JAMES ZUCCO / MINNEAPOLIS, MINNESOTA
I’m interested in manifest vs. unmanifest reality and the battleground of the psyche. As human beings, there is so much we are unable to know, no matter how much we advance technologically. However, there are also objective truths in the universe. There is creation and destruction. Life and death. Yin and yang. I hope that this understanding, and more importantly, this questioning comes through in my body of work.
Prjct Social / INTERVIEW
James Zucco! We are excited to chat. How are you, sir?
I'm well and excited to chat too. Thank you for including me in this project. I love the other artists you've chosen so far!
Thank you! People seem to be responding well to our taste in visual arts.. I have always been curious about the artistic side to advertising, So it's a real treat to have you on Prjct OMNi. I did some digging and discovered you are an Art Director? That is quite a role! How did you fall into this position, and when did you start trusting your direction professionally?
For the global launch of United's New International First and Business Class, we created a fully integrated campaign that ran during the Beijing Olympics. The work promoted 180˚ lie-flat seats—the first truly flat seats on a U.S. carrier.- James Zucco
I've always been interested in art and creativity in general. Advertising seemed like a good way to be in a creative field, but still be able to support myself financially — a good mix of art and business. I used to love watching the best commercials when I was a kid. I always thought it would be fun to come up with those ideas.
I knew I wanted to be an advertising creative by the time I graduated high school. I chose the University of Texas at Austin because it has one of the best programs in the country. Art direction seemed a better fit for me than copywriting since I grew up drawing and painting, although I've done a fair amount of writing throughout my career as well. In terms of trusting my direction, I think as a creative person you need to study the best work, and once you're confident that what you're making is good, you can't help but be passionately sure about it. The tricky part when you're young or just starting out is getting the people you are working with to trust your vision too. The more experience you have, the more you trust your own creative sensibilities. Of course, all art is subjective, but being sure of your own creative taste is very important.
IS THERE AN ART FORM TO ADVERTISING?
Absolutely. I consider the very best advertising art. It could be video, digital, or print. It's always the same formula: brilliant idea + flawless execution. Of course, this is a very small percentage of the advertising you see.
Are these powers used for good!? Have you turned down a job or company because of its business practices?
Good question. I've been lucky to work on a lot of positive projects, or at least ones that I felt were neutral (economic truth: people buy stuff). However, I did recently turn down a project for moral reasons, so it does happen occasionally. The flip side of that is getting to work on pro-bono or cause-related advertising that can actually help change the world for the better. That stuff is always a joy to work on even if it isn't as profitable for the ad agency.
Why did you turn them down?
I'll just say that there are several industries that cross the line for many ad people. The most common one is tobacco. For some it's alcohol or gambling. Maybe even politics. Whatever your personal reasons are, you may not want to be a party to selling something you view as negative. For young full-time ad agency employees, it's risky to refuse working on something, but when you are more senior, or a freelancer, it's easier to avoid those projects.
You seem to have an amazing awareness with people. How does that tie into your artwork?
Thanks. I believe having empathy is crucial in good communication, or art. If you aren't tapping into a truth people can relate to, it will be hard to reach them.
I agree one hundred percent. Seems like you've always been highly perceptive to human behavior?
Yeah. I'm always conscious of other people's energy. Whether it's positive or negative, I soak it up like a sponge. I'm more comfortable when the people around me are content. When people are sad, anxious or angry, I feel it intently. Having that empathy can be a blessing or a curse depending on the situation, but I do think it can really help creatives and artists make successful work.
What do you consider 'good advertisement' can you give us an example, maybe one of your favorite commercials? or other form of media?
To me, a great ad is similar to a great painting, film or poem. It communicates something clearly and powerfully. Whether it makes you laugh, cry or anything in between. The only difference is that you attach those feelings to a brand or cause, and sometimes it might even make you want to buy a product. One of my favorite ads I've seen in awhile is an awareness commercial for the Argentine Institute of Liver Transplantation by DDB Buenos Aires. "The Man and His Dog" is a story of friendship that seeks to inspire people to become organ donors. The dog lovingly follows around an older man in every moment of his daily life. Ultimately, the man goes to the hospital where he dies. The dog is initially sad, but soon starts following a new person that had received his former owner's liver. Life and love was passed on. Genius. So incredibly beautiful.
Does knowing how to reach an audience give you a better understanding of yourself and artwork?
Definitely. It's crucial. It goes back to basic communication and truth. There's an old saying for creatives: "How would you explain it to your best friend?" Meaning that you don't need heavy-handed, over-explanations. Be conversational and distill everything down. Simplify, simplify, simplify.
"I'm more comfortable when the people around me are content. When people are sad, anxious or angry, I feel it intently."
Do you find yourself critiquing ad’s on television or wherever you go?
Indeed. I can't help myself at this point. I'm a tough critic, but when I see a commercial I love, I tell everybody about it and it rejuvenates my love of the business. I think art should always have enough depth to make you feel something; to hold your attention. So from that standpoint, I think it does have to be entertaining, but that doesn't necessarily mean that the it has to be aesthetically beautiful. In my opinion, some of the best art is grotesque and upsetting.
WHAT INSPIRES YOU?
