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Thanks to Ang for leading off last week. All of the questions I have added came from Ang's excellent web-posted interview. Read it if you haven't!

Secondly, thanks for this opportunity! I look forward to getting some feedback (any kind). I have a pretty thick skin (wrinkled but tough), so don't hold back!

As you may notice, I have changed my thumbnail to the real me! (easier to find when looking for me in the members list) Next week I will revert to my "latest posted painting" thumbnail. I do that on FaceBook as well, and get a lot of comment/traffic when it changes. Something to consider.


Jay Zerbe

How you got started with art-if it was just a love of art, accident, natural talent, etc.?
My older sister (by 4 years) became interested in Art in high school, and decided to share what she was learning with me. That was my first introduction to making "Art", although i already did "creative things" like filling the basement rec room with strings between all the objects in the room. (My mother was kind enough to leave it up for 2 days!) Since my sister and I are quite competitive (though loving and close!) she continues to be a inspiration/instigation.

Is art your full time/part time/hobby?
Until a little over a month ago, my art was part-time. I used to do art in the mornings on weekends, and sometimes in the evenings, because I worked a regular 5-day week. For the last 4 years, I have worked much harder because I knew that I wanted to become a full-time artist, and I needed to work on my skills, and get a body of work together. So for the last 4 years, I haven't had a weekend or a vacation day - those were all studio days (6-7 hour days). Then a little over a month ago, I was laid off from my job, and now I am a full-time artist and part-time human (my weekends are now free just to be human!)

How long have you been working on your art to get it to where it is today?
I didn't think of myself as an "artist" until junior year in high school. However, I didn't develop what I think is a truly personal style until late in my college years.

Where are you with your art (art/sitting, art/promoting, art/not-selling, art/selling)?
At this point, I have a fairly large body of work that looks "like me" (always important to a gallery). I am the "sponsored artist" of a high-end furniture showroom here in Chicago (meaning that they only show my paintings). That is nice in that my work is always on the walls in a place where it COULD sell. And that outlet has brought me a few sales (via my own hustling or my partner's hustling on my behalf - he is a designer). The downside of that relationship is that the people who own the showroom like art, but don't know how to sell it. I am at this point working on getting gallery representation again here in Chicago, as well as some other locations (Nebraska, Georgia).

What style of art do you use most?
My work is abstract, but not non-representational. My abstraction can sometimes look a bit like landscape, or even still life. That's mainly because one of my interests is the rendering of space. But I keep anything obviously recognizable out of the work. My work used to be (in the 70's/early 80's) Chicago Imagist - basically fantasy/narrative figuration. Gradually the work became more abstracted, and the narrative element disappeared. In the mid-80's, I totally lost interest in representation. After that I did pattern-based work for about 8 years, followed by a period of more Bauhaus-like compositions using collage. I started working larger in 2005 when I went back to canvas. I had to train myself to paint with large strokes after so many years of working small scale! I think the formal interests that underly my work (space, composition, process-exposure) have not changed much, and I don't think I will ever go back to more representational art - but I won't close that door. You have to go where the work leads you!
And lastly, in terms of influence, I have to say African art, as well as outsider art, has been a big influence on my work. My late partner and I collected (obsessively) African art for 20+ years. As part of that obsession, I educated myself on the various styles of the various African peoples. Having that exposure, and living with lots of African art for decades, has had a big influence on my work. We collected statues, masks, and fabrics. I often see an African mask forming in my work (which I then attempt to eradicate - no representation!). However, I am not an African-American, so I can't claim that as part of my heritage. Therefore I feel a bit awkward mentioning it, but the reality is that it has affected my work to quite a large extent, and I need to credit the correct source.
In addition, I use 50's BAD art (commercial art) in my imagery. I was a child in the 50's, and remember so much detail from so many BAD paintings I saw then. Those motifs also pop up - and I use them. All style has a "feel" and, as a queer painter, I feel that stylistic references ARE a part of my heritage. (reference: Lari Pittman). Go figure! We can't really determine what inhabits our creative mind - what history lurks there - we can only be aware of the influences.

What medium do you use?
All of my work is acrylic on canvas. I also do collage using papers i create on the computer, print off, and cut up - then I staple them together, and sometimes add some gouache/pencil on top.

