By Annette Hinkle
Though artist Gavin Zeigler has built a name for himself through his colorfully abstract grid-based paintings, it was actually his father’s trade as an investment banker in his native Franklin, Tennessee which gave rise to the art form that has defined his career.
It all comes down to scriphology, an obscure hobby (for most of us anyway) embraced by father which has served son quite well.
“It’s the collecting of stocks and bonds,” explains Zeigler. “It’s not as easy to find as you’d think, especially the ones from the turn of the century.”
Indeed, this kind of stuff was frequently thrown away in mass quantities with the passage of time (and it was — which is why it can be so difficult to find today). Though interest (and price) in these kinds of papers has risen precipitously in recent years, Zeigler has fortunately stockpiled a good amount of the documents he needs to make his art.
“I’ve got a ton of them,” he says. “My mother had a business in an old pre-Civil War building. A man who occupied it before her from 1905 to 1950 or so had saved every receipt. I love the paper, it turns brown and yellow and I collage with it. It represents all the aspects of his life — he had a Packard dealership, the flowers he sent to his wife, war bonds.”
In fact, Zeigler notes these documents are often works of art themselves. Handled by numerous people whose jobs required them to put their own unique mark on each, he appreciates the number of hands that touched the many pieces which go into his paintings.
“So many people were involved — the people who made them, designed them and put them together — the signatures, the cancellation holes and marks,” says Zeigler. “I have some that 40 people have interacted with. I like all those random marks and the art and even in some of the less interesting papers, like stock transfer documents.”
And it is this material which finds its way consistently into Zeigler’s abstract paintings. At a distance, the work appears modern, often comprised in a grid pattern of brightly colored hues. But upon closer inspection, what becomes evident is the ephemera of lives lived — bank notes, canceled certificates, even old receipts from a long defunct taxi cab company in Dayton, Ohio. It’s a sense of the contemporary imbued with the historic.
This weekend, Zeigler’s work goes on view in a retrospective at Peter Marcelle Gallery in Bridgehampton. In addition to his sculptural work, Zeigler will show paintings created between 1983 and 2013. Besides old documents, among the artist’s favorite material is the ubiquitous penny which he attaches to wood, sands and layers with paint which then selectively removes to reveal various colors beneath and sometimes, the zinc of the penny itself.
Though his paintings are about history — for Zeigler, what he really incorporates into his work is the human touch.
“I love people — just like the documents, every one of the pennies has interacted with each person,” says Zeigler who points out this connection to humanity inspires all levels of his work — even the more abstract parts of it.
“The Randall plan developed New York City as we see it now as a grid of streets. It’s the grid pattern manifested in a lot in my work,” explains Zeigler. “It also reflects the old documents, maps and the people that interacted with them who are no longer around — the history.”
Given of his style and source material, Zeigler has a strong following among designers and those in the financial trade. He recalls at one show, an investment banker asked how many dollars worth of pennies were in a 12” x 12” painting he had on view.
“‘I said, ‘I think it’s $1.28,’” replied Zeigler. “He said, ‘Can’t you think of anything better do with your pennies?’ So I asked him, ‘Can you turn $1.28 into $1,800 — because that’s what I just got for a similar painting.’”
“He loved it and bought it on the spot,” adds Zeigler.
“Gavin Zeigler — A Thirty Year Retrospective of Painting and Sculpture, 1983-2013” opens with a reception on Saturday, June 15 from 6 to 8 p.m. at Peter Marcelle Gallery 2411 Main Street, Bridgehampton. The show runs through June 23. Call 614-6170 for details.