Zak Smith is a bit of a hero of mine. I got to meet him while he was taking an artist residency at Headlands in Marin, and I have been in love ever since. I wrote a blurb about him once….
What comes out Zak Smith’s fingertips is unexpected given that he is a Yale graduate, yet is completely predictable as he is a porn star adorned with chains, leather, tattoos, piercings and a Mohawk. His sketchbook and paintings are reflections of scenes you might encounter in your typical punk X-rated video, but stray far from this genre and venture in to a special realm of art. The Los Angeles resident has established himself among elite art circles, showing his work in galleries like the SF MOMA, and being featured in magazines like the New York Times. In addition to his prolific artistic production, Smith has come out with three books.
The sheer number of works that Smith produces makes his craft seem effortless, and there is an aloofness that represents the work’s attitude in the way it is presented (sloppily pinned to the wall), but this is contradicted by the extreme intricate detailing that goes in to each autobiographical scene. It is difficult to let any one of Smith’s works stand alone, for they are so meticulously rendered that they give the impression that they are a mere corner of one larger piece. In fact, this is how much of his work is shown in galleries. An example is the piece, “100 Girls and 100 Octopuses” which is viewed as one large panel, but is made up of 98 smaller works that picture women in various scenes with octopuses. His vivid color use, loose stylization, and ornate background designs make these pieces reminiscent of Klimt.
It is no secret that Smith’s brave subject matter is inspired by his own experience in the porn industry. This is probably why he can so successfully convert the grotesqueness of sex into a visual emotion worthy of the canvas.