We had the good fortune of connecting with Zachary Sitrin and we’ve shared our conversation below.
Hi Zachary, we’d love to hear about how you approach risk and risk-taking
As a painter, risk is an integral part of my art making practice. Painting is a venue where I can be intuitive and improvisational. Since I do not plan or make sketches before beginning a new painting, each work requires me to be fully present and trusting of the process. Along with this approach comes risk. I aim for my paintings to live on a fine line between fantasy and reality. Occupying this slippery space means that the work holds the tension of falling too far into either realm at any moment. Being suspended between coherence and incoherence is risky; to be in one or the other offers the assurance of certainty, but my paintings are more concerned with uncertainty.
Alright, so let’s move onto what keeps you busy professionally?
My painting practice stems from my background as a set designer as well as my training in anatomical art. I am interested in painting intuitively and improvisationally. My paintings act as fictional and poetic versions of my personal history. The narratives I craft are filtered through a transgenerational tangle of misremembered family stories, Jewish folklore, queer consciousness, and my own memories and observations. The men in my paintings are fractured and fleshy apparitions of a revised and imagined history.
My paintings balance precariously on the edge of abstraction while remaining grounded in figuration and illusionism. Many of my works are oversized oil paintings on stretched canvas and I often work with small brushes in a localized manner. The theatrical scale in which I paint is derived from my past work painting illusionistic backdrops as a scenic artist. While I like to begin each piece differently rather than subscribing to a fixed method, I tend to build paintings like a patchwork, allowing the whole to create itself. Working on large paintings lends itself to this circumstance, as I cannot see the entirety of the piece as I work. Rather than an orchestrator, I become a participant and an observer. The scale of my work also means that much of my time in the studio is spent mixing large quantities of oil paint. In mass amounts, oil paint becomes both food-like and bodily, feeding into the visceral and fluid nature of the people I paint.
I aim to paint in a way that allows the work to reveal itself to me rather than approaching the painting with a preconceived idea. My paintings are not composed from sketches or based on direct visual references, but instead they are created during the act of painting. Painting becomes a constant editing process and one in which I remain cognizant of developing my works physically rather than intellectually. I arrive at the aesthetic of each work by way of the action of painting. By working toward an unknown end, I am guided by gut reactions and momentary decisions. Intuition becomes a palpable tool. I find that the tension of painting in this manner allows for unconscious ideas to come to the forefront and for the process to be endlessly revealing.
The inherent and often humorous incongruities of painting are what draw me to the medium. I work with the awareness that paint is both a physical substance and a metaphorical stand in. I choose colors knowing that they are at once heavy metals as well as evocations of place and time. While I paint, I attempt to be both tuned in and tuned out. I position myself in the middle of these contradictions and invite uncertainty and ambiguity into my practice. As a painter, I welcome the continuously pulsing dissonance that holds the work in a state of suspended animation.
If you had a friend visiting you, what are some of the local spots you’d want to take them around to?
I spend the majority of my time painting in my studio in Brooklyn. I feel very lucky to live a short walk away from Prospect Park, one of my favorite spots in Brooklyn. I love spending time either walking around the lake, sitting and reading, or meeting friends for a picnic or for an afternoon of drawing. I find it inspiring to get together with other artists in the park and talk about our art practices and the ways in which we work similarly and differently.
Shoutout is all about shouting out others who you feel deserve additional recognition and exposure. Who would you like to shoutout?
I owe much of my painterly success to my parents, sister, and dachshund/lab mix, Augie. My family is a constant source of support and provides an abundance of inspiration from which to draw, and Augie is a stellar model. I often think back to told and retold family stories which offer a narrative backbone to my paintings. Family anecdotes and transgenerational misrememberings lace through the fabric of my work in an integral and unavoidable way. I am so grateful for my family’s encouragement in pursuing a creative life from a young age and feel lucky to share my artistic journey with them.