Drew Zimmerman

Drew Zimmerman: Artist's Statement

An explanation of the content of my paper mâché pieces must include the phrase “When I was a kid” regularly, since often my work brings to life weird artifacts of memory. Why I should retain vivid recollections of advertisements I read in comic books when I was eight and absolutely nothing from several years of French language instruction is a great mystery to me. I think art is improved when it includes mystery.

When I was a kid, my most advanced reading was Mad magazine, which constantly used language and concepts I had never before encountered. In a parody of the television show Lost in Space, Mad described the worst dangers a stranded Space Age family could run into on an uncharted planet as the threat of tripping over one of the paper mâché sets. I had to grab my family’s dictionary to see what that meant.

I quickly realized that one could use cheap, fast, and lightweight paper mâché to imitate other materials such as rock, metal, flesh, or wood. For me, paper and glue always held an element of fakery and even a hint of comedy. When I build up a volume in strips of newsprint or model a likeness in paper pulp, I never stop thinking of the comical imitation that's at the heart of the material. My pieces are all satirical versions of some original, like those favorite spoofs in the Mad parodies I enjoyed when I was a pre-teen.

The latent spoofery in Atlas, I hope, dissuades the viewer from accepting it as a “how to” lesson in building a collage relief. For one thing, the form of this ultra large comic strip mocks an ad that was published adjacent to typical kid-lit of the mid-1960s, an ad for Charles Atlas’ muscle-building program. Under a heading that said, “The insult that made a man out of Mike” was the story of a 98-pound weakling who turns the tables on a beach bully. In my version, art, not weights and vitamins, is the transformative secret.

The other thing going on in Atlas is my belief that I can reveal every secret of the physical process that goes into making my art without leading the viewer very close to copying what I have done. The unique arrangement of my interior life, filled with pop references and my personal iconography, shapes my work individually much more than Exacto blades and the focus knob on my projector.

The constant noise in the background of my trivia-packed brain is represented in finished work as the jumble of letters and headings strewn over its colored, top layer. Letters and bits of wording drift over the skin of my paper mâché as on the surface of a bowl of alphabet soup. I am always aware of the junk in my consciousness and how the environment of my quirky internal dialogue influences my public choices.

In my most recent work, Rübus, I crafted a Rube Goldberg sequence of mock causes and effects, and I made that narrative literally apparent in the composition of the work. Beneath the causal reality is a secret meaning, a rebus of phonemes spelling out a relevant theme, but that Gnostic truth has such a tricky idiosyncrasy, I am doubtful anyone can solve it without my leaving abundant clues. Like the mocking how-to instructions in Atlas or the jumble of words in my hidden consciousness, the physical availability of meaning isn’t the same as accessibility to reason. Rübus’ references to the Black Dahlia murder mystery, the miracle of Lourdes, and the inscrutability of whales underscore the point.

Far from being a boon to understanding the processes of existence, our consciousness, with its ultra subjective perspective and awkward conduit between private and public expression, creates isolation and error. I hope that's evident in my piece Suitcase Flying Open, which represents the moment when the interior life of the mind is exposed. Imagine wearing a hard and thick casing, custom-built to fit exactly, which contains your inner selfhood and what would happen if it suddenly cracked open, revealing all. My sculpture shows the jumble of words of which that interior is formed but they are unreadable. An outsider wouldn’t understand it even if it were shown to him.

That paper mâché recycles newsprint and cardboard for new purposes ought to inform a discussion of my work. I rescue the advertising and packaging of culture from the trash and, through a labor-intensive process, mutate it into art. Atlas reuses the form of an ubiquitous ad from 60s comic books; Grit and Will Sea Monkeys Become Our Masters? do the same. Many were the minutes my childhood self spent ogling the ad for Grit that promised heady consumer pleasures just for selling the rural newssheet that real boys assured me practically sold itself! My art work attempts to crystallize the very moment I fell under the spell of the American Dream.

Likewise, Sea Monkeys asks the viewer to recall a moment in advertising when a whole world of cotton-candy delights was offered up to kids in return for practically nothing: just add water! I attempt to satirize in my paper mâché art the psychic underpinnings of the pop culture that was sold to me in my youth. I have no way of knowing whether the consumers of my work appreciate the expression of a knowing point-of-view or if they are themselves churned into the mixer, the better to sort it all out in the next cycle.