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Born in Portland, Oregon, SFAI alumnus Zach Mitlas (MFA/MA Painting and History + Theory of Contemporary Art, 2013) is a painter and multimedia artist based in Clermont-Ferrand, France.

Zach is participating in a traveling group show, The Third Space (All that we have in common), which recently opened in Zagreb, Croatia and will end in Lecce, Italy this December. We decided to chat with Zach to find out more.


SFAI: What projects have you been working on recently? Anything you’re particularly excited about?

Zach Mitlas (ZM): Currently, I am part of a traveling European group exhibition with the CreArt program, a network of 11 cities supported by the European Union. Our show titled The Third Space (All that we have in common) opened in May in Zagreb, Croatia, curated by Jovanka Popova. In September, the exhibition will come to Clermont-Ferrand, France, where I live now, and it will finish in Lecce, Italy in December. Since my return to France five years ago after finishing my Dual Degree at SFAI, I have had a solo exhibition in St. Étienne at La Serre, I have been a temporary resident at a local artist association Les Ateliers, and I have worked to develop a residency exchange between Real Time and Space in Oakland and with our residency program here in Clermont-Ferrand Artistes en Résidence. Last October, I was selected by CreArt to participate in an artist workshop titled “The Use of Photography as a Sculptural Material in Contemporary Art” in Zagreb. This past February, I also attended a one-month residency in Linz, Austria at the Atelierhaus Salzamt with CreArt.



Sous revêtement (Under surfacing), 2017. Acrylic and oil on medium and pigmented plaster; Dimensions variable. Courtesy of Croatian Association of Visual Artists.


SFAI: Where do you find inspiration for your work?

ZM: I’m really interested in the creative potential that comes from the degradation of painted surfaces. It’s the fragile nature of paintings that is captivating for me, like the damaging effects of light that blacken a paint film or the changing atmospheric conditions that crack its surface. There is the birth of a new object due to the passage of time, including the new form’s trauma and defects.

On residency this past February in Linz, I worked on a project that began using found photographs from locations of the Solidarnosć movement in Poland. I also used photos I took in Austria, the last European country my father stayed in before getting political exile to escape arrest in Poland, due to his participation in counter-party activities. The photographs were used to make paintings on aluminum foil, which were then worn down and draped over wooden structures and exhibited with sounds made from shaking and hitting metal sheets. While I know the story of my father’s journey well, I actually barely know him as a person, and using found material on the Internet has been a way to recreate this reality of my family story from digital information that is not actually an experience of that moment, just a compilation of pixels and waves that then become a new account of history. Overall, it’s the fading collective memory of a nation that inspired my project at the Atelierhaus Salzamt, and the transitory and fragile nature of things that informs my work in general.



Zach Mitlas in the studio.


SFAI: What is your process for creating your work?

ZM: My current works are paintings on aluminum foil that are draped over various freestanding armatures. The paintings on delicate sheets are folded, twisted, crinkled and torn, evoking a process of degradation and trauma on the once pristine and smooth industrially created surfaces. Long painted strips are also pressed, while still wet, onto the face of neighbouring paintings, creating a mirroring effect that becomes the starting point for another picture. This process was informed conceptually by a reading of the book byGilles Deleuze The Fold: Leibniz and the Baroque (1992), most importantly the concept of the world as something that is infinitely developing, never fixed and always becoming.



Path to no end, 2019. Oil and acrylic on aluminum sheets, wood; 23 x 18 x 550 inches (around the room); Open studio, Atelierhaus Salzamt, Linz, Austria, residency supported by the CreArt Network, co-sponsored by the European Union.


My last solo show in St. Étienne, France was at a municipal art space called La Serre. La Serre means “green house” in English, and it was in fact originally a place for plants, which is why the city preserved the vegetation in the space. I say that because the show was conceived mainly as a response to the context. Many of the decisions made in its realization were therefore inspired by the trees that still grow in the space and by the natural characteristics of the environment. The whole show explored the subject of erosion in various ways visually and dimensionally. The first part was painting on supports showing an accumulation of material, followed by a series of degradations, which then gave way to various erasures in following works.

Some pieces played on the context of the exhibition space, using shadows and light patterns to inspire the installation. Other forms included a painted detail of the site, and a wall painting became an experiment with retinal fatigue, where the leaves and trees I was seeing in the space stayed in my vision when looking to a fresh white wall, making it only natural to fix that image in paint. That piece was painted over at the end of the exhibition, forefronting its fleeting nature.



Path to no end, 2019. Oil and acrylic on aluminum sheets, wood; 23 x 18 x 550 inches (around the room); Open studio, Atelierhaus Salzamt, Linz, Austria, residency supported by the CreArt Network, co-sponsored by the European Union.


One wall was dedicated to using elements that referenced different locations in and around the city of the show. A mural painting was made with photographed fragments of the inside of a shower, which was influenced by the shower stalls one can find in the charcoal mine located in St. Étienne, an industry that used to define the economic situation of the city, but today only exists as a vestige of a time past. Another painting, this time on canvas, fused the detail of a brick wall, one found inside the exhibition space, and layered on top a graffiti signature that passersby glance at when walking in the street on the way to the show. Even though in the end this piece was rendered in paint, it was greatly influenced by using several photographs as a process of layering, bringing together elements from different locations into one frame, much like the Dutch still life painters of the 17th century did for their flower paintings which included blooms from different seasons and even from different countries.



Detail of work in progress at the studio.


SFAI: What are you working on now?

ZM: Aside from my own independent work as an artist, I run a window-front exhibition space called Off the Rail in downtown Clermont-Ferrand, where I invite local and internationally based artists to show curtain pieces at the front of my studio. In September, we’ll be presenting our tenth exhibition. So far, each artist that we’ve invited has presented something rather different from previous shows, and so the diversity of the programming is something that has come to define the space. The windowfront has become an association, and we’re in the midst of drafting a group exhibition with the 10 artists who have shown this past year. The exhibition will take place next year in Clermont-Ferrand at one of the local city-run venues. A catalog of the series of windowfront shows is also in the works to promote visibility for the participating artists. In terms of my own work, I’m continuing the paintings on aluminum foil which are either shown sculpturally or glued to a rigid metal surface. I’m also doing an artist book on aluminum foil that is based on images conceived from an account of the Polish revolutions from the 1970s and 80s. Formally, the book will explore the mirrored quality of pages and inverted content. I’m very excited about this project and am looking forward to seeing how some of these ideas can come to fruition.



(Above) Forme et asso, 2017. Acrylic, oil, and spray paint on wood; 93.3 x 48 inches. Collaborative painting with the artist association/collective Les Ateliers, Clermont-Ferrand. (Floor piece) Sous revêtement (Under surfacing), 2017. Acrylic and oil on medium and pigmented plaster; Dimensions variable. Courtesy of Croatian Association of Visual Artists.



Zach Mitlas: http://zachmitlas.blogspot.com/

Off the Rail:https://www.facebook.com/offtherailclermont/

Artistes en Résidence:http://www.artistesenresidence.fr/actus-en.html

Les Ateliers:http://www.lesateliers.eu/



All images courtesy of the artist.

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