David Zalben: Wired, Part I

D = David Collante    Z = David Zalben


David Zalben © Steven D Morse – morsefoto.com

D     Your work draws beautiful women into this place.

    Indeed it does, you’re witness to that. My own dwellings manifest these things which are an extension of my personality. I never do anything that’s for somebody else; I think that’s cheap and easy. You have to have integrity when you do art. When you realize something works like that it’s a slippery slope to be a commercial artist. Like some contemporary artists, you ever notice how they’re doing the same line of work? I think there are various reasons for that and it’s also considered that career idea. It’s what they’re supposed to do; getting known for that one look. I don’t know where I’m going with this, but to answer you, I never do any of this for women or anyone else.

D     What do you enjoy most about your art, about the process?


David Zalben © Steven D Morse – morsefoto.com

Z     It is a process. I don’t know. It’s about talking with people. I never look at what I do as a separate entity, like “look at my art, look at what I did.” I think it’s a great way to get through life and talk to people, meet people, and be inspired by people.

I write this quote that basically says it all for me “we create our destiny by being aware of our surroundings,” so I’m constantly engaged in my surroundings. Even if I’m walking down the street and I see a stain that looks like a figure or cement that’s lined up a certain way, and it calls my name, I’ll take a picture and sometimes put it on my Instagram. I love Instagram, it’s a great creative tool. I’ll do racy things but I’ll also do sweet things and little oddities that I constantly see.

D     We’re Pork Belly Times, we have to ask, do you like bacon?

Z     Yes, I do. Of course I do, who doesn’t like bacon? You’d have to be crazy not to like bacon, but I don’t make a habit of eating it all the time. Usually it’s like a special occasion. If there’s a place that you recommend with good bacon, forward that to me.

D     Pub Belly has good pork belly.


David Zalben © Steven D Morse – morsefoto.com

Z     I’ve never been. Actually, I’m just waiting for someone to take me. You know, artists are always looking for the angle of free meals. It’s really hilarious. I trade for free massages, I trade for free skin care. I’ve traded for dental work.

D     Dental work?


David Zalben © Steven D Morse – morsefoto.com

    Yeah, a lot of the time the dentist doesn’t even ask for anything in return. But, you know, you gotta thank people. I had this one situation, it was kind of funny, it was after this big piece I did in the window, it was like 41 days and I was all over the place, the Huffington Post and all that. I got this skin growth, and I have a tendency to panic and I like apple cider vinegar and other types of home cures. So, I put on tea tree oil and apple cider vinegar and I’d leave it on for days and it got infected because I’m an idiot. So I went to this place on Washington Avenue, and when I pop in they recognized me from the window. They didn’t charge me. I tried to give her a gift but she never came by to pick it up. She was a very nice woman.

Z     That’s a nice bracelet by the way, where did you get that? The colors are beautiful. What I like about it is the silver. It picks it up. It gives it a little bit of class, a refinement.

D     Yeah, I bought a few.

Z     If you’re with a girl you can give her one as a nice gift.

D     I didn’t buy that many.

    You see I’m a romantic.

    I’ll write them a poem. That’s one of a kind.

    Men don’t do that anymore. At least I don’t think they do. I don’t think women are used to getting love poems. This is what you’re going to do. Your whole life from now on is going to be in writing. Even if it’s not a love a poem, it could be more humorous, or even texting, whatever your medium of choice is, even e-mails, they’ll be addressed the way you want them to be, really well crafted. What do you think about that?


David Zalben © Steven D Morse – morsefoto.com

D     I do that sometimes. I’ll send emails to my boss in character.

Z     That’s good. You have to keep that up. Go over the top on it.

D     Yeah, every once in a while I indulge myself

    It’s the little pleasures in life

D     Is this space conducive to a healthy artistic vibe?

Z     I think so. I’m like a goldfish, I can grow with the size of my studio. It’s crowded on purpose. It wasn’t always like this; I’m actually kind of claustrophobic. I decided one day that I wasn’t creating enough because I was claustrophobic. I would put things on the wall kind of sparingly. I kept having ideas that I wouldn’t do, and I decided no, that’s not the right thing, let me just fill the space with a crazy amount of art. And I consciously keep creating bigger pieces, which is evolutionary. I just don’t hold it in my mind if I have an idea; I just go ahead and create it and put it anywhere.


David Zalben © Steven D Morse – morsefoto.com

There are limitations with the space. Some of these pieces, like the chandelier, I couldn’t do during the day. I don’t have enough space here, so I did it at like 1 or 2 AM when everybody was gone. So there are some limitations with the space but it’s kind of challenging. I did this installation of birds for a client in San Francisco, who wanted 60 feet of birds and I had to be really creative how I did it. I would do it in pieces and then drill it to the back of the wall. It was weird and cumbersome but at the same time fun to have to work around those challenges. And to be honest with you, we artists have to be used to the fact we’re going to be in small spaces because rents are so expensive. We’re not commercial artists. I mean I do well, I make a living, but I’m not rich. I’m probably always going to have studios that are confining. That’s just a fact of life and I’m okay with that.

    Let’s pick back up at the evolution of your work. Let’s talk about neon.

    Well, everything is evolutionary. I’ve been thinking about light for a few years because I think a number of this work can work in neon, but I fought against it because I just wanted it to be the raw wire. I wanted that to be the voice, it’s poetic. There’s poetry in it. Where light is not. Light is a shiny object to me, in a way. At the time I didn’t feel like I could make that transition and keep my integrity as an artist. Making neon seemed like there was a clashing of ideas.


David Zalben © Steven D Morse – morsefoto.com

    You felt it would be a gimmick?

Z     Yeah, it felt gimmicky, because when I see neon in these art fairs, it’s like meh, whatever. People write something cliché, like love something. It’s not art. So fast forward, I’ll be leaving the Art Center towards the end of the year after serving here nine years. I’ll be leaving and I’ve evolved a lot here. My work went from very simple things to very complex things. Now I see this new opportunity when I leave. Should I continue doing the wire? It’s not in me to continue doing the same thing.I will continue the wire because I love it but I need something else to bridge it. And with the neon I think I finally figured out the pieces I could use that would keep the artistic integrity without being cliché. I’m going to start with bubble girl, because she’s iconic to me now.


David Zalben © Steven D Morse – morsefoto.com

More information on David Zalben can be found at: www.davidzz.com

David Collante – david@porkbellytimes.com

Steven D Morse – steven@porkbellytimes.com