Q&A with January Artist-in-Residence John Zaklikowski

January Artist-in-Residence John Zaklikowski has titled his residency Culture and Physics Collide, an apt description for his artwork which utilizes a wide variety of technological materials and meets at the intersection of art and science. His large-scale assemblages investigate notions of perception and optical illusion, illustrating the interplay of art, science, literature, and cultural studies. 

Portrait of the artist wearing glasses and drinking a cup of coffee
The Postmodern Prometheus (JZ)

Where are you from?

Some have suggested Mars, others Venus, but the fact is I hail from the Queen City of the Great Lakes: Buffalo, New York. I like to highlight the fact that we all need to be born somewhere.

Where did you receive your art training?

As Travis Bickle phrased it in Martin Scorcese’s Taxi Driver: “Here and there; you know, around.” One learns how to draw and paint by spending a great deal of time drawing and painting; it’s not magic. Of course, today one can get very serious about art without bothering oneself with drawing or painting in the slightest. This has been liberating. I did receive private instruction in Oriental brush painting at one time, and studied Tibetan thangka painting at Naropa Institute in the late 1970s, back when Naropa was an exceedingly interesting place to hang out.

In what media do you primarily work?

Lately, computer components (hard drives, motherboards, sound and video cards, keyboards, processers, memory, etc.) and countless other high-tech electronic devices, along with thousands of mundane objects—hardware, tools, kitchen implements, lab equipment, cameras and lenses and optical apparatus, writing and art supplies, surgical instruments, plumbing fixtures. Really, just about anything.

An abstract work made of computer parts with a large blue circle domination the picture plane

This Is Not A Test (detail) (JZ)

What has been the most surprising aspect of your residency at the de Young?

The sublime way in which time passes.

How are you engaging the public during your residency?

With tremendous passion and energy. I hope I wasn’t found too overwhelming. If nothing else, I kept them laughing.

Who are your artistic influences?

To keep things simple I’ll skip the 30,000 years from pre-history to the Renaissance and dive right into the stupendous explosion of the New York School. Duchamp and Beuys were the great twin pillars of conceptualism, as later on Johns and Rauschenberg were to stand guard on the painterly front.

Gordon Matta-Clark and Chris Burden are colossally important, as are Olafur Eliasson and Anish Kapoor. In the 1980s I was quite interested in what people like Robert Longo, Ashley Bickerton, Cindy Sherman, Anne Hamilton and Barbara Kruger were doing. Anselm Keifer and Gerhard Richter are giants, and more recently in Germany, Julius von Bismark and Carsten Nicolai are of great interest. Christo, Arman, Bill Viola, Brice Marden, Martin Puryear, Laurie Anderson, Richard Long, Isamu Noguchi, Ai Weiwei, Robert Irwin, Lee Bontecou, Bridget Riley, Chuck Close, David Hockney, Bill Morrison, James Turell, just to drop some more names. This barely scratches the surface. As I’ve mentioned elsewhere, the cultures of Italy, Japan and Tibet have all been very influential in terms of my artistic development.

Do you have a favorite artwork at the de Young? If so, what is it?

I will name two: El Anatsui’s Hovor II and Al Farrow’s Cathedral (The Spine and Tooth of Santo Guerro). The Frank Stella and Masami Teraoka pieces here are also absolutely terrific.

A golden rectangle woven with bottle caps
El Anatsui (Ghanaian, b. 1944). Hovor II, 2004. Ghana, Nigeria, Ewe people. Woven aluminum bottle caps, copper wire. Museum purchase, James J. and Eileen D. Ludwig Endowment Fund, Virginia Patterson Fund, Charles Frankel Philanthropic Fund and various tribute funds. 2004.109

A cathedral made out of amunition
Al Farrow (American, b. 1943). The Spine and Tooth of Santo Guerro, 2007. Steel, brass, bone, fabric, tooth. Museum Purchase, gift of Dr. Thomas Jackson and Dr. Kathleen Grant. 2008.10

If you weren’t an artist, what would you do?

I have no idea; hold my breath, I guess.

How does living in the Bay Area influence your art practice?

First off, I don’t have an art practice. A doctor may have a medical practice, a dentist a dental practice, an attorney a law practice, but art practice is one of those rather shabby terms that has become fashionable of late that I suspect has something to do with a sense of insecurity vis-à-vis being an artist, and it’s bad news that the term has caught on the way it has. But my life in the Bay Area has coincided with my life as a husband and a father and in raising a family, and the entire nexus of interactions and richness that such entails has been extraordinarily influential to me as a person and thus, we can surmise, profoundly enmeshed with what I have been doing as an artist. For the most part artists are citizens of the world and we’ll do what we do regardless of where we do it.

What is the one museum you’d like to visit?

The Prado in Madrid and the Guggenheim Bilbao probably tie for first place, even though their offerings are quite divergent, but there you have it. Spain calls. 


Visit and engage with John Zaklikowski in the Artist Studio through February 2, 2014, Wednesdays–Sundays, 1–5 pm.