What made you choose that medium?
My choices of medium in paint has to do with how I work. I overpaint many times as I develop the image. With oils, that would be a total pain! Even with acrylic, I am often painting wet into wet. I also like that I can see fairly quickly what the paint will look like. With oils, I found that over time transparencies developed where I didn't expect them, and colors changed as well. I like the control of acrylic. For the collages, I chose a method that 1) includes only material generated by me, 2) is FAST. Yes, I do like to work fast in whatever medium I use.

Do your ideas come from life or imagination?
All my images come from inside my head. Although, there are many images from life in my head! I like the fuzzy border between seeming to be something, and not being something. I think evoking a reality of some sort in abstraction entices viewers in - from there they can get lost in the construction of the piece - which is my real goal.

How do you choose your images and colours?
I try (more and more) to guide my color. I often make some arbitrary choices early on in a painting, then refine the color as I move forward. The construction (image) develops as the piece progresses. The image finds itself, so to speak.

Who is your favourite artist?
I have several favorite living artists (and quite a few dead ones too!). The living non-Chicago favs are listed on the links page of my website But if I have to choose one, it would be Frank Stella. I admire the arc of his career, how his work has developed. And the new stuff - fabulous! (although for a few years I just didn't GET it). Seeing the wall constructions live - WOW!

What is your favourite piece of work by yourself?
Well, probably like all other artists, my latest of course! My current favorite is "natureMorte" - pretty close to being the last one finished! I was pleased with the color palette in this one - plus the more distinct variety of the components I found pleasing.

How much time (on average) does it take to complete a work?
When I first started painting large again, a 36"x36" was taking about 60-80 hours (yes, really!). Now I would say the newest pieces of that size take about 18-24 hours. Mostly this has to do with knowing more about how to paint, and loosening up my brushwork, and taking the time to think about where/what I need paint on the piece before I start putting the mark down.

How well do you take criticism?
I enjoy feedback - positive or negative - on my work. Feedback of ANY sort is useful. I enjoy hearing other perspectives. Being defensive means you don't get to benefit from a different point of view. And since I am all about growing my work, I hear everything, but act on very little. If someone's opinion/comment doesn't make sense to me I discard it. However, if I think it has ANY merit, I go over it again and again as I am painting, trying to see how I can use that comment to find a different perspective, and therefore be able to move the work forward.

What do you do to overcome a ‘block’?
I don't really have those (thank God!). I always start a canvas by working from one or more collages. I sometimes paint repeatedly from the same collage (since the end products don't look like them anyway). Once I get a painting started, just staring at it for a time gives me the idea of what to add next (or what to take away). If I can't see anything to do (and its not finished) I move to a different canvas. I always have 6 canvases going (2 each of the 3 sizes I am currently working on), so I just move on to the next one.

How do you know something is ‘finished’? Is it easy to walk away?
I mentioned this in a earlier blog, but what I find is that I know when a work is CLOSE to being finished. I rotate my canvases as I work on them, so what I find is that I rotate a piece, or add a stroke, or recolor an existing stroke/area, and CLICK! I realize it is finished. Its always a bit of a surprise, even tho I know it is coming. I sign the piece, set it off to the side (where I can still see it). Sometimes it "fails", and I put it back into the active work. Sometimes it "passes" and I am happy with it. But when it IS finished, I have NO problem walking away. Why mess up a good thing?

Have you had exhibits in galleries?
I was juried into a show in the 1970's here in Chicago called the "Vicinity Show". A gallery owner saw the piece in that show and contacted me about joining her gallery. I was with her gallery from 1978-82 (when her gallery closed). Then this year, I had an opening and "show" at the Mobili Mobel (not a regular gallery) where the work is still hanging. I am working on getting regular gallery representation again.

What are your plans for the future?
Keep working, and keep marketing my work. I am also thinking of marketing my photographs. They were handled by a gallery in Atlanta for a couple of years, but that gallery folded. My partner has offered to do the booth-thing, and sell them. I don't want to put them in a regular gallery, since I don't feel they are exceptional in the way my painting is. But it would be nice to get some money!

