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Layers of the Human Experience

The Art of Gavin Zeigler  

For artist Gavin Zeigler time is not necessarily linear but layered. His studio of 22 years on Shelter Island is an old auto body shop he discovered while riding by on his motorcycle. Pictures dating back to the 1920’s show it in its heyday, and the bays where cars were repaired or painted hold the energy of the past. His mixed media paintings also bear the imprint of human touch over time. What appears from a distance as a beautiful abstract painting upon closer inspection reveals pennies or keys or various paper objects from stamps to old stock certificates to cancelled checks transformed with paint and design into a compelling collage.

Gavin Zeigler at his Shelter Island studio

“I collect old documents from family and friends in Tennessee who would buy them before they were shredded. I love the quality of the paper and the random marks and signatures. There’s a history and act of discovery that is central to my work. It is not only about the color and composition but how many times someone has held the objects incorporated into it.”

Zeigler had a thirty-year retrospective where famed gallerist Peter Marcell commented, “Gavin immediately stood out to me because of his innovation and ingenuity. There is no question that he is a skilled artist, but his brilliance lies in his fresh, creative spirit.” Zeigler’s training reflects his range of talents, “I had a scholarship to the Atlanta School of Art then came up to New York and got a certificate of graphic design from Pratt and a degree in art history from Fordham then went to woodworking school in Maine.”

“Strange Existence”

The act of choosing one of his 8” x 10” cradled wooden panels is an entertaining process in itself, with tables full of them enclosed in labeled cardboard boxes. An incredible wordsmith, Zeigler names each work with titles including: They give you this but you paid for that, Purple pain, Hell no, Trouble sleeping, or Passive aggressive. “People really get a kick out of it – they come in and ask what is in there, often drawn first to the title then the work.” Each of these individual pieces can also be mixed and matched from grouping of a few to filling a whole wall. Zeigler describe his process, “I start with collage material then paint on top of it. They start off as a panel and I gesso them and sand them and apply what I want to use in epoxy and then put them in a bag press to flatten them.”

This continuous act of layering keeps presenting fresh perspectives to the viewer. There is an organization however to the chaos of 1,000 pieces in titled cardboard boxes and the raw materials including the old documents and acrylic paint. Zeigler says with a smile that although some ask if he is a hoarder, he knows exactly where each element belongs. While having exhibited and been collected locally to internationally, he still finds his intriguing studio on the main stretch on Shelter Island to be a source of buyers. “I have an open studio on the weekend and you never know who’s going to come in. Once it was a German princess and her husband who was in Hollywood who strolled in.”

While time may not seem linear in the endlessly fascinating studio, neither is the process for Zeiger. “I will have forty paintings out at the same time on the table – it’s easier than one staring at you. Even though not alike they talk to each other and learn from each other.” So, what is the most difficult part of the passion project? “It’s an interesting process because you have to know when to stop – when enough is enough. It’s all in the way they dance together.”