a conversation with Zachary Leener

"Since I have a lot of different interests, high and low, I try to exploit that. A sculpture that reads as potentially crude can coexist with one that's more sweet, or fragile. There are a pair of lovers’ graves (albeit dolled up in a sloppy international style).

And two blobs having a kind of unlimited conversation
.." - Zachary Leener

work in progress!

There are many days after looking at art all afternoon you think, why? And other lucky days you think, WHY NOT? The day I happened upon Zachary Leener's tiny ceramic works at IKO IKO, I thought why not!! Zachary, Shin, and Kristin were installing these works in one of Shin's, aka WAKA WAKA, furniture pieces. Within Zachary's works are subtle shifts of color-play, ceramic forms that tickle each other with their stripes and confetti, & monuments perching high upon pedestals only hoping to reach two inches into the air. Confusion and delight set in quickly. I quietly snapped my fingers as I left, and for a moment, I felt home. - David John

"It was familiar to me, The smoke too thick to breathe, The tile floors glistened I slowly stirred my drink, And when you started to sing, You spoke with broken speech, That I could not understand, And then you grabbed me tightly." - DNTEL


Where was your mind when you were creating these works for this show? The first instinct I had towards your work is play and an element of fun.

Play is a really effective entry into the work. So is the ridiculous. I like to keep things casual — it disarms a viewer and belies some more complex ambitions.

The pieces do have a relationship to toys, tools, artifacts. And they’re shiny, so picking one up is a natural inclination. This may sound basic, but it helps when the work is alluring. You can’t really hand somebody an aggressively decorated, sexually charged object unless you’ve sort of won them over first.

Some of the works appear fragile, balanced, tiny monuments perhaps......

From an empirical standpoint, a forest is a high-density ecosystem covering some limited planar surface. If you Google “beautiful forest,” you’ll get a bunch of picturesque photos of trees. But if you scroll down far enough, you’ll see some crazy shit, gnomes and whatnot. I’m certainly involved in the production of something akin to that. My hope is for the work to encompass a similarly wide range of experience.

My mom refers to one sculpture as the “interlocking purses,” and a photo of that same piece got blogged by a Tumblr called “boner time.” Someone apparently thought testicles. Working in a narrow range of scale and with a cohesive set of surface treatments will naturally unify some pretty disparate elements. Since I have a lot of different interests, high and low, I try to exploit that. A sculpture that reads as potentially crude can coexist with one that's more sweet, or fragile. There are a pair of lovers’ graves (albeit dolled up in a sloppy international style). And two blobs having a kind of unlimited conversation. There are classic sculptural concerns of pedestal and object. And there are definitely tiny monuments, as well as miniatures of those tiny monuments. Regardless, I purposely keep the pieces teetering on the edge of the recognizable, the placeable, so that they’re no longer totally in the sphere of specialized experience. Ideally, you’ll recognize it but you’ve never seen it before in your life. So sometimes it’s difficult to talk about without totally deflating the magic.

What were some of the objects you first made in your childhood, if you can remember?

When I was young, I hated getting dirty so I would just draw nonstop.

above WAKA WAKA's furniture that Zachary's works are installed inside.

How did your work come to IKO IKO, and how did the furniture pairing with WAKA WAKA come up?

I resisted the Internet for a long, long time. When I finally relented and registered a website, the only things I put on it were my telephone number and really terrible photographs of about half a dozen sculptures. Nobody has ever called except for Kristin. She rang me out of the blue and offered to show the pieces. We’d never even met before, but I was obsessed with IKO IKO. It was the weirdest, most fortunate thing. When we decided to do the show, Shin offered to make some sort of armature to house everything. They’re difficult pieces to show because they don’t comfortably fit any conventional notions of display endemic to contemporary art. Right away I decided that the sculptures and their accommodations would have to be inseparable but somehow maintain their independence. I found this shaker table in a book. It was all cherry wood and brass latches with separate compartments for storage. I showed it to Shin along with some photos of Oldenburg’s Mouse Museum. That was that. The man is long on vision. They’re equally perfect with the pieces and without them.

Do you work with other materials, if so which? and do you throw pots as well?

In the past I kept a relatively promiscuous relationship to material — allowing myself to do anything, whatever, whenever. It helped me to stay open. The consequence frequently being work that was unfocused and, for a time, that seemed like an asset. Gradually, though, I’ve reversed course. A sustained engagement will necessarily yield a complexity of result. I’ve been working with clay and at this scale for about a year now, almost exclusively. Unfortunately, that kind of restraint is not something that’s in my nature, but I’ve come to understand the need. Once I established the limits, the world really opened up. Lately, though, when I’m absolutely stuck, I work on perversely polite abstract oil-pastel drawings. They’re coming along. I have thrown some pots, but honestly, I haven’t figured out how to own it.

What sort of kiln do you use, and where is your studio? Is it ideal for making work?

My studio is out in Riverside, about an hour east of Los Angeles. It’s a haul, but well worth it. I try to get out there for a few days at a time. I’m on the second floor of a former Ramada Inn, in a gutted motel room that looks out over the Box Springs Mountains. It’s really deserty, and when the moon comes up, it’s like listening to Neil Young albums. Back in the 70s and 80s, there was a speedway nearby — the Riverside International Raceway — and it was a notoriously dangerous track. I’m guessing it would get pretty rowdy back at the motel, and you can still feel that energy sometimes. Technically, I’m a total cretin. I have almost no formal training in ceramics. Matt Merkel-Hess, a real clay expert, told me the work was good because a ceramist would never give himself the permission to make it. I use an electric kiln that’s about as complicated as a toaster, and a bunch of pre-formulated commercial glazes manufactured for kids and old ladies who craft. If I don’t bring my laptop and I don’t answer my phone, then the studio is ideal for making work. Somewhere I got the idea that serious artists don’t listen to music in the studio. It’s an easy place to focus. What’s not ideal is transporting loads of tiny, delicate pieces across Southern California in a pickup. It’s excruciating, and things used to break all the time. Now I line the cab with foam and it’s not such a problem.

When I saw the works at IKO IKO, I immediately thought of Sottsass and 80 designers.

80s designers are incredible for their incomprehensibly hedonistic (and at the same time incomprehensibly serene) appropriation of Bauhaus essentialism. Sottsass was a visionary — all those Italians were totally bananas. I’ve always dug Peter Shire, being a California boy myself. Hopefully someday I won’t wear it so much on my sleeve.

What influences you to make work?

Honestly, If I don't work nonstop, I'm not very pleasant to be around.

Zachary Leener's works
...Please, visit.....

1298 w. sunset blvd.
Los Angeles,Ca 90026 323.719.1079

thank you Zachary Leener, Kristin, and Shin.....

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