What advice would you give new artists?
Find out who you are in your art - what is your voice - and follow that. Don't try to make art to please others (a total dead-end). Don't try to remain the same - always be learning more and expanding your work. If your art is not changing, you are not thinking, you are just a factory!

Have you done any courses to help you?
I do have a college degree (masters) in art - so there is that. But what really has helped is that I worked as a consultant in the computer industry for 20 years, and those sales/marketing skills are helping me now! Wish I had had those skills when I was first showing here in Chicago! But glad I have them now.

What do you do to market your work?
The more people that see your work on the wall, the more will be interested. Basic sales philosophy. So I keep my website current, and network on A2A and FaceBook. I follow up on all leads - however painful it is to do that - and trust that by the time I'm 80, my work will be selling well enough to save me from living in a cardboard box over a subway grate.

Are you available for work (commissions)?
No, I don't do commissions. Not sure if I am just not good enough, or just too selfish. :)

Have you got hobbies?
I love gardening, and enjoy 20th/21st century music (post-tonal).

Where are you based?

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Replies to This Discussion

sloane asked me to clarify what i am looking for here. i look for feedback on the pieces, and general comments on my work. for example, one artist noted recently that there was a 50's feel to the work. very true. not only 50's GOOD abstraction (the brushwork), but also BAD 50's - things i remember from my childhood. and i am happy to include it all. i am very baroque in that way - more is more! but - back to what i want... what do you see in my work? what might you change? what do you like/not like? what other artists does my work make you think of? that kind of feedback is all good info for me to work with. feedback+thinking=progress!
Okay, first off I have to admit I am not a big fan of abstract. I don't know why (may be it's because I can't do it:>) I don't get a 50's feel from them. My favorite is no. 2 . I like that it dosn't seem so busy. Honeslty I can see these being hung anywhere. Am I supposed to see something or feel something when I see abstract art?
Because most of it just confuses me!
thanks for posting! maybe the 50's thing is pretty esoteric - and maybe you only see it if you are used to abstraction. i know an artist here on a2a saw it, and also tony fitzpatrick - an artist here in chicago who has taken an interest in my work. abstraction is, i suppose, an acquired taste. although i think my work is pretty accessible. i don't know how to tell you to appreciate it. try looking at your own work while squinting (so that things are very fuzzy). see if you get a feel from your own work when you see it more abstractly. if not - well, i guess my work is not for you! for me - its the pinnacle of expression. but i know it's not for everyone!
thanks julianne! glad you enjoy the collages. i think in person you would not be bothered so much by the staples. those were scanned (vs. being photographed) so every staple is bright. i reality, you almost don't notice the staples until you look very closely at the collages (or hold them in your hand). i try to use them like lines - pointing in a particular direction - as well as to hold the pieces together. i actually LIKE some of the harshness them contribute - i find them masculine (although i first became aware of that technique via the Elizabeth Murray retrospective in NYC a couple/few years ago).

as for the Lan reference - he was a favorite painter of mine back in the 1960's. i still love his work, and am happy that he has been "resurrected" in the museums, and i am seeing his work more.

re shapes - yes, i have shapes that i feel akin to, and i use them over and over. not sure the reason - more than just convenience and familiarity. i think every shape has something a bit different to say, and the space within it works differently than even a slightly different version of that shape.

re repeating composition... i TRY not to do that... but they often follow general patterns. the most common is the diagonal, falling either left or right. i'm trying some different strategies recently - stacking shapes (an old approach i used a lot in the 1980's) and setting up quadrants. partly it has to do with working in squares, and always using the same-shaped canvases. i'm not sure how MUCH the repetition bothers me, but it does. my sister worked in squares for years, and i used to say to her - "oh, another diagonal composition". :) so i do know what you mean...

yes, i don't really use totally flat color anywhere on a canvas. i find that very deadening. there is always either 1) translucence or 2) paint build up that makes the surface uneven. i think you would enjoy them up close a lot more. i like your idea about adding some detail photos. will do that.

thanks again julianne! and thanks for posting your work as well! i'm enjoying it!
sorry - "Lam reference". (can't seem to edit this post (at least from a Mac).
here are some detail views of headWater, as promised.
Hello Jay,

