Briefly describe the work that you do.
My practice revolves around drawing. Because I draw in a particular way (borderline obsessive mark-making) this seems to align me with minimalism, though I’m not huge on labels. Basically, I am interested in systems, labor, mark making, process and drawing. Though to be fair, I have another body of work that is more illustrative in nature with nods to underground comics, psychedelic art, outsider art, medieval manuscripts, and post-modern myth making. They are drawings to be sure, but the come from a completely different place.
At what point in your life did you decide to become an artist?
Honestly, I think I always wanted to be an artist. I don’t think there was ever a time that I didn’t consider myself one, though not always a good one. Making things was very natural for me. I suppose it was sometime around 16 or 17 that I realized I wanted to pursue art more seriously though. That’s when I applied the actual label “artist” to myself, deserved or not.
Tell us a little about your background and how that influences you as an artist.
While growing up, I always loved building things with my Construx and copying my favorite comic book characters and baseball card profiles. My uncle owned a comic book distribution company in Madison, WI and he would inundate my siblings and me with all sorts of strange and fantastic comics…mainstream stuff as well as graphic novels that kids of 10 or 11 probably shouldn’t have been reading. I devoured them and tried my hardest to recreate them. My older brother is a cinema fanatic and I spent a lot of times watching great films that he would dig out of the crevices. Movies and comics played a huge role in my love of all things visual. When I went to college, I went in as an art major and spent a lot of time taking life-drawing classes. I think I took eight semesters worth in total as an undergrad. I learned a lot from a technical perspective, especially from Bob Schultz, who is absolutely amazing when it comes to life drawing. Slowly my interest veered away from life drawing into non-objectivity as I began taking classes at UW- Madison, but the technical chops and work ethic stayed and defined the trajectory of my future work.
What types of conceptual concerns are present in your work? How do those relate to the specific process(es) or media you use?
When you boil it down, my work is about process. To me, process is the melding of media, time, and labor. I love graphite and am comfortable with it, so naturally it has become my medium of choice. The nature of creating works with graphite, specifically creating works with a pencil (as opposed to powdered graphite or charcoal where you can cover large areas more quickly) requires a substantial amount of labor. For some reason, probably due to stubbornness, I never “grew out” of using pencils or markers into a more “mature” medium like paint (which I have zero interest in as far as a personal medium goes). Ironically, this strong familiarity with graphite has opened the door to new conceptual possibilities for me. It might seem that the opposite would be true, that in order to be expansive the artist should explore numerous options. Personally, I’ve found that the more I understand graphite, the more I’m willing to play around with it and the more I can strip away visual excess and get straight to the point.
There is also a Sisyphean quality to my drawings, which is due in large part to my choice of medium as well. I have to additively build up the surface with tiny little marks for hours upon hours. These “technical limitations” and the slowness of working this way builds the framework for larger conceptual questions, such as finding meaning and beauty in one’s tasks, as redundant as they might be and, most importantly, the idea of labor.
Labor has all sorts of connotations in today’s society. It is easily romanticized, like the proletarian hero of socialist and communist struggles. Labor is seen as folksy and anti-intellectual. It’s become part of the myth of the self-reliant capitalist American pulling themselves up by their proverbial bootstraps. Yet it is also seen as something the “lower class” is relegated to when you aren’t smart enough, rich enough, or lucky enough to part of the relaxed, upper echelon of society. Labor is also a metaphor for the current digital age. It is the antithesis of speed and ease, something you have to earn with your hands and time.
For me, labor is the main theme running through all of my work. It is also one of the main reasons why I try to avoid literal image making in my work. I want the work to be specifically about time spent in a particular creative state. By stripping away all of the bells and whistles, I can put the focus on the beauty of the medium, the handmade, the system, and the subtle nuances which are created when the system plays itself out on the paper.
We once heard Chuck Close say he did not believe in being inspired, rather in working hard everyday. What motivates you in your studio practice?
I love the act of looking. I also love to see what my ideas will look like when they are fully executed. This frenzied desire to see the end result is a huge motivating force for me. It’s strange to have a practice that revolves around process, yet I rush to speed up the process up so I can be done with it, enjoy the finished work, and move on.
As far as being inspired goes, working and completing works is more of an “inspiration” to me than simply feeling inspired. Inspiration is kind of a terrible and over-simplistic Hallmark sentiment. Sure, sometimes I don’t feel like working for a variety of reasons, but the idea of only working when inspired would be fickle and mercurial. If we only worked when we were inspired, nothing would ever get done. Inspiration part of the false mystique of the clichéd artist who is nothing more than a slave to his or her emotional whims. I believe that setting aside time every day is what keeps me focused and productive as an artist.
When you are not making art what types of activities and interests do you engage in?
My wife and I just had our first daughter Josephine, so we spend a lot of time hanging out with her. She has quickly become the focus of our lives and its just amazing to watch her grow. Aside from that I’m a huge soccer, tennis, and basketball player and love to play all three sports as much as I can. Growing up I probably spent more time practicing sports than making art and the jock in me has never left. I was an assistant high school soccer coach for twelve years (I started coaching when I was still in high school) and that was a really great experience.
Sports aside, I have a huge music collection of indie rock and experimental music, so more often than not you can find me with my headphones on getting lost in something or other. As far as work goes, I went back to school a few years back for graphic design degree and currently do website and other design work. I’ve also been an adjunct instructor since finishing graduate school in ’08 at pretty much any institution that has let me in their doors in Wisconsin and Illinois.
Zach Mory hails from the small town of Cottage Grove, WI, a few miles southeast of Madison, WI. Initially trained as a life drawer, his work slowly turned towards the abstract and non-objective possibilities of art-making as his undergraduate schooling continued at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.
In the spring of 2008, he received his MFA from UW-Madison with a concentration in drawing. Since his graduation he has taught various courses throughout Wisconsin and Illinois including UW-Madison, Carthage College, Lawrence University, Ripon College and most recently at Waubonsee Community College and the College of DuPage in their graphic design program.
All images copyright of the artist and used with their permission.