We had the good fortune of connecting with Jim Zver and we’ve shared our conversation below.

Hi Jim, how do you think about risk?
If asked about risk, my first response would probably be that I wasn’t a big risk taker. However, giving it a bit of thought I’m remembering many times when the choices I’ve made were indeed very risky and uncertain.

After graduating high school I decided to study painting at the Art Institute of Chicago rather than go to work for a local utility company, which my parents strongly urged.  That seemed like security to them, and from their perspective I understand it.   However, undeterred and after 4 years at the Art Institute and getting my BFA I was faced with another risky decision: stay in familiar surroundings in comfortable Chicago or move to unfamiliar and challenging New York. I chose the risky path.

In New York I was fortunate enough to find an interesting job in the display department of the Metropolitan Museum of Art. After a year there I was offered the assistant display director’s position but left the museum to paint full time with no other financial security other than office temp jobs. That risk and insecurity seemed worth it to be able to totally focus on what I was doing in my studio.

Other examples come to mind. I left a tenured track teaching position at Hofstra University to focus more time in my studio. I bought a loft in a part of the Manhattan that was being considered for leveling to make way for a freeway extension. That area became SoHo instead. I decided to leave New York, my home for over 20 years, to relocate to Los Angeles with its new and unfamiliar challenges. That risk led to directions in my work that I never would have explored had I stayed in New York.

But besides these examples, the entire visual creative process is one of risk. It is without rules to follow or a template to work within. All of the decision-making depends on personal choices and convictions. It is a path without any guiding signposts, like walking a tightrope without a net. But the risk has the satisfaction and rewards of producing something that answers a personal vision. What risk taking isn’t worth that?

Please tell us more about your art.  We’d love to hear what sets you apart from others, what are you most proud of or excited about.  How did you get to where you are today professionlly. Was it easy? If not, how did you overcome the challenges?  What are the lessons you’ve learned along the way? 
There are individual works I am pleased with and proud to have done. However, I’m most proud of keeping a steady focus on my work over the years. With all of life’s complexities and distractions I’ve been able to compartmentalize and prioritize and keep my primary focus on what was happening in my studio.

A challenging aspect of being an artist is the common experience of having work seen only through the prism of a resume and past successes, work seen through the ear and not the eye. It’s important, in fact essential, to have your work’s success be determined by your own standards and vision.  You alone have to be the first, last and final judge of what you do.

There is a lesson to learn here, and I think I’ve totally gotten it straight in my head now.  My art and my career have little, if anything, to do with one another. One is exploring, developing and realizing my visual ideas, the other is all marketing.

Let’s say your best friend was visiting the area and you wanted to show them the best time ever. Where would you take them? Give us a little itinerary – say it was a week long trip, where would you eat, drink, visit, hang out, etc.
I used to love taking visiting friends to the Griffith Park Observatory late in the afternoon, shortly before sunset. It’s about a 15 minute drive from where I live in Los Feliz. When I would take them there they were always amazed at how quiet and removed it felt from the city. The light and view are so spectacular and I enjoyed showing them the James Dean bust with its Rebel Without a Cause plaque. Sadly, the Observatory and great view have now been discovered with a vengeance. It is packed with cars and any parking, should a space be available, is very expensive. I haven’t gone for some time but it is definitely not the hidden treasure it once was

Still, many favorite LA treats remain. My two favorite museums are the Norton Simon Art Museum in Pasadena and the Huntington Gardens in San Marino. The Norton Simon has one of the best private art collections in the country and the Huntington’s cactus garden alone is worth the trip. The Japanese and Chinese gardens are also spectacular and there are several art venues for the Huntington’s excellent collection.

One day in Venice, especially on the boardwalk and a walk along the canals, is a totally and uniquely LA experience..

I’m not much of an out and about person but when I go for a margarita and Mexican food with friends my favorite local spot is Casita del Campo on Hyperion. I took friends visiting from London there. One said, “This is the best margarita I’ve ever had”. Shortly after the other said, “These are the best nachos I’ve ever had”. Two new fans for Casita!

The Shoutout series is all about recognizing that our success and where we are in life is at least somewhat thanks to the efforts, support, mentorship, love and encouragement of others. So is there someone that you want to dedicate your shoutout to?

A number of people were supportive and helpful in different ways along my art journey and deserve an appreciative mention.

Rudolph Pen, one of my painting instructors at the Art Institute, was a true mentor and had the biggest influence on my thinking about art. He taught me to look at what I was seeing as not just as an arrangement of objects in space to be copied but as an abstraction with its own independent balance and logic. Perhaps even more importantly he arranged a scholarship for me at Oxbow, a summer art colony in Sawgatuk, Michigan. It was the summer where I felt I truly became an artist. I am forever grateful to him for this.

George Dix, director of Durlacher Brothers Gallery, gave me my first major show in New York. His enthusiasm and hard work sold 20 paintings from that exhibit and my studio.

Arnold Singer, the Master Printer at the Pratt Graphic Center on lower Broadway, asked me to assist him in doing editions for many artists including Ellsworth Kelly, Adolph Gottlieb and Richard Lindner. He then arranged a graduate teaching assistantship for me at Cornell University, where I received my MFA.

But a very special mention must go to my longtime friend, Luis Rangel. In our over forty year friendship he has seen me both as a person and as an artist with his very special and unique understanding and depth. A wonderful manifestation of this is his spot on title suggestions for so much of my work. The most recent example is his title for the drawing series I began while visiting him in Madrid, where he now lives. He suggested Symbiosis: “the living together in more or less intimate association or close union of two dissimilar organisms in a mutually beneficial relationship”. This seems perfect for these drawings that combine charcoal and pastel rubbings with contrasting but related pencil additions, very different techniques but each dependent on the other to complete the drawing. Some examples are included here.

Website: jimzverart.com

Instagram: @jimzver

Other: linktr.ee/zverart

Image Credits
Todd Grossman

Nominate Someone: ShoutoutLA is built on recommendations and shoutouts from the community; it’s how we uncover hidden gems, so if you or someone you know deserves recognition please let us know here.