Objects and Poetics // A Conversation with Eric Zimmerman

December 13, 2013 · Print This Article


Eric Zimmerman is an interdisiciplinary artist with an interest in the successes and failures of American history. His subjects have varied from Clint Eastwood and Spaghetti Westerns, the Apollo 11 lunar landing, and George Eastman of the Kodak Company—all done with excruciating detail in drawings, sculptures, didactic installations, sound pieces, and more.

The most fascinating part of Zimmerman’s practice is the research involved within the making of sometimes six-month long drawings or three-hour collages. He often presents artwork like pieces of evidence, making a visual map to help the viewer see many facets of an event that may or may not have actually happened.

He currently lives in Houston, Texas and is represented by Art Palace Gallery.

Telltale Ashes & Endless Disharmony exhibition at Art Palace Gallery, 2012.

Telltale Ashes & Endless Disharmony exhibition at Art Palace Gallery, 2012.


You’ve mentioned the “poetic connections” that often occur in your work — can you explain how that started for you and how you’ve used/been influenced by poetry to inform your studio practice?

I’m not sure if I can pinpoint that exactly, though on some level its likely something that has always been present in my work. I’ve always maintained an interest in reading poetry and thinking about the way in which language and text imparts an idea in contrast to visual images and objects. Poetry is a way for me to complicate and undermine some of the conceptual coldness in my work. I want there to be that emotional resonance/dissonance that poetry does so well.

Poetry is one of the last vestiges of radicalism left in the world and I’ve found myself thinking more and more about how, as a set of working parameters, it might be useful in the studio and when putting together an exhibition. Useful in its uselessness, and I mean that in the best possible way. Outside of the zine ‘West of the Hudson’, which is a collection of actual poems, it’s thinking through this general notion of the poetic that I find myself coming back to most often in the studio.

There is a play on lapsed mythologies and time in your work, but also masculinity as a reoccurring role in history. How do you arc the three things together, or do you feel that they play a very separate part in your work?

Time is something I think about very specifically, in terms of the deliberate speed of production and the ideas that center around history. Mythology tends to enter into the work more organically. Mythologies of the American west, violence, art history, Western capitalism and specific historical figures have each played a part in my work over the past few years. They become linked through the accumulation of evidence (objects, sounds, images, texts, etc.) surrounding a particular event or figure and the broader goals for a particular piece or exhibition. The masculinity aspect is a less conscious choice and comes out of my thinking about the pairing in human history between success and progress with failure and destruction. Men happen to be responsible for a lot of our failings as a species and play central roles in the portions of history I’ve been interested in thus far.


We Chose To Go To The Moon (exhibition), at Austin Museum of Art (2010)

We Chose To Go To The Moon (exhibition), at Austin Museum of Art (2010)


Your drawings are based off of iconic imagery or snapshot photography, and are painstakingly photo realistic. The Clint Eastwood piece comes to mind specifically. What is your intention behind working with appropriation but by switching mediums to appropriate? How does snapshot photography influence your work?

This goes back to the notion of time and evidence. When I was just starting to make drawings of actual things I wanted to deliberately slow the process down, as a way to really process the source material and as a response to digital speed. I wanted to let images from a variety of time periods operate on a level playing field and drawing was a way to neutralize the sense of time inherent in photographs. The photographic image, as a form of documentary evidence, is important to me but I care less about the actual photograph itself. The drawn illusion, or photo-realism, is a product of that thinking. It’s a means to get the kind of images I want. Again, I think the avalanche of photographic images, and snap-shots, is unavoidable so it’s interesting for me to think about how ‘art’ pictures fit into that equation. Drawing is a really stupid way to make a photographic image when we’ve got so much technology everywhere, but its attractive to me for that reason, which maybe gets us back to this idea of poetry and uselessness. Maybe photography and the photograph are just too damn useful; I haven’t figured that one out yet.

Eric Zimmerman, image of Fidel Castro from a National Geographic thumbnail, 2013

Eric Zimmerman, image of Fidel Castro from a National Geographic thumbnail, 2013


In your most recent exhibition, you placed a bobcat skull and a feather as lone objects. They almost seem to me like pauses between your didactic and installation work that can be text-heavy or referential. How did you feel about making a sculptural piece that was seemingly less about craft and more about the relationship to origin/context?

It was a fairly natural progression for me. In some ways it was an inevitability that came directly out of the zines, posters, sound pieces and sculptural objects. These were all pieces that took source materials and plugged them into new contexts that established alternative reference points and often-nonsensical narratives. In thinking about the exhibition as an entire piece, the feather and skull (along with the selenite and petrified wood) were about injecting this notion of physical fact, or proof, up against the drawings, collages, and other works that are far less matter of fact.

At the same time these objects contain a sort of poetry that attracted me to them. I like this notion of these scientific-esque specimens that are reactivated and made poetic through context and their place amongst the other works. They become evidence of something else other than their materiality and origins. They’re symbols for old geologic time, flight, life cycles and decay, which suggest a sense of duality and transformation between their original and current states.


