BFFzz sat down with longtime psychedelic, optical artist Michael Zimmerman, to talk about his artistic process and his first exhibition, Peripheral Motion, at Star Deli Gallery for February First Friday 2023.
Angela: How did First Friday go? How was your experience?
“ I loved it. That was my first art show. And so, honestly, the whole reason it came to be was because I started using my buddy's plotter and I'm like, oh my God, I need one of these. I really can't be going over to his house for 4-6 hours every other day to use this thing. I gotta have it at home. And so I reached out to one of my art buddies who, who has a lot of success with art, and I just asked him, ‘What's the best way to fundraise for this?’ And he said, “I think if you did a show and he let people know that you're trying to raise money for this thing that people would respond positively.” And so I reached out to people and got it set up within a day or two of thinking of the idea. And I just worked really, really hard on it for like, that month. And I don't know, I was super, super pleased.”
A: So you spent all that time at your friend's house making stuff for the show?
So pretty much every single piece I made for that show was made within two months prior to the show. And it was me trying to take all the ideas that I've come up with over the past six months and be like, okay, which one of these can I reasonably get done in time and do a good job on? And, so everything was done within like a two month span. And it was all sort of just (having) this goal in mind of, I need to produce enough pieces that I can sell at reasonable prices that I can afford my own machine. You know? And I hit that goal.
We talked more about the work he's been putting in to get ready for the show.
This past year I went really hard on art in general. Like, before even having access to the plotter I was trying to post every day. And that was just like a way of keeping myself accountable to create something every day and bring it to completion every day.”
Viy: Yeah. That's good. I really like that. Holding yourself accountable to make something and trying to finish things. That's hard!
I think it all goes back to like a year and a half ago, I had this realization like, holy shit. I've been an artist my whole life and I'm not really happy with who I am as an artist. And so I was just like, I really need to dig in. And that was like my goal last year. And I think I made a lot of progress.
A: What does 'digging in' mean to you?
Honestly, it meant giving up some things. Like, I had this like, realization, like, holy shit, video games are easy. It's an easy use of my time. Like, I play a lot of video games because…it's just like a way to decompress at the end of the day. But the thing is, it's just like I found myself doing it like constantly and it's so much easier to play video games than it is to make art. And it's way less rewarding. So it was pretty much like when I had that realization, like, holy shit, I'm not the artist I want to be. I like giving up video games. Like, that moment I was just like, I'm just gonna stop playing them. And I think that, I don't know, it's like what might be video games for me might be something else for somebody else, you know? Like, what are you doing to avoid the thing you love to do?
V: That's really good. That kind of goes into one of the questions we had written down, what has your timeline been as an artist? How did you get started and how'd you end up here?
I remember like, I've always loved art in school, you know, and I remember back in first grade, you know, when everyone shared crayons in art class and like, I wanted to color some grass, but I didn't have a green cuz another kid was using green. So it dawned on me like, oh, I can use blue and then color over that in yellow, you know? And that was like this big brain moment, you know, where I'm like, oh, colors are cool. You know, like, holy shit. And, uh, like I said, I've always played video games and when I was in elementary school and junior high, I would like mod video games, like make maps and textures for them, which is probably where I got into pattern making because texture creation for video games is just basically seamless pattern making.
Then I would say I definitely had an obsession with music that kind of ended up coming into my life for a really long time. But I'd always kind of casually made art. I feel like it's always been mainly digital and I've always had a certain fear of putting pen to paper on things, you know what I mean? I've always had computers in my home. Like I've always had like some art program and I've always felt comfortable there, but never like, comfortable putting pen to paper. But basically music led me to making psychedelic art. Cause I played in a psych rock band.
And, um, and then I think there somewhere in creating psychedelic art, I feel like my version of creating psychedelic art actually ended up being op(tical) art. So it's kind of like something between the two is what I'm trying to go for— psychedelic art and optical art. And, uh, yeah, I feel like, yeah, once I started making that kind of stuff, I feel like I've been doing that for the past like 10 or 12 years and just very casually for myself. It's kind of just like an obsession. Like, uh, you know, trying to make something to disorient myself.
V: Tell us about your current process!
