Imagination is something that Brooklyn-based artist Zane York doesn’t need to borrow. Masterful draftsman and painter, his execution is so detailed and precise that his subjects seem to be ready to fly away or jump of the canvas into the real world and that is because his intricate still lifes and portraits are made of insects, bugs, and animals. Often using animals as surrogates for human emotions and feelings, letting a viewer easily relate to a situation in a painting, and, at the same time, employing insects to create emotional distance and feeling of disassociation, Zane isn’t trying to create an allegory:
“I am not big on direct symbols or very specific symbology. May have their use, I just don’t care for them. I like to keep things a little bit more ambiguous. I like to create a sense that there is something really intense happening, but leave the room for interpretation here; leave it open for people to understand it on their own terms.”
Influenced by his artistic family, Zane started drawing at an early age. His brothers’ love for comics was the most important in making Zane want to take his hobby of just copying illustrations to a more serious level. Always inquisitive and striving for improvement, he got anatomy books to perfect his technique and to study how the body worked and how it looked in different positions. Later, during his college years, Zane also developed passion for painting and sculpture, as his desire to illustrate comic books began to fade away. The next step was a master’s degree at the New York Academy of Art, a figurative school that provides classical training with a lot of anatomy, drawing, and a lot of structure of art making. Though after the graduation he was still searching for his own voice as spending much time on a figure was not compelling to him.
“Every once in a while they find their way into my work and I love painting figures, when I can, but more often than not nudes happen in the bathroom, they happen in the bedroom, maybe on the beach, but trying to find a content around it without it being just a weird affectation… it’s not so interesting.”
While he was playing around with all kinds of ideas, he started hearing news stories about Brood X cicadas, which are the biggest of all the periodical cicada hatchings and incredibly loud. It was a massive event in the eastern part of the United States that produced photographs of the ground covered by nothing but cicadas, which was absolutely intense. So, Zane found a specimen to paint and really enjoyed the process, seeing it with fresh eyes.
“I could take my sense of anatomy and structure and apply it to something different, apply it to insects. And it became fascinating because insects weren’t something I really studied a lot, they were alien to me. So I got to look at it, explore it, a little bit naively, and understand it on my own terms.” The rest is history.
Witty and visually striking, often odd and bizarre, Zane’s paintings disarm the viewer and create fresh cognitive connections: from the insects to the vases, to panel shapes and lighting, to the various visual effects that produce feelings of movement, transience, and impermanence, everything is altered to create a familiar yet discordant effect. “I want to be confronted with a need to understand something that’s in front of me. It slows you down, makes you consider the reality of the situation, and understand the nuance and complexity of life. When we leave the familiar (or see familiar in an unfamiliar way) we have to consider the thing with a fresh mind.”
IN LIFE, I LOOK FOR INTENSE EXPERIENCES THAT HAVE AN UNEXPLAINED RESONANCE, BUT DEFY A SIMPLE EXPLANATION. IT IS THESE EXPERIENCES THAT INSPIRE GREAT CONTEMPLATION AND I LOOK TO HARNESS THAT IN MY WORK.
To see Zane York’s artwork, visit Arsenal gallery at Central Park:
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