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Featured Artist Interview - Andrew Zbihlyj

We wanted to find out more about this whole artist rather than just the “Zi-Bee-Lee” pronounciation. And indeed we found out that Andrew Zbihlyj is much more than an expert in illustrations.

He has worked on several clientages including Harper’s, Legal Affairs, BC Business, National Post Business Magazine, Mix Magazine, etc. We threw some questions at him about political illustrations and his relationship he has with music, films, and us.

TAXI >> Hello Andrew, could you please address us with a self-introduction?

Andrew Zbihlyj>> Hello. I’m Andrew Zbihlyj. I make images for a living.

TAXI >> Probably you can tell us how you started as a designer. What were your biggest motivations and dreams at that time?

AZ>> I started drawing and painting when I was very young…so, my direction was relatively clear. After high school, I took a year off, did some work, cleared my head, then applied to Sheridan College. My first choice, Classical Animation, passed on my portfolio…but my second choice, Interpretive Illustration, didn’t. That was fortunate - I realized quickly that Animation would have been a mistake. I loved the potential of Illustration and still do – ie. finding a place for unique, compelling and challenging work outside of gallery walls…speaking to hundreds, or thousands all at once, in different ways…in a language that requires no translation. I think it’s a great starting point for a visual thinker…

TAXI >> We’ve seen your illustration for Empire and found it quite a challenge to understand. Could you help us with the explanations and ever confronted with any critics or objections regarding the subject because it is highly political?

AZ>> The first portrait of President Bush Jr., Empire III, was commissioned by Harper’s to appear alongside an essay by Thomas De Zingotita. It was called The Romance of Empire: And The Politics of Self-Love. It dealt with America’s imperial aspirations in this new century – starting, of course, with Afghanistan and then Iraq. In the artwork, Bush is portrayed as a gun-toting child – one that’s guarded, safe and detached from the horrible reality that he and his administration have created for thousands…

The second portrait, Empire VI, is more ambiguous. It was done after the first one was published, and it’s concept was taken from the remaining sketches. In it, Bush is portrayed as we know him – proud, arrogant and, in my opinion, utterly deluded. A crown of laurels is seen in his hand (empire) and, over his shoulder, there’s a dissolving pillar (deteriorating institution) and a burning flag (international scorn).

In doing this kind of work, I did expect some sort of negative reaction…but, until now, I’ve received only one piece of hate mail. Love/hate mail actually. One fellow wrote to say “I like your style, it’s very nice….but your politics suck ass”. He also called me pretentious and condescending.

TAXI >>> As described in Pieceofshow, most of your illustrations are done with paints, inks, papers and collages. Why are they seem to be your favourite mediums?

AZ>> I realized in college that my work didn’t feel right unless it was a fusion of various elements. A piece that’s made entirely of acrylic paint is not very interesting to me, both in the working process and as a final. My instincts, when approaching a new work are to create a range of options first – ink drawings, pencil drawings, pieces of photography – put them all on the table and see how their best parts fit together. That sense of discovery propels me through the working process

TAXI >> Can you describe an evolution in your work from your first projects to the present day?

AZ>> I prefer not being the one analyzing the work, or it’s evolution. It’s better for me to trust my instincts here and now with what I have in front of me – focus on what’s right for each individual work.

TAXI >> How do you see your works that particularly appeal to audiences and what are the messages you want to get across?

AZ>> It’s interesting to see which works are embraced and which aren’t…but it’s fascinating to see any of it embraced at all. I find it so heartening and encouraging to receive letters or emails, or drawings from people from around the world who connect with what I do. Particularly because I don’t have a specific message or agenda – I try to be honest with myself, with my thoughts, feelings…and if that comes through in the work, if it connects with someone in say, Istanbul, Auckland, Paris, or Ohio…then I’m very happy.

TAXI >> You mentioned Music and Cinematography very aspiring, till now, what are the functions you think design plays in these industries?

AZ>> Well, regardless of genre, the spirit of creative work remains the same. The approach a saxophonist brings to his craft can be translated to say, photography or writing or illustration. For me, music and film are extremely poignant mediums - creatively, intellectually, emotionally. I’ve never felt like crying while looking at a painting, but I have while listening to music or while watching a really good film…

TAXI >> What does your studio look like?

AZ>> It’s pretty plain. It’s a basement space – roomy, very little colour, lots of ambient light, a couple of big tables….equipment, supplies, books, alcohol…

TAXI >> Give a meaning to these three awe-inspiring words: Pierogi, Ballyhoo, Kinesic.

AZ>> Pierogi are actually what Eastern Europeans call their dumplings. I’m Ukrainian, so, I grew up eating the type that consist of potato and cheese. The blueberry ones are my favourite though…

Ballyhoo sounds like one of those group word/board games where you try to communicate something to your teammates by making an ass of yourself…

Kinesic makes me think of scotch. A blend maybe…

TAXI >> Are you afraid of anything? Hmm.. yourself and future?

AZ>> Time freaks me out a bit. It really does move faster as you get older…

TAXI >> Well could you tell us any of your upcoming plans are? Any major projects?

AZ>> Commissions are keeping me busy now. Presently, I’m working on a series of spots for Revolver, along with a private piece for someone in Sacramento – a kind of sequel to an earlier work called LustLove. After that, I’ll be doing some work for a U.K. band called Moeker…

TAXI >> Just before this come to its finale, please tell us where do you want a taxi to bring you to right now?

AZ>> If it flies, I’d take it to Osaka.

TAXI >> Thanks Andrew!
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