For advertising, great creative partners, films, award-winning advertising, cutting-edge television, the internet, day-to-day experiences, and memories. For fine art, museums, books, the internet, meditation, dreams, science, spirituality, materials, process, experimentation... I find inspiration in just about everything. Seeing great art and creative work always inspires me. It doesn't matter what type of work it is. If there is a good idea, and a good execution, it inspires me to create. The same goes for non-art inspiration. It could be a mind-blowing science fact, the serenity of a meditation session, or the creek flowing by my house that inspires an idea. Inspiration can come from anywhere to those who remain open. I love the pre-Renaissance concept of genius that allows anyone access to divine inspiration. Where the genius actually lives in the wall near a person's work table. This is a more humble notion than our modern concept of genius, and in my opinion, it is more true. In Zen and Japanese martial arts, there is the concept of mushin (no mind) a mental state that comes after many years of practicing an art. Here, you are not really in control, "it" is in control. Almost like you are observing yourself from an outside perspective. This phenomenon is also supported by science, and many sports psychology books are written about how to more readily access "the zone." Of course, it can apply to art, music and many other activities as well.
Where did these portraitures manifest from? There seems to be sort of deep intellectual meaning in quite a few. I see figures within figures; divinity or spirit like presence. Is there some good intention behind your work?
Specific inspiration for a particular piece can come from any number of sources, but the work is always rooted in a kind of spirituality and psychology. My objective is to reflect the soulful struggle that is inextricably linked to consciousness. On one level, I want the viewer to feel something visceral that is hard to describe. On another, I want to invite the viewer to think more deeply.
Do you plan on showing your work in galleries, or having a full exhibit soon?
Yes. I just booked a solo show here in Minneapolis for January. I also may be part of a group show next month. I'm excited to start putting physical gallery shows together. Hopefully, I will get to do a few every year from now on.
What seems more rewarding at this point in your life, your career or art?
Currently, it's fine art. The last few months have been the first time since childhood that I've consistently made my own art. It's been an absolute joy. Drawing and painting have become habitual again, and I look forward to seeing where this path leads. Regardless, it's going to be a fun, satisfying journey.
Ok, test question Mr. Zucco. Art has many names in front of it, what kind of person can appreciate Fine Art?
I believe anyone can appreciate fine art. Of course, it's subjective and individuals have different tastes. I do think that the more a viewer understands the art (executional processes, artist's biography, historical era, etc.), the more they can truly appreciate it. This is especially important for highly conceptual, modern art.
Well said.. Is there a particular place you prefer to create? What is your creative space filled with? I ask a lot of artists this to feel what their surroundings are like when they are creating.. I believe your creative space is most important.
I am grateful to have a home studio space with paint covered walls and an indestructible floor. It's stocked with art supplies, books, a big computer monitor, a loud stereo, and most importantly, lots of sunlight. It is one of my favorite places to be in the world.
Have you ever had someone dislike your work? How do you handle criticism in such an open ended medium?
All the time! In advertising, you have to develop a thick skin. We were trained well from the beginning at UT Austin. Handling criticism is never easy, but it is an imperative skill for any serious creative person. I think it's harder to take criticism for my own art, since it's so much more personal. However, there's no question that it is a crucial part of growth. The most knowledgeable, toughest critics help you get better, faster.
ARE YOU CREATIVELY SATISFIED, JAMES?
At the moment, I am quite creatively satisfied, because it feels like my life as a fine artist is just beginning. It's fun to realize that I have no idea what I'll be making a year or two from now, to say nothing of 20 years from now. Can't wait to find out.
And when you aren't painting?
Martial arts is another huge part of my life. I train almost every day. I've studied karate, Taekwondo, Muay Thai and Brazilian jiu-jitsu. Most of my training time is dedicated to jiu-jitsu these days, and I have even competed in several IBJJF tournaments. Having an extreme physical outlet is a good counterbalance to the sedentary pursuits of creative concepting and painting.
"In Zen and Japanese martial arts, there is the concept of mushin (no mind) a mental state that comes after many years of practicing an art. Here, you are not really in control, "it" is in control."
We’ve been up and running for just over a month now.. what do you think about prjct OMNi?
I'm impressed. I think you and your team are doing great work so far. There is a lot of depth. And I'm grateful to be included in a group of such talented artists. Super excited to see where prjct OMNi goes from here..
WHAT WOULD YOU LIKE TO HAPPEN TO YOUR WORK AFTER LIFE IS SAID AND DONE?
I love this question! I think about this often. It's nice to know that some of my best advertising work is in various award show collections and searchable online. I'm grateful to have three commercials in the archives of the Department of Film at MoMA. Many of my loved ones own my fine art. That in itself will have made creating art worthwhile. Beyond that, it is a goal of mine to have work in the permanent collection of a major museum(s). And as a general rule, I'm selling or gifting most of my work, so that when I die there isn't a pile of stuff that might get thrown into a dumpster, but even if it does, who cares? I'll be dead!
Is there anything else you would like to share with our readers, art enthusiasts, creators, dreamer and everyone in between else in the art world?
Secret truth: It's never too late to start doing something you love, creatively or otherwise. Recently, I read about a 102-year-old marathon runner in India. He didn't start running until his mid-eighties! I absolutely love that.