P: Are these drawings of specific objects?
DZ: No, they’re invented. I just begin with a mark. The powdered graphite is easy to manipulate because you can pile it onto the surface, and if you blow it or touch it, it makes marks. I take the excess off and then I start to sculpt basically. I think the way I build or construct the forms is fueled by or emerges from having so many years of teaching students how to draw from observation. When I start really looking at the marks that I make, I see something, and then I let that lead me into discovering whatever that form will become.
P: So you feel as though you are sculpting while making these?
DZ: Right, part of the thrill is pursuing and creating this illusionistic form that gets conjured up on the surface. I think as a two-dimensional artist, that thrill of being able to create the illusion of light and space and form on paper has never gone away for me.
P: Do you have any affinity with biology or bodily forms? I see references to those in these works.
DZ: I think it’s something about the material being so soft and having such a subtle value range that lends the drawings those qualities. It seems to yield these very softly modulated forms, and I think as soon as you get something that’s bulbous, it looks like skin, and if something is tubular, it looks intestinal, but that’s not necessarily intentional. I think it’s interesting those references are understood, but it’s more about me breathing life into these forms, this idea of animation and specificity. They’re also somewhat plant-like too.
P: How do you apply the powdered graphite?
DZ: I use a lot of different types of tools: erasers, brushes, clothes, chamois, sponges, canned air, etc.
P: And how did you arrive at these particular materials?
DZ: I went through many materials before I came to love the powdered graphite on mylar. I started with charcoal on paper, but was frustrated by how so much grey from previous marks disrupted the description of the light. The graphite on mylar allows you to get rid of what you have already put down. These drawings are actually made with so many wrong turns; I have put things in and taken them out and moved them around so many times throughout the process. As an artist I feel that I need a process which allows all of those wrong turns and dumb moves to slowly lead me to a final result. A lot of what I’m doing is fast, but it takes me a long time to arrive at a place where the relationships are the ones I want to end with.
P: How long do they take?
DZ: I would say, for the smaller 4 x 4 inch ones, about 20 hours. The small drawings can take just as long as the larger drawings, since there are just as many relationships within the piece to resolve, no matter the size.
P: How do your drawings relate to your paintings, process-wise?
DZ: I feel process-wise that they are very much the same, but the vocabulary is quite different. I wanted to be able to let that process of adding and subtracting be more visible. In the drawings, the end result seems so intentional despite the pursuit being so complex. I had been drawing for a handful of years and it was all very satisfying but I wanted to paint too, and it was difficult to make paintings that look similar to the drawings. I eventually decided to not worry about the language being so different, as long as the building and the sculpting was still present.
P: And what about color? Do you try to draw with color or paint in black and white?
DZ: Once I began drawing with powdered graphite, I tried to paint, aiming for an equivalent of the plush delicacy of the drawings. I started by painting a series of monochromatic paintings on panel and then continued to try other approaches. Eventually, though, I let go of the idea, and experimented with a vocabulary that allowed for accumulation, accidents and change -that are a big part of the drawings but not necessarily visible -to be more visible in the paintings.
P: So the paintings are very layered?
DZ: Yes, I keep trying to find new relationships within the work, and each time something changes everything else has to change to fit with it. I keep complicating things essentially to simplify things.
P: Do you see them as depictions of space or objects?
DZ: Space, form, movement, time, all of those really.
P: Did the environment you grew up in have any affect on your work?
I grew up in rural suburbia in northeast Connecticut, and as a kid I was outdoors all the time. We had woods beyond our house in which I could walk for quite a distance in different directions, so I was always investigating the system of pathways in the woods and other neighborhoods, and just enjoying the air and walking through creeks. I’ve always been a sensory-oriented person but also super organized, so my work must be shaped by that.
Here is a list of current/upcoming shows that Deborah Zlotsky is/will be included in (she also just had a solo show at Atkinson Gallery at the Santa Barbara City College, which concluded on September 27):
Upcoming solo shows:
Or something like it, University Gallery, Saint Joseph’s College, Philadelphia, September 27 – November 1, 2013
October 2014 Kathryn Markel Fine Arts, 529 West 20th, Suite 6W New York, NY
An Armory Show, Curated by Michael Oatman and Ken Ragsdale, Opalka Gallery, Sage College, Albany, NY, September 6 – December 15, 2013
Mohawk Hudson Regional Exhibition, The Hyde Collection, Glens Falls, NY, Curated by Dan Cameron, Chief Curator, Orange County Museum of Art, October 12 – December 31, 2013
Deborah Zlotsky’s work in Pierogi’s Flat Files can be seen here.