Antony Zito is a portrait painter and collector of objects, who moved to the Lower East Side from New England in 1992. Zito has spent more than 20 years on New York’s Lower East Side, where he ran a gallery and portrait studio on Ludlow Street through 2006. His portraits of the local characters illustrate a sweeping line through the 90s and 2000s in the East Village rock and art scenes. The New York Post has called his paintings “sensual,” and his renderings of people on recycled materials prompted The Village Voice to refer to him as “a master of the found object.” In conjunction with his exhibition at Howl! Happening he answered questions about his life and artistic process.
What turns you on creatively, spiritually or emotionally?
When I work at it, I can make magic happen in my life. I know that focused intention and the deliberate channeling of energy can completely determine the outcome of events. And in that way, I like to look at everything I do as a creative act. This existence is a rare treat and I try to live up to it by staying present and tuned into the beauty of everyday life. And when things don’t go my way, I do my best to see it as an opportunity to learn and grow.
How do you balance your personal life and your creative endeavors?
I don’t really see them as different things. I write a lot, I play music, I paint, I sculpt, I exercise – and when I’m doing mundane things like driving or making coffee, I do my best to enjoy the fuck out of it.
When you start a new piece, where do you begin?
When it comes to painting I either have a sitter for a portrait or a series of source images to base my ideas on. A lot of times portraits begin with one of the eyes. The sculptural aspects of my work require finding and preparing materials in order to get started and so often times that gets things underway. I certainly don’t have a formula. I don’t make sketches usually. I like to dive in the deep end and make a big mess so I have all kinds of problems to sort out. I see art-making as problem-solving and an ongoing attempt to manage the ever-changing relationships between color, form and meaning that arise with every new step I take. Every brushstroke always shifts the entire balance of a painting and that’s why they are never finished. I’m loading the truck for my Howl show right now and the brushes are still out and the paint never dries. That’s the beauty of true art. It’s always alive and changing.
What music do you listen to when you’re making art?
I have recently been playing Bowie, Pixies, Sabbath, White Stripes, Velvets, Parliament, T. Rex, Janes Addiction, Beatles, Mr. Airplane Man, Fela Kuti, Beck, Nirvana, Eels, Stooges, Stones, 13th Floor Elevators, Cop Shoot Cop, Zeppelin, Flat Duo Jets, Gogol Bordello, ZZ Top, Tom Waits & Replacements. And right now the Kinks are on. But I love good surf music when I paint – and stoner rock, and Mozart, and Nigerian funk and Chicha Libre.
What are you reading right now?
I’ve been too busy putting this show together to read. But I love a good Nabokov novel more than anything. And it seems like everyone but me read this in high school or something but I recently read The Four Agreements and it really resonated with me as some excellent rules to live by.
What is your favorite artwork by someone else?
A lot of people are really into Frida Kahlo, who I love, but far fewer are aware of her contemporaries, Leonora Carrington & Remedios Varo. One an English ex-pat and both Mexican surrealists, Varo is one of my very favorites who was brilliantly imaginative and certain aspects of my current show for Howl were directly inspired by her work. It’s very mystical and dreamlike. Imagine if Hieronymus Bosch and Diamanda Galas had a love child in a Mexican forest at midnight under a full moon with a meteor shower.
If you were reincarnated as some other plant or animal, what would it be?
I think birds must have fun. What could be better than flying?!
What item would you be lost without?
Twelve years ago I took a leap of faith and bought the house that my father designed and built. Little did I know this would be the best decision of my life and become by far my most valued possession. It dragged me kicking and screaming from New York back to Connecticut – a place I used to despise which has now become the home state that I love. All the time New York was becoming more suburbanized, New England was becoming a bit cooler. And I moved just in time to be part of a great community in the Hartford area. It’s a small city with great bones and a lot of heart. It just needs more blood and I enjoy being part of that as it happens.
What are you most grateful for?
I am someone who has become obsessed with learning as much as possible about who and what I am. And the most powerful quantum leaps in my life have come about as a result of ayahuasca ceremonies. It’s the toughest thing I’ve ever done. The darkest recesses of my soul were revealed to me and I faced them down. It was eternally horrifying but it caused a massive shift in my perspective on life and I’m a better person because of it. I’m so extremely thankful for the chance to do this work. Everyone should have the opportunity to go this deep inside and discover the roots of their being and just let go of the pointless baggage they’ve been lugging around for decades.
What is your dream project?
Right now I can’t imagine a better project than the one that was presented to me by Howl. Seriously. Ted said to me, “We don’t do retrospectives. So we want all new work, and we want you to go big.” This opened up a lobe of my mind I had no idea existed. I’ve never felt more engaged and alive than when I was working to create this show. So how to top that?! No fucking idea. But I’m all for it.