David Zinn is a Michigander specializing in chalk-based anamorphic street design. He uses the sidewalks of Ann Arbor, Michigan as his canvases to create whimsical characters participating in fun (sometimes mischievous) tasks. Sluggo (a bipedal creature with slug inspired features) has taken on a life of his own, quickly becoming a fan favorite and consistently making appearances throughout his work.
His philosophy as an artist however is what tends to captivate those who have decided to explore the deeper implications of his methods.
Unlike many other artists, he actually enjoys the ephemerality of his pieces and the impermanence they possess, opting to stay away from art shows and galleries. Whenever elemental occurrences (rain, snow, etc) present themselves (often destroying his creations after only a short period of time), he’s perfectly content and sees it as an opportunity to start fresh. Echoing the sentiments of his last name, the zen-like detachment David has from a piece’s legacy adds a new element to the meaning of his work.
For most who have experienced Sluggo and the gang, it's safe to say that they bring character, life, and conversation to the city of Ann Arbor.
Prox: You’re actually quite comfortable with the idea of your art disappearing (which is quite antithetical of the typical artist’s mission) and celebrate that fact. Is this inline with any particular credo or philosophy you’ve picked up in your personal life? Do you live a similarly minimalist lifestyle?
David: My friends and family would laugh uproariously at the idea that I live a minimalist lifestyle. I am a packrat in my personal life, which may be why I embrace ephemerality in my artistic life; if I had to store a canvas for every creature I drew, I wouldn’t have room to breathe.
That said, I think focusing one’s energy on creating instead of preserving is healthy for an artist. The purest part of the artistic experience is not caretaking what you’ve made or planning what you will make but the making itself, and you can’t do more than one of those things at a time.
Prox: What do the characters themselves symbolize for you?
David: There’s no intentional symbolism, but probably a lot that's available for interpretation. Everything I draw is improvised through a pareidolic scrutiny of the site at hand, letting the imagination play connect-the-dots with specks and cracks on the ground. As such, each installation is a kind of Rorschach test – which is true of every piece of art, but perhaps not always so obviously.
Prox: Did choosing an anamorphic style add anything to the depth they possess?
David: Anamorphic representation was a natural next step after falling in love with the sidewalk as a canvas. Drawing your imaginary friends out in the world is exponentially more gratifying when they seem to be truly standing by your side.
Prox: Have you ever considered creating larger, more complex imagery on the sidewalks of Ann Arbor or would this be contradictory to your original message?
David: There are two obstacles to larger installations: planning and permissions. Both are unavoidable side-effects of covering more ground, and both inhibit spontaneity. At their current size, I can create street installations on a whim using the contents of a backpack, and many of my favorite pieces have been created that way.
Prox: How does the city itself inspire you from an cultural and architectural standpoint? What are some things exclusive to the area that keeps things fresh?
David: The Midwestern American sidewalk is an ideal canvas because it is 1) easily ignored and thus primed for surprises, 2) reliably washed clean by periodic rain, and 3) too cold to draw on in the winter, providing a good excuse to prioritize drawing on it at every other time of year.
Prox: What is the most gratifying element of street art in your opinion? Are onlookers typically vocal about your creations and the process?
David: Street art is experienced outside a curated environment, and I think this has many benefits. For one thing, the process is open and on display, which demystifies the act of making art to a point where (I hope) more people will attempt it themselves. Also, the resulting image is often stumbled upon unexpectedly as part of the onlooker’s “regular" life, where it can create an individual and open-hearted reaction (for better or for worse) that’s hard to match when that person is deliberately trying to “appreciate” art in a gallery or museum.
Prox: Tell us something that we may not know that influences your work.
1. I am not very good at drawing real animals, which is why my mammals in particular tend to be an awkward combination of a squirrel, a dog, a fox, and a badger.
2. Old concrete is more inspiring than new concrete.
3. The sun is a bigger adversary than people think; it has a knack for creating surprisingly unexpected shadows at inconvenient times, and has ruined far more photographs than rain.
Prox: Who are some of your favorite artists, business people, creatives or intellectuals?
David: I feel a particular brotherhood with Joe Iurato, even/especially because we work in perpendicular axes with similar fondness for incorporating our work into the world at large. We have even done a couple of collaborations, ideally viewed in video form here:
Prox: Favorite Hobbies?
David: Doodling on bar coasters and making tiny temporary friends out of kneaded erasers.
Prox: Tips for aspiring artists and those looking to work for themselves?
David: There’s an ideal creative state between compassion and critique, in which you love what you’re made but are disappointed enough to want to make something else.
Prox: Information on upcoming projects and releases?
Prox: Final Thoughts?
David: More art created by more people in more places will bring more people more joy.
Thanks for the questions!
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