From the mouth of the artist
Interview by Lily Aguis
Artist Zoobs worked under the direction of renowned image-maker and colour-creator Serge Lutens for Shiseido Cosmetics Intl in Tokyo and Paris in the late 1990s, and travelled extensively, as a result of which he began to incorporate different cultures and their representations into his breathtaking iconic images that are often themed with death, love, pain, celebration and magic. He now lives in Soho, London and continues to push the envelope with his surreal yet fashionable art. Zoobs talks to VAMP
Art is something to which I was always drawn from a very young age. When I lost my father at the age of eight, art started becoming more and more a place where I’d find refuge from the confused and suddenly sombre world around me. Melancholy is today the main motivation for me to create art. I find it difficult to create art when I’m feeling joyous. Perhaps out of habit now, I create best when I’m down.
I find death an inevitability which we are all, perhaps subconsciously, keeping away from the forefront of our minds through distractions, whether that be work, play, television, music, sport, relationships, gym – the list is endless. I can’t help but embrace the idea of death, and exorcise it to create my art from a deeper place, but that’s not to say that I am not motivated by life, just not always to create art. I think my art always has a bitter-sweet edge to it, it’s sad, but somehow sensual, sexual even sometimes.
Inspiration can come from all sorts of things that I see around me in this physical world and also from my imagination. It’s usually a mix of the two. I may be walking down the street and pick up on a fight that a couple are having in the middle of the street, which might then get transformed through my imagination into an image. Or I’ll walk the street late at night trying to work out some issue in my head, and a bus stop that I walk past might inspire me to start creating light-boxes. Generally speaking, life inspires me, even though I’m fascinated with death. I think when hopes and fears collide, something amazing happens.
I work everywhere and anywhere. At my studio, of course, but I think that when you’re an artist or a creative in any industry – and especially if you work for yourself – you never stop working. I often go to social events and have sudden urges to make lists about some thing or some idea. I am obsessed with lists. When I list things, I get them done.
“WITHOUT ART, THIS WORLD WOULD BE NOTHING. WE ARE ALL SPIRITUAL BEINGS, WHICH IS THE BASIS OF ‘ART’”
When you fail, you are not following your heart. I’ve never really stopped creating art in my life because there WAS nothing else that I wanted to do. It was my way of life. So in that sense I have never experienced failure. If we are speaking in a commercial sense, then all I can say – at the ripe age of almost 40 – is that I am very grateful for my success at this stage in my life.
My purposes and goals have changed over the years. Initially they were more self-centred; over the years through observation, and thought, and experience… I feel that for the first 20 years of my life I was trying to make myself happy. Since then I have learned more and more that sharing this need to ‘make happy’ with others is so much more rewarding. This is ironic, as I spend a lot of time on my own but this is usually when I’m creating. If I am shooting, it becomes about how my subject feels. I want my subjects to feel special, to feel elated, to feel transported for the period of time that we shoot. I want them to feel like the magazine covers that they are bombarded with on a daily basis. I used to feel bad about making people feel good about something so apparently superficial and related to vanity. But now I see the current state of the world and how everyone is bombarded with visual perfection through the media and the feelings of insecurity riddled in society, and so now I feel that if I can make someone feel special, it might help that person just momentarily go to a positive place in their psyche which will hopefully in turn lead to a positive effect in a broader sense for them. And, in turn, I create art with them in a starring role as such. I celebrate them. I’m very passionate about people. It always becomes about interaction. I don’t like to plan too much, with work and with life. In a sense I’m like a gypsy, I like to go with the flow.
It’s strange to be in the ‘art world’, so to speak. Art doesn’t inspire me to do art, life or death inspires me, so therefore my opinion on where ‘art is going’ doesn’t really matter. I think that all artists should work from their heart, and collectively the world becomes a colourful and diverse place. It would seem that trends come and go a lot of the time, but what remains is art that reflects a passionate state and somehow strikes a chord with what the masses are feeling at any particular time. I feel as if the world is speeding up at a tremendous rate and we are frequently being surprised with new and exciting art forms. Personally, I feel that art is heading towards a more abstract route. The way in which art and its messages are being expressed will surely get more and more unusual. I think without the person who experiences the art, the art is void, and therefore for me the viewer is very much a part of the art – if that makes sense.
Without art, this world would be nothing. We are all spiritual beings, which is the basis of ‘art’. Artists have a responsibility to make the world a more colourful and creative place.
There are many processes involved and these can include make-up, photography, graphic design, digital manipulation, literature, painting, drawing, film, music – the list is endless. Love of any type or any form inspires me. Violence, aggression, ignorance and war upset me. When I was younger, I was afraid to try out new methods, materials and subjects but as I get older I find myself more and more comfortable with the unknown. If anything, I find it exciting. I refer to them as ‘happy mistakes’. Some people like to feel that perhaps they are in control of each and every decision in the process of creation. I find that stifling. There must be room for ‘happy mistakes’, or else the artist life would become a chore, which is a hideous idea.
Both the subject and the way it is executed are equally important, but the subject comes first more often than not. I like both the perfect, smooth and a more energetic expressive technique. When I am involved in make-up, photographic shoots, and digital manipulation, I painstakingly sit for hours perfecting something to near-mythic proportions. And then I go the other way and let loose, as I did with my scrolls, where it became about deconstructing these ‘perfected images’ and reconstructing them freely with words, emotions, paint – whatever it took at the time.
The ‘canvas’ can take different forms and shapes for me, but I feel free when I do this. If I’m loosely painting over a photograph, I have not too much control over how it will be applied and therein lies a sense of liberation for that moment. As if I can fly and the sky’s the limit.
I think art has different meanings for different people. For sure there are meanings behind each piece, but I’d hate to sit and tell people exactly what I was thinking, I think art is more personal, it’s what my work makes THEM feel. But often my work will reflect a variety of social issues from my own point of view, and often it will be sugar-coated in extreme beauty, or ugliness, sometimes a combination of the two.
Art is anything done with passion. The painter who paints with passion creates art, as does the photographer who creates photographs with passion. But furthermore, I feel that a teacher who teaches passionately, or a trader who makes money passionately, or an art dealer who feels the art he sells and deals with it passionately – all these people are artists.