“I describe myself as a queer flower“
Curator Leo Babsky talks to Canadian artist Zachari Logan, whose meticulous works explore the intersections between masculinity, identity, memory and place.
LB: So this is a somewhat predictable and kind of boring first question (what more can we say about this) but obviously the world has changed massively in the last year:
Can you tell me
a.) How you coped with the lockdown and
b.) How or if it affected your practice? I would think your work is very meditative so I can imagine it was a place to take refuge in.
ZL: Yes, absolutely. I am rather monastic in my practice as it is, so the pandemic sort of intensified the solitary nature of my work.
At several instances during the pandemic, my work certainly became a bit of a refuge, primarily when the lockdown here was at its strictest last March and April. The pandemic also shifted the mood and content of drawings I had been working on prior to the pandemic’s onset.
I’ve been relatively fortunate that none of the projects I had scheduled in 2020 were cancelled, many were just postponed. A few actually went ahead; my exhibition ‘Tales From The Bone Garden’ at New Art Projects in London, for example is technically still up in Hackney through the end of March, of course it’s currently not open to the public. What really shifted for me was travel. I am often travelling internationally for periods of time each year for projects, residencies and other related work, obviously not this past year.
LB: I’m not sure if you felt this but certainly in my experience, a positive of the pandemic period was a sense of collaboration, care and kindness from both friends and family and also the wider creative community that we are both a part of. In that spirit can you give some advice to younger or emerging artists trying to make work in this very turbulent time.
ZL: I have certainly noticed this increased sense of care from the wider creative community. It has been a positive consequence of the pandemic. I am not surprised either, I think artists and other creators tend to band together already, so when something like a global pandemic occurs, there’s an even stronger sense of solidarity, and when it comes to family and friends the same can be said for me as well.
In terms of personal advice I could give, it would likely be to not over burden one’s self with too many projects or deadlines. Even if it seems like there are more hours in the day, we are all working at a slight deficit (in the form of additional worries) when it comes to the pandemic.
For myself this was a learning curve last year in the spring; I thought, well at least I can still access my studio- so I’ll just go there every day and be incredibly productive, but I did not end up making ‘more’ work- this bothered me because I did have much more time in my studio. I realized at some point that this was not helpful mentally or intellectually, that I was doing all I could, and that the work I did produce was inescapably linked to the pandemic in key ways.
LB: This interview is timely as it is the 10 year anniversary of your cover profile for CRUSHfanzine Issue #2, would you like to reflect on that period of your practice and how it has evolved?
ZL: It’s funny you ask, just this past month I’ve given 4 visiting artist talks for two different Canadian universities and one museum, the Art Gallery of Guelph, where I currently have an exhibition; and it has been wonderful to be able to go back to work I was doing 10-12 years ago, work I have not seen recently. It was also good to be able to articulate the threads that run through all of the work; from the earliest figuration before I was using my body as catalyst, thru to the predominance of self-portraiture, to the work I am doing now (which for me is entirely figurative), regardless of whether there are actual bodies depicted or not.
References to art-history, ideas of queer embodiment and representations of land as body are certainly powerful threads that feel as tied to the earlier work as they are to the more recent, but materials and Pictorial focus has evolved in key ways I couldn’t have imagined 10 years ago.
That really is the true beauty of looking back, tracing the chance enchanters and thinking that leads one’s practice to shift and evolve. People often say, your work has really transformed, it feels like two different people or two distinct bodies of work. For me this is inaccurate. In earlier work, I was exclusively drawing my body- now I’m drawing, (among other things) many animal bodies, and plant bodies, but always with the purpose to integrate a sense of queer experience in visual culture. It also helps to know that I describe myself as a queer flower- so in effect I’ve been drawing flora for a very long time. #queerflowers
LB: You mentioned your exhibition at New Art Projects in London earlier which I was lucky enough to see (between lockdowns), would you like to discuss that a little? I am particularly interested in your references to Greek mythology and the reoccurring motif of transformation from human to fauna or animal forms that runs through those tales: that always stays in my mind from reading those stories as a kid as a particularly cruel punishment, yet grotesquely beautiful too.
I also saw a lot of filmic references to Cronenberg-esq body horror or certain science fiction films such as ‘Annihilation’ ….
