Essi Zimm – Culver City, California

Tikba Nita, Collage and Oil on Panel Board, 44" x 66", 2014

Tikba Nita, Collage and Oil on Panel Board, 44″ x 66″, 2014

Briefly describe the work you do. 

I am a painter that focuses primarily on folklore and how such tales describe prevalent teachings. My medium focuses on the use of collage and oil paint and how both create incredible layering techniques that go along with the art of storytelling, the revealing of things beyond the surface context.

Tell us about your background and how that has had an influence on your work and on you as an artist.

I grew up in the mountains of Colorado, in a bookstore, to a European mother and an engineering father. So the act of storytelling was always a very important aspect to how I was raised. I was surrounded by very interesting types in the bookstore who always postulated on their absolute truths, and then my German side of the family would always weave tales of superstitions that one had to live by. My grandmother would always say, “Spinnen am morgen bringen Unglueck, Spinnen am abend bringen Glueck.” (See a spider in the morning brings bad luck, see a spider in the evening brings good luck). I became incredibly absorbed with the aspect of fairy tales and folk lore and the truths they were trying to paint through references; often animalistic or natural in their meanings, as if to say at the heart of all our immorality we can learn from nature.  I took a different course through life by going to architecture school, where I received my bachelors from the Colorado University at Boulder, and my Masters from Savannah College of Art and Design (where I was awarded graduate valedictorian), I then move to Boston, Japan, and eventually settled in Los Angeles working for famed architect Frank Gehry. I was always on the precipice of painting, as I would fill my sketchbooks with inked drawings, and at SCAD I took as many non-architecture courses as I could muster. Painting, I found, was one of the few things that made my world calm. It really wasn’t until year 2 of working for Frank, that I fully invested into pursuing a life as a painter. I started taking local classes at Otis College of Art and Design and studied under the late Franklyn Liegel, Bonita Helmer, and privately mentored under Rebecca Campbell.  I would say that my roundabout upbringing to storytelling, as well as my living abroad, and coming at art through the architecture route, allowed me the grace to really explore being a painter.  

The End is Nigh, Collage and Oil on Canvas 44" x 66", 2015

The End is Nigh, Collage and Oil on Canvas 44″ x 66″, 2015

The concept of the artist studio has a broad range of meanings in contemporary practice. Artists may spend much of their time in the actual studio, or they may spend very little time in it. Tell us about your individual studio practice and how it differs from or is the same as traditional notions of “being in the studio.”

My studio practice is my home away from home. I have a day job as an architect, so I don’t have the luxury of spending day light hours in the studio. My time is in the night. This may influence my use of bright colors a tad, but I have found that I have always worked well in the evenings. I find that it has also become very therapeutic for me to paint in the night, as it is a way to release all the tension from the day. There is rarely a bad day in the studio, more than anything it is a glorious relief.

What roles do you find yourself playing that you may not have envisioned yourself in when you first started making art?

Networker. Coming from architecture, there is this kind of incestuous club that people are just inherently a part of, and if you don’t happen to know fellow architects, then you know fellow contractors, engineers, etc etc; and it is generally started by a client coming to an architect to design something, so you have your patron built in from the beginning. In the art world, it’s a little bit flipped, you are smoozing the galleries, you are smoozing other artists, you are smoozing to get noticed. There is a whole network of trying to prove your worth to the world via a medium that is very subjective. In the architecture world you develop a design off a clients needs and your own ideologies as a designer, and at the end it is a conglomeration of teamwork to get something done. In the art world, it is often times based off whom you know, and so there are a number of hours that need to be allocated to “face time”.  I’m still navigating the ins and outs of the networking world. 

When do you find is the best time to make art? Do you set aside a specific time everyday or do you have to work whenever time allows?

In the evenings most definitely. Aside from the obvious reason stated above, I have found that I work the best when the daylight has gone away. When it’s light out I become so distracted, I want to go blow a dandelion and frolic in the trees, I feel almost guilty being in the studio during the day time. In the night though, it beckons me. I also have to be on a set schedule, and I work definitely better under time crunches with deadlines, which I think was something that I just learned from architecture school. If I have six months to create something, I will probably wait until month three to start it, and then work well into the evening and weekends, and lose sleep. Its not very conducive, but that sense of pressure seems to be the added element to how I create, as my work is often times very reactionary. I rarely, if ever, do studies prior to a painting. I just go into it, guns blazing. Yes, I have an idea of what I want to do, and the story I want to tell, but sometimes the brush can go a different way than planned, or a paper can fold a different way then expected, and I have learned early on to say “happy accident” and work it into the whole piece.

Krampus, Collage and Oil on Panel Board, 44" x 66", 2013

Krampus, Collage and Oil on Panel Board, 44″ x 66″, 2013

How has your work changed in the past five years? How is it the same?