I'm currently interested in boiling things down to what makes it for me. I was really obsessed with making a lot of things that were just two colors. Cause I felt like that's all I really needed to make movement happen. And so I would really focus on finding these two color combinations that worked for me, with the plotter. But yeah, um, I feel like the plotter is the answer I've been looking for for years. I didn't mention, I've been a screen printer for 12 years but like, I'm kind of tired of screen printing. I'm sick of it. I want something that is almost more limited, but I can do the same thing. And I feel like the plotter makes a lot of sense for what I'm doing. I'm able to achieve the color overlays I want with it and I'm able to produce my art physically and have a lot of control over how exactly that turns out on my computer. So the plotter is basically my answer to “how can I make more unique, limited, interesting art than screen printing it?” But not have to painstakingly draw it myself, you know…
I think what I'm doing on the plotter is a little different than what other people are doing and that like, there are other people making op art on plotters for sure. But not many people, if any, are doing the analogous movement effect. Which is like the faux movement. And that was something I just stumbled on, on accident. Like, I was laying patterns over each other and they started moving and I'm like, what the fuck is going on!
V: That's amazing! So what have been some inspirations for you and your art?
Um, it's kind of funny cuz I think when I started trying to make psychedelic art, I was kind of doing more like op art type stuff. And I had several people tell me like, Hey, have you heard of Bridget Riley? Your stuff's kind of like Bridget Riley. And then I ended up digging into Bridget Riley, an op artist from the sixties. I’m definitely influenced by some of these early op artists, um, trying to maybe take what they're doing in a way and, uh, bring it to another level if I can.
Or, there's, I definitely, you know, I love Instagram. I love all the artists on Instagram. I'm inspired by what other people are doing. But like, I don't know, it's just kind of a shape obsession. Like shape relationships and color relationships just like, uh, simple geometry and, you know, how can I take this simple geometry and these simple shapes and organize them in a way that's pleasing to me? I'm definitely just kind of like trying to make simple things that I haven't seen or do them in my own way.
A: Wanting to like, materialize these ideas? Where does that come to you from?
I don't know, um, for the past year, it's just kind of like, it's definitely an obsession with pattern making and, and, you know, how can I wrap these patterns in different ways? And it's just exploratory. It's super exploratory. It's kind of like, I'm just gonna start making a shape. It's like, what am I gonna do today? I'll do circles, you know. And then it's like, how do I want to arrange circles? It's like– what can I do that I haven't done before? It's like, um, I want to have this shape on the one end and I want to have it morphed to this other shape. And then I'm, I'm gonna see what, what happens from there, you know?
Um, and just like, just having confidence that you'll figure it out as you go along. And like, it's really kind of like, the whole love of making art is like the love of making these patterns and stuff and then having an unexpected result when you do a particular thing. Like you bend it in a circle or you bend it in a doorway shape. And sometimes the results I don't expect, and to me that's like, it's like, ‘oh, that's interesting.’ Like I'm searching for that. That unexpected result, you know?
V: I really like the exploration aspect of it. That's such an interesting avenue for art.
I really think the best way to make art is to just like, make yourself do it. Yeah. Just you do it, fucking do it. You know, because you will learn something if you start doing a thing. For me it was like, you know, I was addicted to playing video games and then I started taking art a little more seriously. And every time you learn something, like every time you like figure something new out, whether it's like a technique in illustrator, or something that you can just apply to everything you're already doing. Whether it's a cross-hatching technique or something, you learn that new thing and figure it out. And then it’s like you open a new door and you just get addicted to opening those doors.
A: Like a real video game!
Yeah. It's like you're leveling up in real life, you know, because it's, I don't know, man, you put the experience in, you know. It's way more rewarding when you level up a couple times and you just keep leveling up because you get addicted to that, you know? And I definitely, like, I'll be honest, I crashed after that (First Friday) show. Like, I got sick and, you know, I had to work my job sick and then I ran out of Adderall from the Adderall shortage . And I'm just like, oh my God, I'm not posting on Instagram for like a week or two, you know? Uh, so, people should have better balance than I do because I, I have no sense of like, balancing my life.
V: I guess that kinda leads us to our last question. Do you have any advice for emerging artists?
I'd say take care of your mental health. . Yeah. Yeah. Like, uh, yeah. Don't ignore that shit.
You can buy Mike’s art through his shop and follow his artistic process via Instagram (@mz_optics)
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