Peter O. Zierlein, adjunct AIB faculty, knows how to balance power with a knife. We were able to catch up with Zierlein before his upcoming solo exhibition "The Paradigm Of Power" at Fitchburg State University. From Sep. 12th - Oct. 9th 2012, Artist Talk: wed. 9/12 6pm. Check out the interview...
Could you tell us a little about yourself and how you began your path in becoming a professional illustrator?
I always had a knack for drawing. I went to a vocational High School where I interned as a theater prop and prospect painter and apprenticed as a graphic artist and printer.
I came to the States in 1986 with an international exchange program.1986 was the year of the bicentennial of the Statue of Liberty – on my days off I sold stenciled and spray painted t-shirts commemorating the event on the streets of NYC. This went good enough that I sold my return ticket and stayed in NY. I was lucky to find a mentor and sponsor who paid for my first tuition to study illustration at Pratt Institute in Brooklyn, NY. I got stipends and scholarships, sold stenciled and spray-painted musical concert t-shirts, worked as an airbrush artist in a famed t-shirt gallery store in Manhattan and later as mechanical artist for big screen printing companies in NY to put myself through school. Still a junior, I got my first illustration commission from a magazine called The World, later from Teleconnect Magazine, New York Magazine, The Village Voice, New York Press, Screw Magazine and illustrated the cover of the Big Apple Parents Paper every month for a year. In 1998 the Berlin Wall came down and I was one of 58 international artists in a group art project called Tryptich for Germany, the three panels of which were symbolically re-united at Documenta IX 1991 in Kassel, Germany, and accepted into the permanent collections of the Stuttgart Staatsgalerie, Koeln Ludwig Museum and Documenta Archive, respectively.
1992 I moved to Hamburg, Germany, where I soon illustrated a regular column in “stern” magazine and freelanced for other publications. 1993 I moved to Berlin and started working for the Berliner Zeitung almost daily, illustrated for other newspapers and magazines and started working with an electronic game developer – then a still young business…
Love took me back to New York in 1998 and I started illustrating for the New York Times Book Review with Art Director Steven Heller (for nine years) as well as Op Ed articles with Art Directors Nick Blechman, Steven Guarnacccia, Wes Bedrosian, Sam Weber, Brian Rea, a.o. Since then I worked for many national and international newspapers and magazines, commercial clients and design posters, magazine covers and illustrations for a social activist cause against discrimination, intolerance, racism and sexism in High schools in Germany.
A majority of your work is black & white, why? What do you have against color?
I did lots and lots of newspaper illustration over the years and much of it is traditionally in black and white. I also have a lot of images in color. I like to use flat color and pick colors for their signal or symbolic value and as graphic shapes.
Congratulations on your solo show at Fitchburg, The Paradigm of POWER' How would you describe the concept and work exhibited in the show?
Thank you! Much of my work as an editorial illustrator revolves around the subject of power. The struggle for power, the loss of power or the use and abuse of power. I investigated the concept of a balance of power also in form of symmetrical paper cuts. In the show I have a dozen paper cuts – including a giant one that hangs suspended from the library ceiling, posters, graphics and a collage of about 150 newspaper tear- sheets and illustrations that relate to the paradigm of power.
You are a graduate of AIB's MFA program. How was that experience? and What inspired you to evolve from traditional ink illustration to paper cut?
I graduated from AIB’s MFA low residency program in January 2010. That was a great experience and a chance to approach my practice as an artist from a different angle. I produced images in all kinds of media, painting, drawing, mono-type print, digital and in symmetrical paper cut. Symmetry seems like a perfect graphic device to express balance (of power) and symmetric design produces iconic imagery. I love the very process of cutting into paper, drawing with a knife, making decisions at the edge of an x-acto blade, the duality of the repeated cut in reverse on the flipside of the paper and the anticipation of unfolding the finished paper cut. Cutting through the paper adds a third dimension to the drawing, the cut becomes sculptural object and turns the drawing into a stencil for light or paint. I don’t tire of exploring the simple yet complex possibilities this technique offers.
You have been adjunct faculty at AIB for the past few years. What do you enjoy about teaching young artists? How do the students challenge you?
I enjoy sharing ideas and discussing the finer points of concept, design, art, marketing and self-image of being a commercial artist today. I also enjoy the energy and spirit of ambitious young artists. My challenge is to be motivating and to present my material in a smart, engaging way so the students learn to visually communicate in a clear, meaningful and humane manner.
How would you describe the next generation of illustrators? And, what impact will they have on the industry?
The next generation, as any generation, will have to shape the way we communicate through visual media. There will be trendsetters and copyists, there will (continue to) be illustration artists worldwide competing for the same gig, deadlines getting shorter, and new, un-thought-of venues for illustration will open up. The industry is becoming a more and more diversified field with ever-changing parameters and it is for each generation to set those parameters.
What trends do you see happening now in illustration that will effect the future of the profession?
A clear trend is the illustrator as author and as entrepreneur. Illustrators are taking advantage of inexpensive self-publishing and web-publishing options – and they should, form groups, share skills, share studio-space and put on shows.
I see the most exciting art happening when illustrators connect with graphic design, typography, music, film, animation, science, theater, social activism, graffiti, architectural design, urban design and other contexts besides in print- and web-publishing.
What's next for you and your work? Any sneak peeks of personal work or upcoming projects you are excited about?
Please come see my giant paper cut at the “Gender” art show, Friday, September 14, 2012 at the Whoo Space, Opening Reception Sept. 14th 5PM - 10PM (During the Northampton Arts Night out) and Open Gallery Sept. 15th from 11AM - 6PM, 11 Market Street, Northampton, MA
Also come and see my even bigger paper cut at Massachusetts Avenue Storefront Art Project, The Art Institute of Boston at Lesley University: http://news.lesley.edu/2012/08/aib-kicks-off-centennial-celebration-through-storefront-window-exhibit.shtml
Sudo Shoes, 1771 Massachusetts Avenue (at Porter Sqaure): Peter O. Zierlein
Besides that you can see my work at University Hall Gallery in the AIB Illustration and Animation Centennial Faculty Exhibition. AIB Faculty artwork will be on view at University Hall Gallery, 1815 Massachusetts Avenue [MAP] from Tuesday, September 4th - Saturday, September 29th. My piece is part of my paper cut series: ”Symmetrical Beings”
A selection of my work is always on view at www.peterozierlein.com
Best of luck!