In this Artist Profile, The Growler sits down with Nick Zdon, a true jack of all trades.
By Joseph Alton
The Growler: How would you explain yourself to someone you have never met?
Nick Zdon: I do a lot of things, but have no real job. I worked at a couple of design agencies in Minneapolis for a few years after college, but I quit the agency life three years ago to teach graphic design and pursue my own interests. I currently do freelance and contract graphic design, I screen-print posters, and I work for Best Made Company, a company that sells axes and camping equipment. I’m their in-house axe and knife expert. After three years it still astonishes me that somehow all this comes together and I’m able to pay rent every month.
G: What are your preferred media?
NZ: During college, I loved using and abusing the copy machines at Kinko’s to make gig posters. Shrinking artwork down 500% and then blowing it back up. Twisting illustrations on the copy bed while they were being copied, then cutting and taping everything back together. It could take 100 copies to experiment with and finally compose the finished poster. Then you’d copy 20 to put up around town and tell the cashier that the other 100 copies didn’t turn out so you wouldn’t have to pay for them. They don’t let you do that anymore. Now I use all sorts of other analog methods for posters. Cut paper, spray paint stencils, woodcut. But they’re always editions – never one-offs. I like imperfect reproduction.
G: Do you have a favorite artist? If so, what stands out to you about that person’s work?
NZ: I’m a big fan of David Shrigley. He does a great job of telling a story in one cartoonish drawing. Also, I think his technique is incredibly honest.
G: You live and work in the Silver City, correct? Why St. Paul?
NZ: I moved to St. Paul from Blaine in 1999 to attend The College of Visual Arts – RIP. I immediately fell in love with the city and have lived here pretty much ever since. I work out of Big Table Studio on Wabasha. I like the fact that it’s a bit quieter than Minneapolis. St. Paul has a lot for you to discover if you’re willing to do a little leg work. I feel like Minneapolis just shoves shit in your face sometimes. “Here’s the hottest restaurant! Go there now! Our art scene is so awesome! Let me tell you why!” All the greatest stuff in St. Paul needs a little effort to find. Amazing things are happening in basements, dark bars, and on rooftops all the time – they just aren’t being broadcast.
G: What’s the single coolest art project you have had an opportunity to work on? Why?
NZ: In 2011 I spent the month of August as a fellow at EPICENTER (ruralandproud.org) in Green River, Utah – population 953. EPICENTER is a non-profit organization focused on economic and cultural development in Green River. I still keep in touch with the folks there and have been working with them on projects off and on ever since. We’re currently working to produce a documentary about Green River’s melon culture. They grow some of the best melons in the country in this small town, but hardly anyone knows about it. It’s definitely a project outside of my comfort zone – challenging and exciting at the same time.
G: What can the community do to support artists like yourself?
NZ: Get to know us. Buy someone’s work if you like it. But just getting to know who’s doing what in the local arts scene is probably the single best thing anyone can do to show support. Go see artwork and just meet new people.
G: What are your other passions in life? How do they influence your art?
NZ: I read a lot. My favorite authors have taught me that the power of the artist lies in the ability to take something and give it new meaning. George Plimpton created a new dimension for what it means to play and watch professional sports. M.F.K. Fisher described how food can be so much more than just tasty flavors we put in our face. I’m fascinated by the power of storytelling and have a lot of respect for artists who can do it consistently well.
G: If you could add any single piece to your own art collection, what would it be?
NZ: A 1970 Dodge Charger. If that’s not art, I’m not sure what is.
G: Minnesota brewery you’re most excited about?
NZ: I think Flat Earth’s move to the old Hamm’s brewery on the East Side is fantastic. There’s already quite a bit that’s been happening in that building, but it’s great to see a brewery moving back in. The East Side in general has me really excited. I’m also eagerly waiting to see how the artist lofts in the old Schmidt Brewery site on West 7th Street will shape up.
G: Favorite beer bar in the Twin Cities?
NZ: I think the Amsterdam Bar and Hall on Wabasha street in downtown St. Paul has a great thing going on. The combination of music and beer always gets my vote, and their fries are damn good, too. The always impeccably dressed Jon Oulman is the cherry on top.