ZL: I’m so happy you were able to get to see my current London exhibition between lockdowns. ‘Tales From The Bone Garden’ was entirely developed under the weight of the pandemic, and involved several threads of earlier series of drawings that were iterated to explore psychological landscapes; themes of isolation, ecology and queer embodiment.
The exhibition has two overlapping categories. The first grouping of drawings imagines flora morphing or rather blooming with human skeletal systems, merging body as land to explore the fragility and impermanence of human existence. The second involves a series of drawings of the ‘Wildman‘. These drawings refer mainly to the 15th century etchings of Martin Schongauer. Essentially this elusive character is a historical construct I find very interesting because of their locality in the psyche. They personify landscape, and for me are queerly centered as outsiders, representing a solitary existence, whose magical presence perhaps reveals the garden to the viewer… Film in general is an influence for me, for sure… my favorite genre is horror- a great horror film is always visually beautiful and intellectually stimulating.
‘Midsommar‘ is a perfect example of a recent film that has had a lasting influence for me. But I do get your reasoning for thinking of Annihilation as well; the morphing, decomposing figuration and other surrealistic flora and fauna forms in the film are quite captivating! Also, Cronenberg is one of my favourite directors, I adore the visual and metaphoric transformations his characters go through, and the body-horror.
LB: I’m not sure how well I can articulate this question but I am reading an amazing book by a friend of mine (Florilegia by Annabel Dover) which is loosely based around the 18th Century botanist and photographer Anna Atkins, whose book‘Photographs of British Algae: Cyanotype Impressions’ is considered the first book illustrated with photographic images.
Your works of plants and flowers manage to be both anatomical while retaining a strong sense of enchantment and wonder that those 18th to 19th Century early photos and drawings capture so well. Is enchantment a conscious element to your work or simply something that is innate and a part of your fascination with the natural world?
ZL: I am certainly interested in enchantment in my drawings and ceramics. I am familiar with these exquisite early works by Atkins, I LOVE Cyanotypes!! I would agree that my work does explore notions of landscape that infer romantic connections to an aesthetic of the past. I am often drawn to work by artists who explore the landscape empirically with the aim of understanding and perhaps empathizing in intimate ways with the world around them.
A great example for me would be the work of 18th Century paper-artist Mary Delany, who created a series of remarkable botanical works on paper she named the ‘Flora Delanica’ often referred to as paper mosaic, but are more properly collage. I developed an ongoing series of drawings called the Pool Series, that are in direct reference to Delany’s compositions. In fact, the drawing ‘Wreath 3, Levitate’ currently in ‘Tales From The Bone Garden’ at New Art Projects is also in reference to Delany. Her works are entirely made out of paper she hand-dyed, hand-cut and assembled, many of them consisting of hundreds if not thousands of individual pieces all creating a sense of dimensionality and anatomical precision. She began this series when she was seventy-two years old and made nearly one-thousand of them by the time she died at the age of 88.
If you don’t know her work, I would suggest looking her up. The ‘Flora Delanica’ was gifted to the British Museum upon her death. There are also several great texts about her; Molly Peacock’s ‘The Paper Garden’ is amazing!
LB: I love lists and I love seeing what other creative people are listening, reading and looking at so… could you recommend to me and anyone reading this, say, five books, five musical acts and five artists we should be looking at…
ZL: Reading: Notes Of A Native Son, James Baldwin, The Anatomy of Melancholy, Robert Burton, Pilgrim, Timothy Findlay, The Magus, John Fowles and the Canadian-Indigenous poet Billy Ray-Belacourt’s This World Is A Wound
Listening: these days my verified classics; Joni Mitchell, Kate Bush, Led Zeppelin, Neil Young and early Elton John.
Looking: Tarryn Gill, Wally Dion, Stephen Andrews, Salman Toor, Aaron Michael-Skolnick, Sandra Brewster and Ross Bleckner (sorry, I put 7 here)
LB: And finally as this interview is for CRUSHfanzine, who is your secret Crush ?
ZL: Mary Delany, and Datura plants… neither of which are particularly a secret…
Leo Babsky is a curator and art advisor. He set up his consultancy, LB~Curatorial in 2016.
You can follow him @lbcuratorial .
Zachari has an upcoming exhibition at Wave Hill Gardens and Museum with celebrated painter Ross Bleckner opening in May 2021.
You can see more of his work at zachariloganart.com and @zachari-logan .
Detail of ‘Ditch Face No. 3, from Wildman Series’