“I went into the city with a single can of yellow I stole from my dad, there were some bad elements walking around; I was looking around I saw a cop, I spray painted an X on the wall and ran away. That was the beginning and the end of my graffiti career…at least until after college”
Phew, that was close.
Had that really been the end of Jeff Zimmermann’s forays into painting for the public the world today would be a little less rich. Check that – much less rich. Chicago’s own master muralist has spent the better part of the last twenty years evolving his street art game, and watching the culture he helped kick-start evolve around him.
While Zimmermann, like all good artists, has grown over the course of his career the signature non-linear murals which first engaged and puzzled audiences alike are still very much his calling card. Capable of bringing together photo-realistic snapshots and abstracted elements, Zimmermann’s murals are often an exploration of how his mind – and the viewers’ – will interact with large swaths of colourful, but still negative, space. Speaking of how he brings textures into his murals, Zimmermann points to some of the basic goals of abstract art: “You’ll find an area that needs something for the weight of the proportions, instead of putting an object there that’s forced, it needs something so I’m gonna take some of this colour over here and roll out an abstract shape and let it be drippy and messy and not worry about it, these are design elements that allow me to have fun and fill the void.”
In a candid moment, he owns up to the fact that he wants his work to deviate further to abstraction. While his studio work certainly shows this affinity, Zimmermann says he hasn’t quite made the leap in his murals in part because he’s “too chicken.” Of course, the fact that he hasn’t yet taken the leap doesn’t mean he won’t in the near future.
“I’m secretly trying to figure out a way to do an all-abstract mural,” he admits. He says it would be about “dynamic colour, action and the process of painting” – something that elicits an immediate audience response instead of asking viewers to untangle meaning from the seemingly disparate images he so often brings to collision in his murals.
His style – the mixing of details and fills, portraits and abstractions – is very successful at getting viewers engaged. Perhaps this is due to the fact that when Zimmermann plans out his pieces he’s doing it with two main audience reaction in mind: “I’d love people to say holy fucking shit, that’s the coolest thing I’ve ever seen for one, and then after that, try to figure these things out and not be able to, maybe ask the person next to them and get people talking…I want people to be puzzled and intrigued, if I do that the artwork is alive…I respect the public, they want the challenge.”
If the public wants a challenge then Jeff Zimmermann is certainly up to the task. Although he admits that it’s very hard to be overtly political in any major mural today he is proud of have started more than a few conversations in public forums, perhaps none more important than the “kumbaya moment” he produced in Memphis at the dedication of his mural A Note of Hope for Memphis (pictured above) which received national media coverage notably from The New York Times.
Gearing up for a big time return to form as a conversation starter, Zimmermann is taking an interest in visiting emerging art hubs outside of the US. If his work in the States is any indication, people the world over are going to have to keep talking for a long time to come.
“You can’t be afraid of heights, you have to know your materials and you have to come ready to WORK”
To see More of Jeff Zimmermann’s artwork visit his WEBSITE.