Zack Bent: Interview
Give us some background on your road to becoming an artist.
In college I studied Architecture, and that was where I began to see that I was geared to conceptualize and design. I found that I liked to give form to ideas about my social experiences. During a trip to Europe, I realized that photography was a tool I was drawn to for making images. It is clean, direct and really easy to construct for. Photographs became my main way of visualizing concepts. After graduating, I worked for short stint in an architecture office, and in a church as a pastor-in-training helping to run a burgeoning coffee roasting business. During that time, I realized that I wanted to go all in as an artist, which entailed going to graduate school and lots of stints at commercial art jobs and college teaching. My art practice is the glue that holds it all together.
Your wife Gala is also an artist, how did your art change after you got married?
I can’t say it changed when we got married. We were together for 5 years before then. Knowing her, however, had a huge effect on my exposure to making art and a great network of inspiring artists.
Tell us more about how knowing Gala affected your exposure to making art.
We met at Ball State University where she was an art major and I was studying architecture. The time I really met her was at her thesis exhibition, which was mind altering for me. The work was so other worldly and beautifully constructed. From then on, I began to be exposed to art as a discipline through hanging out with her and her friends. While she was in graduate school at SUNY Buffalo, I tagged along for a semester by doing in my architecture internship there. I was able to meet all of her peers and friends that she was studying with. I also had the opportunity to do a photography independent study with one of her faculty, Gary Nickard.
When did you start having children, and how has that changed the way you make art?
We had our first son five years into marriage. Before then, I would employ my friends and family as actors in my photographs and videos. When we moved to Seattle in 2006, our family community seemed to be perfect to put to work in my images. So instead of looking up other friends to make images, I started to stick my kids in the center of my photographic vision. This slowly changed much of the content in my work to a focus on familial traditions and domestic photographic conventions.
Making art is a time consuming thing, how do you make time for that in a busy family life?
It was somewhat easier when the kids were little. We would just put them in motion and bring them along for the ride. It required a deep integration of making work and day-to-day living. I was driven to build my career and they were involved in that shuffle. However, now that they are getting older it is actually getting more challenging. For one, family life costs more as your kids age, which means doing jobs that pay (art doesn’t always do that) and secondly, the kids have much more going on schedule wise. They are individuals with desires and interests and giving room for that takes a new kind of time. So weirdly enough, I am finding less time as they age! Right now I am doing emails while my sons play their hour of Wii and now they are doing puzzles together. Probably time for a computer break!
Do you have studios in your house?
Our working studio, the one with sharp things and no kids, is in an old building in SODO (Seattle). Though, our office and much of Gala’s work is in our house. We always frame our work at home too because it is a much cleaner space.
Where do you find inspiration?
In the strangeness of everyday moments, in paradoxes and cliches, in car rides with the windows down, in beer halls, in exploring cities and wilderness places, in reading philosophy about life, culture, and theology that shift my static opinions and of course in music! Making things is work. Inspiration is sometimes a part of that, sometimes it needs the oxygen of open space for it to combust.
What are some musical acts that have your ear right now?
For a several years now, I have done freelance video work for Asthmatic Kitty Records. Many of their releases I tend to pour over because they feel like family. I have been listening to the SISYPHUS record all year and recently Helado Negro and My Brightest Diamond’s new releases. On a local tip, I love all things Shabazz Palaces. In the van right now is the Beatles Rubber Soul–that with pop station Russian roulette has been the family summer soundtrack.
You mentioned open space, what do you like to do outdoors? and where do you go?
In cities and in natural settings, I am sucker for seeing new places. Washington is jam packed with new geographies. It would take a few lifetimes to encounter it all. As a family we tend to lean toward bodies of water, the Oregon and Washington coasts, and mountain lakes are both good for mental reflection and for play. Lots of family bang for the buck there! I am an obsessive forager and through the autumn and spring months I like to hunt for a variety of mushrooms. Fungi thrive at varying locations and elevations which means visits to spots on both sides of the Cascades and Olympic ranges.
Shifting gears a little. I’ve seen some pictures of your family on Halloween and it’s spectacular. Can you tell about how your family makes Halloween costumes?
Our family Halloween costumes continue to evolve in wonderful ways. Because we are artists by day, our family costuming rituals are really based on fun and feasibility, leaning on our own experiences of making costumes growing up.
I love when a costume crosses over to believability. It doesn’t have to be perfect, it just needs to have the details and icons to sway people toward the intended character. We rely on different family skills to make them come together. Usually a dialog begins through the summer, where my sons go through a litany of ideas. They really like tossing things around. The discussions can get zany! Our job is shoot ideas down that will take more than an evening to construct. In the past we have had a few that took too many man-hours and that gets a bit tedious.
Also up to this point, we have avoided having our family do a group of characters. Autonomy is important in our Halloween culture so we let the kids pick. The sweet spot for a costume in our house is a painted element (Gala tackles that) and sculptural interpretations (my wheelhouse). My middle son, Solly really gets into the process and pushes our limits a bit. I think he has had some of the more challenging and convincing costumes; a Meteor, Buzz Lightyear, the Hulk, and Yoda were some of my personal favorites while my older son Ezra took the high creative honors last year when he went as a can of sardines. Up to this point, our youngest has gladly recycled the older brothers previous incarnations…which is really a load off! It is a joy to watch them become their characters. The whole ordeal is a 4 hour theatre of being in character, collecting candies, and the delight of costumed play.
What kind of work have you been doing lately?
Today I am canning blackberry jam and cleaning out closets. As far as my art goes, I just finished up an installation project for the Office of Art & Culture in Seattle. The project is located on an adjacent property to Harborview Medical Center and feature 2 birch trees trained to bend in arcs. Each tree is also tethered to a half earthed white minimal sculpture. Last month, I got to do my first adult residency in Michigan at a place called Ox-Bow. My wife kindly shouldered two weeks of parenting in my absence. It was luxurious.