Old School Real Deal: Exclusive Interview with Bob ZoellJuxtapoz // Thursday, 17 Jun 2010
At the age of 16, you quit school to work in your father's print shop. How did this introduction to commercial art affect your future as an artist? Did you know you wanted to be an artist then?
I started making art for my father after school when I was 12 years old. I quit school in grade 9 and worked for several months at his small printing shop before joining a sign shop where I learned show card writing and lettering for signs. And yes, I knew when I pooped in my diaper for the first time, that I would be an artist.
You're known for being a pioneer of street art in the Los Angeles area, a medium not often associated with the training and rigors of formal education. However, you I heard you earned an MFA from Yale. Why did you decide to attend art school and what did you gain from it?
I don't know where the Yale rumor started but it ain't true. I have a PhD from the school of knocks. It was never hard and seemed easy to move around in the commercial art world. The challenges in the so-called fine arts demanded a higher curiosity and a strong desire to be part of that history.
Your witty and playfully altered parking signs started popping up in 1985 in LA before many of the street artists that now dominate LA were even able to walk. What gave you this idea and how was the series received? What were you hoping to accomplish with these signs?
If you're an artist, you can't not make art and since I was not with a gallery at that time and I had this strong language, lettering background, I decided to play with the streets as a venue. Certain thoughts can only be said through language and when applied as a visual, it can be a lot of serious fun.
I needed to be loved and hoped the signs would help accomplish that.
You're participating in ZPFfffft!!! with longtime friend Gary Panter, who has led a very influential career. How have you both influenced and propelled one another? What will it be like showing in this new exhibit with him?
Gary and I have shown together several times since the mid 80s. His work has always left me in awe. I feel he is an important American artist and I am honored to show with him again.
What do you have planned for the ZPFfffft!!! show?
Two paintings from the late 80s from my "Spot" series.
In the 1960s you worked for Esquire and became well-known for your airbrush illustration. What was it like working for Esquire alongside cover designers such as George Lois during their great upsurge of popularity?
I worked with Jean-Paul Goude, the AD for Esquire. It was exciting because it allowed me to work on the cutting edge of illustration in an important national magazine at that time.
Working at Esquire and during the 1960s in general must have been a very unique experience, as the entire country was going through a series of political and cultural upheavals. Looking back, what do you think you gained from working as an artist during that time and do you see any parallels or contrasts to our present day war era?
I felt very lucky to be able to speak out against the Vietnam War in Esquire. All wars are the same: they are always about murdering for money. It starts with, and is always perpetuated by, the politicians and ends with dead kids and murdered innocence. An artist can live at any time and always be able to address current wars.
You've had a long and impressive career. In reflection, what stands out most to you and where do you see the next generation of artists and art going?
I think new generations of the smart young artists always reflect hope that art will never die. They seem to absorb the past and intuitively embrace the influence but refried in a fresh twist that leads to work that could of only happened at that time. I don't think, since the beginning of Modern Art, it's ever been otherwise.
See Bob Zoell’s works in ZPFfffft!!! which includes works by Bob Zoell and Devin Flynn.
The show opens to the public this Saturday, June 19, 2010 from 7 – 10pm
Scion Installation Space
3521 Helms Ave. (at National)
Culver City, CA 90232
The reception is free with complimentary valet parking and an open bar. All artists will be present.
The exhibit will run until July 10, 2010.
More info on ZPFfffft!!! at www.scion.com/space
More info on Bob Zoell at www.bobzoell.com