Written By: Emily Appelbaum
Gadi Zamir is the pioneer who brought Negative Space Gallery to Asian Town Center at 38th and Superior. Infiltrating the then, nearly empty building, the art center provided a platform for emerging artists. Now a community gathering space boasting a stage and regular programs ranging from concerts to open mics, to poetry and political conversations, Negative Space has thrived under Zamir’s leadership, growing from an underused storage area into a community-driven gathering place.
Zamir, whose own work is deeply layered with texture and color, story and symbolism, joins Brite Winter in 2017 and brings his nonprofits’ deep background in collaboration and co-creation to his work with the Art Team.
Your work with your nonprofit and the vision and leadership you bring to the arts community in Cleveland, is deeply inspired by your personal work. Tell us a bit about your process.
The process I use to create art is what I would call a large-scale wood burning, or what others are now calling pyrography. I use a wood burner or a butane torch to burn wood to create an image and then turn it into a painting. I then engrave the piece using a Dremel tool and alternate between coats of paint and engraving until I get what I want out of the piece. Sometimes, I work in many layers. Other times, I use thin layers, allowing the wood grain to show through. When I feel like a piece is finished, I will varnish it with polyurethane, and allow it to dry. Sometimes I go back and paint on an old piece and make it completely different. Other times, I finish it once and I know that it’s complete.
Your work has such warmth, and we’re excited to have your brilliant multi-colored pieces enliven our Northern KaLightoscope tent. You’re Israeli and there’s a real sense of that story and place in your work. How does being in Cleveland, and especially in winter, affect your work?
My favorite thing about working as an artist during the wintertime is that you are forced to stay indoors, and therefore, get a lot of time to work on your projects. As an artist, you tend to view the time spent indoors as an opportunity to work rather than as a burden of boredom. I am my own boss. I get to wake up and go to work on things that I love – even if it were a sunny day, I would probably spend it indoors.
The best thing about being an artist in Cleveland is that you have the opportunity, if you are willing to work hard enough, to be able to make a mark here. Studio space is flexible and less expensive; you can be innovative and use your instincts about where you want to set up a studio rather than being forced into the same place as everyone else. You differentiate yourself and strike out on your own – as long as you’re tough and willing to face rejection!
Choosing to work in Cleveland gave me the opportunity to work in a new medium that I have never had to opportunity to encounter anywhere else. Before I came to Cleveland, my work was made with pastels, and paint. I was largely self-taught, having drawn from my imagination since childhood. It wasn’t until I was working in a nursing home after I moved here, that I was introduced to the wood burning technique as a craft . I liked it enough that I decided to incorporate this technique into my own style of painting. It forced me to think about line and to incorporate this into my pieces. During the housing crisis, I began to work with pieces of plywood that people discarded from old buildings and discarded furniture that people would give me, from places that were being torn apart. So in a way, Cleveland has had quite a bit of influence on my current body of work. The themes that I explore are still the same, but the methods have changed.
The thing that I like about Cleveland is that it challenges you in a different way than other cities. Working in Cleveland is kind of like an endurance race. You don’t have to really beat anyone else off with a stick, you just have to put out the work every day. If you are good and you fight for it, you can get noticed. In Cleveland, you must be constantly striving to create new work and to put your work out there, otherwise, its hard to be seen by people as anything more than a hobby. But if you are good, and if you are constantly working to become a better artist and engage with people, people will like you, and Clevelanders can be very loyal if they like you.