West of the Hudson (exhibition), Texas State University, 2013

West of the Hudson (exhibition), Texas State University, 2013


I’m interested in your sense of presentation that seems to be intrinsic to the authenticity, or lack there, of an object. [i.e. the Apollo moon landing exhibition]  Do you begin knowing how you want to show it, or does that not factor in until later?  

I typically have a good sense of how I want a particular object to be displayed from the outset. It comes down to thinking about typical museum display strategies; the way they present objects, the context of the institution, etc. and then consciously working to undermine the authority of those devices and the purported ‘truth’ contained therein. The zines and posters came about from thinking directly about the sense of power and hierarchy inherent in didactics and gallery guides; those things that tell us that there is a right and wrong way to understand art objects, that viewers need to be ‘educated.’ But it’s also about this idea of accumulation and placing things in proximity to one another. I do this in-order to set up different propositions between the pieces in order to question the narratives and authenticity that is built into every image and object. Lately I’ve been trying to broaden the web of references and potential resolutions offered by a group of works. Productive confusion comes to mind.


There is a lot more to your work, like geometry, collage and archiving—all practices that have deep methodologies by themselves. Is that something that comes to the foreground within your process, or something you directly avoid?

Collage and the archive are things I’m always thinking about. The notion of the archive sent me down my current path and I used to literally keep all these research binders on given topics, a sort of mini-archive, but it became really tedious and constricting so I threw them all away. Really, who cares about what I’m looking up when I go to the library, it’s what emerges from that process that is most important. I’ve become less interested in the literal notion of an archive and the broader ideas they suggest: selection, rejection, context, subjectivity, multiplicity, accumulation, etc. Archives are collages in a way so I’ve been thinking about that too recently. Practically in how I set up an exhibition, how pieces are displayed and relate to one another and theoretically as a way to think about different types of knowledge and our relentless desire to understand the world.


West of the Hudson (exhibition), Texas State University, 2013

Anyone Can See That The Canvas Doesn’t Fight Back /// On Winston Churchill and George W. Bush

April 6, 2013 · Print This Article

Winston Churchill—one of the most famous men of the 20th century— was the Prime Minister of England (twice!) and a big, sappy painter. He loved his landscapes and still lives and painted over an estimated 500 in his lifetime. What drew a man of such political power to something like painting? He saw it as the end-all, be-all of anxiety, which I think says a lot coming from someone who nicknamed his own clinical depression.

Churchill was an accomplished writer as well, establishing a close friendship with American publisher Emery Reves — who would inevitably begin to collect the politician’s paintings. Reeves would later die in 1981 but soon after his wife, a native Texan, would establish the Wendy and Emery Reves Collection at the Dallas Museum of Art.

In Churchill’s 1932 meditation, Painting As A Pastime[1], he begins with remedies to avoid worry for those who have to “bear exceptional responsibilities.” He states:

Some counsel travel, and others retreat. Some praise solitude, and others, gaiety. No doubt all these may play their part according to the individual temperament. But the element which is constant and common in all of them is Change.

Change is the master key.


Churchill seen here in 1948, probably in France.

Churchill seen here in 1948, probably in France.



Preston Hollow is a northern suburb of Dallas, Texas and the home of former president George W. Bush.  It takes, according to Google maps, about 10 minutes to get from downtown Preston Hollow to 1717 N Harwood St, the home of the Dallas Museum of Art. Make a few turns here and there and inevitably, you are surrounded by paintings by the most powerful Prime Minister of all time.[2]

Since the news spread in early February of Bush’s new interest in painting, and the inevitable link between the two men, I’ve thought a lot about what it takes to take up any act of artistic expression after immense anxiety. All crazy theories aside, I don’t really think it’s that far fetched to assume that Bush, the recent (for-a-lack-of-a-better-word) “victim” of cyber hacking, is unaware of the paintings by Winston Churchill.

Churchill was pretty unabashed about the masculine attributes of his endeavors. Painting, he felt, was like fighting a battle. Speaking of his initial hesitation to begin, he realized “anyone could see that it [the canvas], could not hit back.” It was, in his opinion, great for reducing the worry brought about by public pressure.

Though subject matter for Churchill was always of a tame, amateur nature that had been in vogue for hobbyists for a long time. The typical English countryside, French landscape or an orchid set up are his most notable works—never (thank goodness) any implied nude self-portraits. Churchill did not live to see the post-Warhol world, though, and was probably too busy to notice the Abstract Expressionists or any other Avant-garde art movements at the time. After his initial stint as Prime Minister, he was briefly in the United States to give the Iron Curtain speech[3] and was probably monitoring The Cold War thereafter as Leader of the Opposition party.

So while in theory he proclaimed in Painting as a Pastime and elsewhere that painting held strong sentiments to war and  ‘conquering a canvas’, as it were, Churchill’s actual paintings were anything but war-like.

An example of Churchill's paintings. He favored Orchids and other flowers with a contrasting backdrop.

An example of Churchill’s paintings. He favored Orchids and other flowers with a contrasting backdrop.


