"I went back to college at the young age of fifty and got my BFA from Metro State in 2008," says Evergreen-based architect-turned-artist and teacher Scott Zbryk (you, like his students, can call him Mr. Z). It wasn't easy landing a full-time teaching gig in 2008 because of the downtrodden economy, so Zbryk started substituting in Jefferson County Public Schools -- and that's actually worked out quite well, since the flexible teaching schedule gives him time to focus on art when not teaching budding artists how to not only think outside the box, but turn the damn thing upside down and inside out!
"I had a 26-year career in architecture and was really getting tired of the industry," Zbryk says. Back in high school, he had taken a generous helping of art classes and even won a scholastic art award for his work; he dreamed of going on to art school, but graduated during the Vietnam War and ended up in the Navy instead. "After returning from war, architecture seemed liked the best way to get paid while drawing," says Zbryk. When it was time for a career change, going back to school in order to teach art was another logical transition. The thing was, Zbryk wasn't just good at teaching art -- he was good at creating it, too. As a student, he enjoyed testing the boundaries. "When I went back to school, I was the old guy in the room who was always pushing the limits," he recalls. Aside from drawing and painting classes, Zbryk also took courses in ceramics, photography and printmaking at Metropolitan State University of Denver in order to round out his education. Zbryk liked working with many mediums and, he says, "All of this came together to push me to go beyond what normal is." Hence his three-dimensional-looking art, which, as a form, probably has roots in his long career in architecture. Zbryk's pieces aren't technically 3D; the artist takes two-dimensional drawings, cuts them up and then mounts them onto raised surfaces like Styrofoam. The result is something that looks dynamic and unfixed. Zbryk's primary mediums are marker and pen -- another nod to his past. "When I was in architecture, I did a lot of pen and marker drawings for presentations," the artist says. "Those tools, for me, are like second nature; it's almost like my hand is doing something on its own -- that's how comfortable I am with them."
One of the first things Zbryk did while in school was the wood-mounted, shellac-covered marker-and-pen rendering pictured at the beginning of this story. It ended up being his thesis for graduation. "Shellac interacts with pen to make marker do all sorts of droopy drippy things, which is really cool," says Zbryk. "Yellow shellac also adds an atmospheric touch and mood."
Keep reading for more from Scott Zbryk.
The artist has been compared to Dr. Seuss; he thinks that's interesting, since the two men share a birthday. Any resemblance is really just a happy accident, Zbryk adds: "Just to be mentioned in the same company as this guy is awesome." Zbryk's intricate detail-work has also been likened to that of Dutch graphic artist M.C. Escher. And there's no denying that his style and use of color are strikingly similar to -- and this time often inspired by -- American multimedia pop-culturist Red Grooms. Zbryk shows his work in a very unconventional forum: Jefferson County Public Schools. "When I first started substituting, I noticed that the hardest part was getting respect from the kids," he explains. One fateful morning, Zbryk realized he had a piece of his art in the car. "I decided to take it in and see if anybody noticed," he says. The art got everybody's attention right away, and the word "substitute" was seldom mentioned again. Zbryk also had a very moving piece in the Denver Public Library's Arise benefit show for human trafficking. "That was probably my hardest piece," he says of "Misled Journeys," above, which was produced after some heart-wrenching research into the subject.
This four-foot-tall pen-and-ink drawing was first mounted onto a wood cutout, and then the wood was mounted on blocks that were mounted onto black canvas. "It's very vertical and tells a story from bottom to top," says Zbryk. Several powerful images are connected with a chain colored with red marker; the story starts in the slums that children are often relegated to during trafficking, progresses to an abandoned church, and ends with a group of children walking toward a factory, leaving not as humans but as angels. "This is really different than other stuff I've done," admits Zbryk. "But one of the reasons I did it was because it was a challenge, and it made me think outside the box."
Keep reading for more from Scott Zbryk.
Zbryk's also had some luck breaking into the gallery scene. He's just wrapping up a three-month-long show at Rembrandt Yard Event Center. His latest show, called Journeys, opened at CORE New Art Space on March 27, and runs through Sunday, April 13. "This is more of an installation show," says Zbryk, noting that he built a platform that attendees can step onto so they can change their perspective while viewing the art. The theme describes the show's setup. "You'll actually go through an arch made out of some of my artwork," Zbryk says. And once visitors step off of a rickety-looking bridge, they take a "road trip" around the gallery space to see Zbryk's work as well as that of Lauri Dunn. When Zbryk isn't making or teaching art, you might catch him making music: He plays mandolin and harmonica in a bluegrass band called Bona Fide Mountain Bluegrass Band. "We play up here in Evergreen every so often," he says.
For more information on Zbryk, visit his website.
If you like this story, consider signing up for our email newsletters.
SHOW ME HOW
You have successfully signed up for your selected newsletter(s) - please keep an eye on your mailbox, we're movin' in!
Follow Jamie Siebrase on Twitter.