of easy to be cynical of things. I can see why people who have been around for a long time tend to be negative from time to time. I would love to see a cohesive gallery crawl, something organized. So many art shows happen on a First Friday, it’s hard to see them all. Maybe splitting up the art shows so the crowds can keep growing, but everyone can still see everything. There’s so many people who try to go to everything but no matter what, they have to make cuts. Just seeing some more coordination and cooperation with the other galleries.

Sioux Falls is at a super important point in the art scene right now, that’s like a bubble that’s blowing up and getting bigger and bigger. It could pop and go away if we’re not working hard, if we’re not trying new things and working together. We must be creative and seek out new things. Because we’re doing that, we’re getting more momentum, more people are buying artwork. Over half the people who are making purchases at Exposure are young people. It could be their first or second piece of art, that’s something that’s important. We need more young people making artwork and staying in Sioux Falls.

JAM-Profile-Signature_Amy JAM-Profile-Signature_Katie

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