What a collection of amazing work. Because I only work with pen and ink I couldn't help think about the amount of paint that goes into one of your marvelous pieces. I'd love to see them in person. I noticed each piece has a wonderful balance of color combinations and though the pieces are busy in shapes, the colors create an appealing cohesiveness. One thing though, when I look at them, I find myself gazing from shape to shape searching for a place for my eyes and brain to rest before I jump back in. It's like so many people talking to you at the same time and you want to listen to them all. It's just my observation and I hope that makes sense. Thank you for sharing who you are and your insight as an artist with us.
thanks barbara! well, sorry to say this, but what bothers you is what i find unique in my work - the inability of the eye to settle once you start perusing the piece. i agree that the color (and overall composition) hold the piece in stasis from a distance. but start looking at the painting, and you have entered the game - a game with no ending point. it is my way (probably more instinctive than not) of including the viewer in my process. some people find it unsettling (like you) and some people enjoy that aspect. but i like that you perceive that! (just not ready to change it!)
well, another day at the studio, thinking about your comments and questions... putting the notes i wrote down while painting (always good to have paper and pencil to record your thoughts about your work while painting).

my shapes:
- often based on the feel of letterforms
- very pattern / repetition / rhythm / set theory in focus, using a limited vocabulary. the philosophical underpinnings of that are about language and systems of knowledge and how we communicate
- i always try for simplified shapes (vs organic / ragged) to emphasize the cold / formal / structured aspect of the work

the work (general):
- stylization, and the collage of stylized elements, is where my work will succeed (or fail). my shtick is that i collage style upon style to create what a first blush is a simple abstract that fragments into a constant puzzle. the uneasy unsolvable riddle that coincides with what i think existence / non-existence is. that restless searching is what the work is about, not the styled collage of paint. there is no resting place.
- viewers either see past the styles to something more interesting, or (perhaps) dismiss my work as trash.
- something that may also help is that i think of my work as "comic abstraction". in other words, a comic book / graphic rendering of an abstracted surface.

you may enjoy a new series i am working on - "stains" - because the surface is less processed / cellularized than in any series since "collage portraits".
Hi Jay:

Nice work. Any idea how your work will evolve? Your paintings are very active and, I suppose, need blank wall space for some visual relief. Have you every tried incorporating large empty areas (negative space) into your paintings? Long ago, in another life, I would block out areas of the painting surface with pieces of paper, paint over them as though they weren't there , and when finished painting, remove the paper to reveal negative areas in my paintings. The results were always a surprise. Some not so good, but some quite good. I really don't have any suggestions other than I think its' important for you to talk about your work

Regarding the comment about abstract work. Try enlarging a small section of a representational piece and what you have is an non-representational , perhaps abstract, image.

thanks tom - no, i really don't know how the work will evolve. my tendency is to carefully paint each area, vs using a big brushstroke to do the same thing... painting carefully causes the painting to freeze up and die, so i try to avoid that, but since internal pressure pushes in that direction, it is possible that the work will get less brushy.

regarding open areas... some of my newest work ("stains" series) has larger areas of not much going on, so maybe that will supply some "rest". my work has NEVER been restful. good or bad, i have always filled my work with lots of activity/"stuff". i think that has more to do with my nature than a truly artistic choice. i think we are sometimes pushed by our nature to paint in certain ways.

my sister, chery baird, teaches painting, and one of her exercises is to have the student block out sections of the painting with paper, then paint the rest of the canvas pure white. sort of the reverse of your process, but basically the same idea.

thanks for the feedback - i will think about what you have said.
Hi Jay,
First let me say thank you for such an in depth view into your creative world. OK here's my feedback. Looked at your web site . It's great . Working on my own as we speak. In fact you've given me some idea. I too would love to see your paintings in person . Think that they pack a punch. Movement , color are all the elements for good abstracts . I like the fact that the eyes keeps moving around the work. It creates an excitement. My first reaction when I looked at your work was WOW. How large are they ? I envison them to be very large. Makes sense that one of your favorite artist is Frank Stella. The collages make me what to hold and touch them. The colors are strong and very masculine.
I am drawn to one particular painting titled Headwater. Drawn to the oranges and reds . Again it creates excitement . Another is xb39f8a (lineage) Very Basquiat. Different from the rest of the work. Can you talk a little bit about that piece? Thanks


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