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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

thanks ryan! glad you enjoy the work, and the website. fortunately, i can code the website myself, so it lets me keep it current quite easily. to be able to photograph, and present your work (via website or print) are really useful skills.

re xb39f8a - the whole "lineage" series came about because i was started using line more (rather than more shapes than lines), and the pieces REALLY started to look like '50's abstractions. i was not totally pleased about that, but followed the work forward. i think the culmination of that line of thinking is xb6886a.

xb39f8a is an oddball piece. interesting that you picked that one - although people often pick it out - maybe BECAUSE it is so different. about that time, i had started using graphite sticks to layout the basic structure (on primed canvas), then added a layer of medium with a little color mixed in. i started adding components, and got to a point that i get too fairly often early on in a piece, where i say "if i were a famous artist, i would leave the piece right here". usually i push on from there (not enough work in the piece! needs more effort! [voices in my head]). and on RARE occasions, i stop and leave it there. if everything is so perfectly balanced (shape repetition/shape variation, interesting color progressions, decent composition) why go forward? i am quite obsessive about painting, so i don't feel these "simple pieces" say as much about me as the others. and since the piece is small (24x24"), i thought i could get away with it! :) not sure that was very enlightening. the comparison to Basquiat is interesting. simple shapes, simple palette, and quick execution. and lots of open space. my newest series (stains) is more open, so maybe i am working toward that. hard to tell! i just follow the ideas i see in the paint! thanks again! j
Thanks Jay for allowing us to critique your body of work....Thanks for Older sisters also....I have one...Sounds like with all the strings you created in the basement it was an installation....and you certaintly should feel like you are a full time artist who is
I envy you that you have found a certain look that you carry through all of your work...I still bounce from one medium to another....I like the 2007 work a little better as you have some darks in to enhance the lighter tones....but all of your work has good value and balance. I'm excited you have been picked up by a gallery. I will send positive thoughts for you on the Nebraska and Georgia connection.
Your style of abstract brings up an artist that I really like, Sturat Davis.I tried so many times to create abstracts similar to his work but have always had a hard time with abstract. I want to do it so much and always end up with faces somewhere...oh well, I think I'll try another one today....We seemed to have done the opposite as I paint large canvases and started printmaking 5 years ago and had to learn to work small...Isn't art wonderful and we are so fortunate to be artist. Thanks for introducing me to Lari Pittman's work. I like that you use your own created images in your collage work. Your description of viewing abstract as "getting lost in the construction of the piece" can I borrow that?
You said you worked 18-24 hrs on a you work on more than one at a time or do you complete one before the other?I just love your the one on being critiqued...and since I am all about growing my work, I hear everything, but act on very little. I think this is great advice for artist or we would be doing sofa
I should wait to ask questions after I read your complete article..i see you do work on several pieces at a time...
I completely understand not doing commission's not for everyone and I commend those artist who do this...
I enjoyed knowing more about you and your work.
thanks junanne! glad you like the older work. i DO hope to sell that too someday. ;)

the chicago artist who is "taking me under his wing" also saw stuart davis in my work. and i have loved his work for 40 years, so i'm pleased! i think what is most like him is the interlocking planes/shapes. that's probably why you like the 2007 work - the interlocking shapes feel very comfortable in a simple, physical way.

yes the string thing was an installation. too bad i don't have photographs to add it to my resume! who would have thought in 1956 that temporary art (here today, gone tomorrow) would be a valid form? certainly not me!

i laughed at your comment about faces. yes, our brains are hardwired to see faces in practically everything. my sister's daughter lives a few houses down from her, and when chery finishes a painting, she has her daughter come down to "find things in it". she usually finds clown faces!! then the job of making them disappear, and still have the construction you want!

you may want to try collage to develop your sense of abstraction. of course, you have to work with larger non-representation pieces. just try to "feel" when the next piece should go, and if the color adds to the piece. and they are so fast, and easy to rip up and recycle!

whatever i say, of course you can borrow. the way something is expressed can be very helpful in helping others (or yourself) to see something in the work. knowledge is to be shared freely.

yes, i definitely work on multiple pieces. in fact, at the moment, i am unhappy because i am waiting for a shipment of canvases, and only have 2 pieces to alternate between. i like to have 2 small ones (24x24"), 2 medium ones (36x36") and 2 large ones (36x48") active all the time. when i finish one, i start a new one of the same size. i probably switch (on average, since i switch more quickly on the small ones) about once every 3 hours. i used to switch to use up a color on the palette, but i have stopped doing that. since the color is more complex now, and more unique to each piece, i work linearly on one piece for a longer time. in addition, i either start on the small canvases, work on both, then move up to the medium, then to the large, or go in the reverse direction. since i scale my brushwork to the scale of the canvas, it hard for me to jump back and forth too quickly.

thanks again! stay tuned!


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