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Zak Gere

September, 2011


It Started with Tippy

One of Zak Gere’s earliest art memories was drawing Tippy the turtle, the famous reptile in cap and turtleneck that graced so many magazine and matchbook ads for art school. “I drew the turtle perfect,” Zak remembered proudly of his eight year-old self. Soon he was inventing his own comic book characters, and drawing mountains in pastels. His junior high school art teacher gave him lots of encouragement, but high school was another matter. “I turned in an extra credit project,” Zak said. “It was the first wire sculpture I did. She didn’t believe I made it. She accused me of buying it.” He reflected a moment, then added, “It was somewhat flattering.”

Art and Free Rent

After leaving high school on a less than illustrious note, Zak didn’t make much art for a couple of years. “When I was 20, my dad told me I could live at home for free if I was going to school,” Zak said. He enrolled in art, philosophy and religious studies classes at Clackamas Community College. It was Zak’s first introduction to oil painting, and he took to it immediately. While he didn’t stay in college very long, Zak still remembers two important things his art teacher told him: “If you want to be an artist, you have to constantly be making art. And if I wanted to, I could make money at being an artist.”


Wire Sculptures

Zak is now extremely accomplished at both oil painting and wire sculptures, and he shows both at the First Thursday Street Gallery. He first became interested in wire sculpture as a freshman in high school, when a friend’s brother made a tree out of wire. Zak uses spools of rebar tie wire from Home Depot. His old method was to make a skeleton of the piece, then wrap. “Just in the last couple of years,” he said, “the wire has made a major jump.” With the series of animals he’s currently working on, he starts by building the legs, then the body, then joins them together. “One day I just woke up and thought I can do all this different stuff with wire,” he said. Now his work looks more finished, as he’s learned to smooth the exterior lines by hammering and flattening them out. While his work has become more sophisticated, his tools still remain extremely simple: a hammer, pliers, and his own muscles. The work is physically demanding. “There’s a lot of pulling,” he said. His latest wire creation is a nearly life-sized bulldog, done as a commission.

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Perusing Zak’s website you can see distinct periods of his painting. A series of highly stylized mythology paintings were inspired by listening to Joseph Campbell books on tape, Zak said. His latest work is a series of women, many of them reading while sitting in oversized chairs. They have a narrative quality that draws the viewer in, making you wonder who these women are and what they’re thinking. But Zak is extremely unpretentious, and instead of attributing a deep meaning to the figures, he shrugs and says, “I needed to fill up a show. I’d done like four or five before. It gives me a few elements to work with. Something to keep working, not ponder over the next painting. It’s going to be a girl in a chair. Find a pose and find something to put behind her.” And what is the significance of the girls all having such big hands and feet? Zak said it’s the way he sketches the figures he sculpts from wire. He makes their extremities extra big so he can easily see which direction they’re pointing.  However, when pushed, he admitted there might be something to the fact that many of the figures are reading. “It might be my image of women,” he said. “All the women in my life have been big readers. At least you know everything’s good if they’re just sitting and reading.”


See Zak’s Work

Circa 2000, First Thursdays found Zak setting up alone on the streets of the Pearl. “I’d hang out until the cops kicked me out,” he said. At first he resented the Urban Art Network for charging artists an administrative fee. But now that he’s gotten a little older, he appreciates the benefits of the Street Gallery. “It’s nice and easy,” he said. “Organized. It runs good.” Zak also shows his work at the Portland People’s Art Gallery, at Kuhnhausen Furniture and on his website at

As for the future, Zak’s plans are, “Make better art. Practice. Mastery.” His studio is currently set up in his living room, so it’s the first thing he sees when he comes home from his part time job delivering furniture. “I always know what I’m doing when I get home,” he said. “It’s going to be work.”

Teresa Bergen writes about health, travel, and the arts, and is the author of Vegetarian Asia: A Travel Guide and the novels Killing the President and Madame Tingley’s Organ. Find out more about Teresa at