I use to illustrate black and white folk tales and I use to abstractly collage paint, but I didn’t know how to merge the two, and then within one year, I had four people influence me in different ways that allowed me to blend it all together. Franklyn Liegel and Bonita Helmer really allowed me to grow in my painting style, by pushing the sub context of abstraction and collage.  Rebecca Campbell who mentored me, and pushed me to get a studio, which drastically changed my practice, from painting one painting a month in my dinky studio, to cranking out four paintings at a time, and really being able to stand back and contemplate on them as a whole, and fellow artist Emily Silver, who really reminded me of who I am as a collage painter.  Those four really spurred me into my niche today.

How have people such as family, friends, writers, philosophers, other artists or even pop icons had an impact on the work you do?

Growing up in the bookstore, I was blessed to be surrounded by madmen, philosophers, first people, UFO hunters, creatives, and books, scours and scours of books, which have heavily influenced me over the years. My mentor Jesse Mckean, the owner of Mountain Books, told me that to be an architect you have to be a master artist and a master builder. That always stuck with me. And it is one of the reasons that I cannot just be an architect, and I cannot just be an artist. There is this inherent pull to be both, and they have both influenced each other. The art world has this fascination with the architecture world in where they are drawn to our rigidity, and I love that I know how to be confined, but I can break this by using mythos. My work has a lot of energy in it, but it also has been neatly structured from the years of training I have had to lay out a space. The canvas is just another space, but this time I can tell a story upon its surface. But as for artists who have directly influenced me, I have three that I always go back to, which are all directly opposite each other. One Basquiat, two John William Waterhouse, and three Rothko. Basquiat could break down a painting, in very simple gestures, but you almost immediately responded to the context of these marks. From his color schemes, to his scribbles, to his words, he had a layering to him that I most definitely emulate in my own work. As for Waterhouse, he is the ultimate storyteller. The “Mermaid” captivated me from early on. He had this obsession with this one particular face, and it shows up in almost all of his works, as a little girl, I often imagined being this person that could travel from story to story on the face of a painting.   And lastly Rothko, oh Rothko. I hated Rothko when I was little. I was one hundred percent the person who went into a museum as a little kid and said “it’s just colored squares, even I could do this”, it wasn’t until I was in college and was given an assignment to make a mock “bone box” (aka final resting place) for Rothko that I really began to study the man, and I was just blown away. His language of colors to this day, in my mind, has never been surpassed. Surrounded by his paintings, I have seen grown men cry; I have even been brought to tears myself. The things that always stood out to me was that he made his own paints, and that he is a curators nightmare, and that towards his death his works began to take on a very dark tone, and you could almost see him spiraling into depression due to these colors, but now, years later, his works are bleaching to white, his pigments not meant for longevity, and I cant help but think that he planned this, that he planned for his paintings to change with the seasons, and to change with life. That to me is so powerful, and I bow to him as supreme.

Have you ever been pulled in the direction of a pursuit other than being an artist? What are your other interests? 

Aside from architecture, I have dabbled in fashion, in music (violin), and in many other artist creative endeavors. I don’t really like calling myself an artist, because I think you have to wear many hats and you have to be very good at what you do to claim that all encompassing title, but I am a painter, and I will always dabble in new mediums, via that pottery, welding, fashion, writing. I wish I could say rocket science, but honestly my brain shuts down when it sees mathematical equations, I would much rather see colors. If math could be explained in colors, it would be a game changer.


essizmm_headshotMy biological father, a religious fanatic, claimed to know the truth. A woman’s value could be precisely calculated according to metrics of surface: dress, speech, piety, observance. My mother, a free spirited German, claimed her own truth. Beyond surface, there were things that dictated an individual’s fate: signs, symbols, curses, miracles. Being raised in a bookstore, I was imbued with many truths from the local UFO hunters, the psychics, the paranoid philosophers, the zealots, the hippies, all fervently declaring the objective truth to be found in their recommended codexes. These books were the saving graces of my childhood. With no other children around, I befriended the books and they became a catalyst to how I related to everything and everyone. They became my myriad of axioms. Folklore is the human attempt to pass on these truths. Henry Glassie said it best, “it stresses the interdependence of the personal, the social; the aesthetic, the ethical, the cosmological; the beautiful, the good, the true. Practically, folklore is the study of human creativity in its own context”

My art can be summed up as confessions of paper, a way to visually communicate truths, accessing the space occupied by folklore. Paper conceals and communicates meaning, and can be destroyed and overlaid in various modes. I begin a piece by abstractly representing an image in paint, which I then cover with paper: scraps found, created from pulp, or hand illustrated. I then peel away the paper, leaving a construction bearing a nonlinear but viscerally personal connection to its origin. The accumulated papers mimic the debris that sticks to memories; it mirrors waking life’s uncanny transfiguration in our dreams. Where realism trusts only what can be tested and seen, folklore presents a world vibrating with meaning, a morally charged and heavily fated universe that rejects logic in favor of the non-linear.


All images copyright of the artist and used with their permission.  



About 365Artists/365Days

The purpose of this project is to introduce its readership to a diverse collection of art that is being produced at the national and international level. Our goal is to engage the public with information regarding a wide array of creative processes, and present the successes and failures that artists face from day to day. The collaborators hope that this project will become a source for exploring and experiencing contemporary art in all its forms.
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