In order to make his plan, the General must not only reconnoiter the battle-ground, he must also study the achievements of the great Captains of the past.

He must bring the observations he has collected in the field into comparison with the treatment of similar incidents by famous chiefs.


You see the difficulty that baffled you yesterday; and you see how easily it has been overcome by a great or even by a skilful painter. …You will look at the masterpieces of art with an analyzing and a comprehending eye.


George W. Bush is rather famous for waxing over any misgivings about his presidency by saying on numerous occasions, “let history be the judge.” If Churchill has given a precedent regarding hobby-painting after leading a war-driven administration, is it safe to say that Bush is attempting to reconcile his previous gutsy, no nonsense Cowboy persona by tapping into his artistic side?

He wouldn’t be the first but he is certainly the strangest.

[1] Originally appeared in Churchill’s essays of adventures, Amid These Storms

[2] Churchill took up painting at the age of 40 and was Prime Minister the first time, during WWII at age 66, when England was part of the allied forces against Germany, headed by Adolf Hitler—another famous politician and painter of the 20th century.  President Franklin D. Roosevelt wasn’t a painter but an admirer who established a role for artists as part of the New Deal. Supreme Commander of the allied forces, Dwight D. Einsenhower (later 34th president) was known to dabble in oil painting, Churchill’s preferred medium.

[3] Given on March 6th, 1946 at Westminster College in Fulton, Missouri, Churchill touted his long skepticism of Soviet control in Western Europe despite their former status as an major ally force. At the time Jackson Pollock still lived in relative obscurity and most artists at the time were seen as Communist-leaning, or “nutty” as President Truman saw it.

Endless Opportunities: Competitive Things/Reminders Edition

March 31, 2013 · Print This Article

First things first kiddos, have y’all gotten in your Ox-Bow and ACRE applications? It was sixty degrees today! The summer is pending. Get in on that dreamy Michigan/Wisconsin landscape. (My apologies to the jury committee.)

Also, The Art Institute of Chicago is looking for a new Associate Photography Curator.


That being said, they will probably hire within… but regardless, join the masses and apply!

Details for all below. As always, good luck!


Ox-Bow residency for MFA/Arts Faculty application time is coming to a close as April 5th keeps creeping up. Info Here

(psssst, if you’re a normal human who isn’t all up in that institutional drama, consider their Fall Artist Residency, which I will talk about a little later)


Acre Residency, featured here, there, and everywhere, is accepting applications until April 15th.


Associate Curator, Photography /// Art Institute of Chicago


At the direction of the Department Chair, is responsible for conceiving permanent collection and loan exhibitions; researching and proposing acquisitions for the collection; researching the collection and contributing to scholarly publications; working closely with donors, scholars, dealers, and artists; supervising volunteers and special project staff; and contributing to fundraising activities.  Serves as coordinator or local curator for traveling exhibitions.  Develops relationships with artists and galleries that can guide future exhibition projects.  Conceives of appropriate programming and conducts gallery talks.  Takes an active role in conceiving and preparing the biannual Photography Gala.


Must have a Master of Arts in Art History, preferably with a concentration in a photographic subject.  Must have at least 3 years of experience with exhibition projects, preferably involving photographic objects and preferably living artists.  Strong writing skills are highly recommended.  Foreign language abilities are encouraged.

All info, including the online application submission, here via the AIC employee portal.

Endless Opportunities: Maker Grant

March 10, 2013 · Print This Article

Chicago Artist Resource is teaming up with OtherPeoplesPixels to fund the new Maker Grant, a $3,000 opportunity for Chicago artists who demonstrate a commitment to sustainable artistic practice and career development. The deadline to apply is March 31st.

This grant is open to visual artists who meet the following criteria:

• Artists who can show that they are at a defining moment to achieve growth in their creative and professional careers.
• Artists who demonstrate a strong and active engagement with, and professional commitment to, their artistic practice.
• Artists whose work as cultural makers impacts the development of art and culture in a meaningful way.

Applicants must be:
• A U.S. citizen or legal resident
• A resident of the Chicagoland region
• At least 21 years old
• NOT  currently enrolled in a degree-granting program or its equivalent
• NOT an applicant or collaborator on more than one proposed project

Submissions are evaluated by a jury of three professional peers from Chicago’s leading cultural institutions as well as a representative from Chicago Artists Coalition and OtherPeoplePixels.

The 2013-2014 jury will be announced mid-March

• March 31 (midnight): Application due
• April 1-15: Jury Deliberates
• Mid to late April: Announce Finalist/Awardee

more application info can be found here


As always – Good Luck!


Endless Opportunities: Call for Works – Proximity Magazine

February 17, 2013 · Print This Article

Proximity Magazine is now accepting proposals for the upcoming edition on the intersections of art, food, politics and social practice. Proposal deadline is  is March 15, 2013. Completed texts and works are due by April 15, 2013. Issue release will be this Spring at Version Festival 13.

Full information here: http://proximitymagazine.com/2013/02/call-for-works-proximity-number-11/

As always, good luck!