Excerpt from the interview with Chelsea James:
LG: Your recent work appears to move away from your more classical training to follow a branch of modern representational painting that is both painterly and meticulously observed. You seem to be engaged with the pictorial concerns, composing the underlying abstraction as well as making something with a strong emotional presence.
What are your thoughts about strong classical atelier training for aspiring figurative painters? How do you respond to the prevalence of art world rejection of academic technique in painting?
Thanks—I’m glad the work reads that way! I think that you need to learn to paint to be a painter. I don’t know if Ateliers are the best way to learn because it is so easy to be seduced by the technique or by a specific aesthetic, but you do learn to draw and paint and that’s invaluable. Work that looks overly academic isn’t as interesting to me now either, so I guess I’m agreeing with the current art world there a bit. I’m not as comfortable rejecting things though—I still find some academic work to be incredibly beautiful and inspiring.
LG: In a 2014 interview you stated that your:
“… current body of work is inspired by a collection of unaffiliated observational painters whose works share several characteristics. This list includes Antonio Lopez Garcia, Euan Uglow, Anne Gale, Sangram Majumdar, and Eve Mansdorf, among many others. These realist painters all work exclusively from direct observation over an extended period of time, and the earnest searching quality of their process is evident in the finished works. This process of encountering visual phenomena, responding and recording the encounter in paint is the focus of my current work. The artists I’ve mentioned look at the world through modern eyes. The work is all representational, meticulously and accurately observed, and yet each artist codifies visual phenomena into a personal language that is his or hers alone. None of the work looks photographic. The images are distilled in a way that no camera could capture.”
Some traditional-minded painters paint subjects and styles that can seem archaic.
Why do you think it’s important for observational painters to be of one’s time and to see the world with modern eyes?
ZF: Ateliers have sprung up in response to the universities not teaching traditional painting techniques, which fills a needed gap, but can include a view that modernism was something entirely separate from the stream of painting that came before. Some ateliers are trying to pick up where the French academies left off and ignore the the last 150 years or so. This makes me uncomfortable. I am living and working today and my work will naturally reflect the influences around me. It’s an odd choice to make anachronistic paintings. I don’t think paintings need to include the latest gadget or something like that, but I want the lighting, the composition, the formal pictorial concerns to influenced by modernism and contemporary life while strongly drawing on all the rest of art history.
LG: How much is technique important to you?
ZF: The technical side is extremely important to me as long as it is in service of the painting. I first and foremost want to make good paintings and I think that technical understanding is necessary for that but the technique can also get in the way. I don’t want to be applying a systematic technique throughout the painting and produce a slick finished product. I want to be responsive and engaged with the work by using all technical tools I’ve acquired as needed for each painting. I want to be willing to do whatever it takes to make the painting happen.