Out Artist: Deconstructing the Abstract
Zachary Delacruz grew up in Ocean Grove, New Jersey. As an only child, he learned how to entertain himself by doodling and drawing while trying to express his vivid imagination. He even played the saxophone for several years and did “a lot of musical theater,” but he would always turn to visual arts to create art.
So, when it came time for him to go to college, Delacruz decided to study art and graduated with a Bachelor of Fine Arts degree from New York City’s School of Visual Arts in May of 2012. “College was amazing,” Delacruz says, commenting on the colleagues and professors he met while in college. “You know, [some of] these artists are kind of your heroes, and then you get your syllabus and [discover that they’re] your professors. So, it was really great!”
Inspired by his professors as well as by his zest for exploring new ways of making art, he started experimenting with unique and unusual art forms and ideas, including sculpture, oil and acrylic painting, video, and photography.
Oftentimes, his work “focuses on fashion and the depiction of notorieties.” His “figurative work” is inspired by De Kooning and Frank Auerbach, where “the figure became a sandbox for abstraction and gesture.” Delacruz explains, “Every artist is different and has their skill, medium, and vision. And there are photo-realistic painters who are beyond skilled and amazing. I just don’t see things like that. I see more abstract, simplified gestures, like moving shapes. I don’t draw the face or the person in detail, but rather an abstract figure. The abstraction in the gestural painting is the detail for me.”
And speaking of sources of inspiration, “anything and everything” that he’s doing influences his work, somehow. “When I moved to New York City, I ended up having several different jobs, and I was a full-time student,” Delacruz says. “And I responded to this Craigslist ad for an archival photo position at this company called Retina. I was hired as a photographer, doing a lot of step-and-repeat set photography for TV shows like Gossip Girl. Then I ended up covering the Fashion Week as a photographer.”
His fashion work eventually inspired his shoe sculpture series. “I did a lot of them,” he says. “They’re all super campy, super kitschy, fetishy. They’re having multiple different conversations. And then some magazines and designers would want to rent them for photo shoots and whatnot, so that was fun.”
Currently, Delacruz is exploring deconstruction, abstract, and camp in his visual work. “When I paint abstract, that’s a deconstruction of the figure, like a simplification in a deconstruction of the subject matter,” he explains. “If I painted a picture of a figure, it was super abstract. I see it already and have to deconstruct it to simplify it and to make it…honest if that makes any sense.”
Camp, on the other hand, is very subjective, inspired by “a mixture of all different things” while, as a student, he was hanging out with designers and other artists who were creating these “kind of facetious but serious theatrical [art]. I guess that that for me was camp at the time.”
As his environment changes, so do his sources of inspiration for his artwork. But no matter what inspires it and what form it takes, Delacruz’s visual work is always powerful and profound.
His “Just Guys” series “came out of nowhere,” he says. “I hadn’t painted for a long time, but then I shifted focus and picked up the paintbrush. And it’s weird because I don’t really paint men a lot. I find a female figure a lot more interesting than a male one, which is weird because I’m gay. But, anyway, I picked up the paintbrush again, and I love patterns and repetition. And, you know, people would never know, but everyone in the Just Guys series is the same person, [painted over and over again].”
Some of his work offers quiet, peaceful pastel colors, while other pieces evoke a dark and dramatic mood, almost haunting. “When I was doing all the collages, I was around all these flowers, and they’re super colorful,” he explains. “I think that’s [where] the color palette [comes from]. But then I wanted to go for more neutral, muted, dark colors. It just felt right after the pandemic. And they create a whole bunch of different conversations, you know…”
When it comes to the actual art-making process, Delacruz is prolific. He usually works on several paintings simultaneously and finishes them all in one sitting. “I’ll do like one layer, wait for the paint to dry, start another one,” he explains. “It’s just like a revolving process.” And while he has fun working on collages, paintings are his favorite because they do exactly what he wants them to do. “For me [paintings] are successful because they’re honest, you know? It’s just the paint and how it moves. It’s just mental flow.
“Sometimes I like a thick application of paint, and that’s really nice, and it does what I need it to do. Just like that big blob somehow turns into that gorgeous face that I was looking to do.
“I recently just started a new ‘Just Girls’ series. It’s completely different where I’ll do a stroke of paint, and then I’ll wipe it off. But by wiping it off, the paint is still creating that movement, just in a different way.”
“For the ‘Just Girls’, I have had this muse. She was a model for a painting class [I took years ago]. I just became obsessed with her, so I painted her and only her for three years straight.
“And ‘Just Girls’ series might be a little bit darker but not really. It’s actually just [this model of mine.] I haven’t painted her for so long, and it’s been kind of a struggle to paint her again [for the ‘Just Girls’ series], so maybe that’s why [these images] are a little bit darker….”
There are 13 pieces in the “Just Guys” series and 13 in the “Just Girls”. “I like the number 13,” he comments. “It’s a good, odd number for editing, to do a show.”
Aside from constantly creating art, Delacruz is also the owner of AP Greenery in Asbury Park. “It’s a flower shop, my happy place,” he says. “When I moved back from New York to Asbury Park, I needed to do something more creative. I thought, what does Asbury [not] have, [and realized that] there was no florist in town. [And I said to myself] I can do that, it’s just like sculpting flowers…and I’m still here five years later.”
As an artist, Delacruz encourages other aspiring artists to “just do it. Pick up that paintbrush, that pencil, and just do it and be unapologetic [about it.] Ask people hard questions; take criticism. The art world is tricky. It’s a business. It’s shrewd, so you got to be ready for that, too, if you break into it.”