Danni Shen, Curatorial Fellow in Visual Arts, organizes and interprets exhibitions at Wave Hill.
Each winter, Wave Hill uses Glyndor Gallery as studio space for artists in its Winter Workspace Program, now in its seventh year. Twelve artists representing a variety of artistic practices and mediums, will create new work and develop ongoing projects, using the exceptional gardens, woodland setting and plant collections as sources of inspiration. Each of the two, six-week Winter Workspace Sessions—spanning the period from early January through late March—includes an Open Studio day and a series of artist-led workshops for visitors to participate in hands-on art activities. These events offer our visitors the opportunity to learn about the creative process behind each artist’s studio practice.
Danni Shen caught up with artist Zachari Logan, who joins the Winter Workspace from Saskatchewan, Canada, Logan explores the intersections between masculinity, identity, memory and place, through pastel, ceramic and installation practices. His works merge foliage found in tapestries with overlapping motifs from art history to create mythical or dreamlike mindscapes. Engaging both epic-scale and traditional techniques, his meticulous drawings evoke a visual language that speaks to memory, identity and sexuality, as well as the metaphorical and metaphysical. While at Wave Hill, Logan will work in pastel to create new drawings based on studies of plants found onsite, furthering themes of identity and hybridity.
Sign up for Zachari Logan’s Winter Workspace Workshop: Contemporary Pastels this Thursday January 14th from 10AM to 1PM, during which he will demonstrate the unique drawing methods and techniques that give pastels an innovative twist. Participants will create their own pastel drawings.
Danni Shen: You state that your work “re-wilds” your own body as a “queer embodiment of nature”. What are your thoughts on “queer-ness”, “nature” and both in relation to one another, as well as using your own body? What does it mean to “re-wild” something?
Zachari Logan: When one looks at a landscape, he or she is already imbuing it with thoughts, ideas and concepts of beauty, embodying it, and so the re-wilding of my body in these works brings into question the false dichotomy of natural vs. unnatural, extending or exaggerating, or perhaps adding surrealism to, the naturalism usually found in still-life and landscape genres. The idea of queerness and diversity in nature certainly isn’t a new concept, yet people often misunderstand sexual diversity in nature. The weaving or “re-wilding” of my body through the use of animal and plant imagery aids in my queries into the social and sexual assumptions most humans have about their own, as well as all other, species. I should also mention that my body is always a catalyst for what I’m doing, even if its centrality isn’t pictorially present. In the Wild Man, Leshy or Green Man series, I make reference to many historical works by Arcimboldo, Bosch, Dürer and Brueghel, to name a few. These Renaissance and Baroque works often take the form of silhouetted self-portraits with outshoots of flora and fauna.
DS: Why do you choose to work in the traditional medium of pastel?
ZL: Previous to a focus on drawing, and more recently ceramics, I worked predominantly with oils. When I painted, it was with multiple layers, including what is called grisaille (gray under-painting). This process took a great deal of time; because of issues of process and immediacy, I moved to drawing more exclusively. Drawing for me is a much more fluid form of expression, and also involves my body in a much more intimate way, especially when it comes to pastels. I apply with my hands and do about 95 to 98% of the blending with my fingers alone, to the point that they bleed raw. It is a very physical process, one that is for me inexplicably linked to thinking and articulating imagery. For a time I was working in graphite, but I wanted to work with a full spectrum of color, and after seeing a collection show of pastels at the Musée d’Orsay in Paris in 2009, and observing the scale of work and the quality of color, I began experimenting with the medium.
DS: Do environmental influences affect your practice? What are some differences between where you live in Saskatchewan, Canada, and here in New York, or the time you spend here at Wave Hill.
ZL: Yes, environment is hugely influential in the narratives present in my work. This began as a queer man seeking to articulate what queer life might look like in Saskatchewan, and challenging its own notions of “normalcy”. Utilizing a strategy of quotation, mined from art-historical references, I quite literally placed my body at the forefront. In more recent work, my body remains a catalyst but is no longer the sole focus. Ideas of place, liminality and embodiment are key factors in much of the work in which I am currently engaged. In a series of ongoing, large-scale pastel works called the Eunuch Tapestries (a reference to the Unicorn Tapestries in the Cloisters), I construct meditations on memory and embodiment through the collection of flora and fauna I have amassed in my travels locally, in Saskatchewan and elsewhere in the world. Using the motif of the prairie ditch as a reclaimed, liminal, queer space, I reconstruct a fictive garden with botanical amalgams and disparate species, quite like a Dutch floral painting whose species bloom at different times, making them impossibilities in nature. These works are drawn from observation but mix the local and exotic at will, citing the dramatic mimicry of patterned flora and fauna in a tapestry. This idea of mixing localities is very interesting to me and I am already fascinated by the otherness and incredible beauty of the Hudson and the surrounding area of Wave Hill. Saskatchewan is a place of extremes, hot, cold, flat, and is also at times beautifully undulating and contoured. The sky is incredibly huge and always cinematic. The area around Wave Hill, and New York in general, is what I would describe as effortlessly beautiful. Saskatchewan, from an aesthetic point of view, has a more difficult beauty; most people just see it as boring and flat, but it is remarkably full, if you give it time. There is also a quiet at Wave Hill that reminds me of home, something I have never before encountered in New York.
DS: Are there any aspects of Wave Hill or the surrounding landscape that you plan on observing the most, or absorbing into your work?
ZL: My plan was to come and absorb as much as I could for inspiration, both inside the hothouses and in the surrounding outdoor areas. I will say that since arriving, I have been captivated by the various tree barks; their incredible color and texture combinations are fascinating. There hasn’t been snow yet, so there is a remarkably rich saturation of color. I am definitely looking forward to a snowfall so that I can see these incredible colors set against the contrast of snow! I’ve been inside the Conservatory several times, and even attended one of Wave Hill’s bird walks, so I have an immense trove of inspiration already after only one week!
Picture above, from top:
Zachari Logan in studio. Image Wave Hill.
Zachari Logan, Eunuch Tapestry 5: Installation view, Wooster Street Window Gallery, Leslie-Lohman Museum, New York, NY. Pastel on black paper, 80 x 288 inches, 2015. Courtesy the artist.
Zachari Logan, Eunuch Tapestry 3, 2013. Pastel on black paper, 120” x 156”, 2013. Courtesy the artist.