By Jackie Lee | Sun Fine Arts
Ron Zak is a WYSIWYG kind of person, What You See Is What You Get, someone who’s honest, not given to BS. With an infectious laugh and lighthearted style, he’s a typical bon vivant, refreshingly friendly and open. In today’s parlance, he is “woke.” Also, as it turned out, the perfect interviewee.
The purpose of our meeting was to discuss his forthcoming “Creation/Salvation” lecture in Napa, but it quickly evolved into freewheeling conversation peppered with frequent bouts of laughter as we tumbled through funny stories, like cousins discussing old Aunt Bea’s awful green-bean casseroles.
Zak is a well-known photographer, as most Sonomans know, but he’s also a talented and prolific painter. Paintings cover every inch of wall space in his studio as well as in the warren of stairways leading up. They are an amalgamation of color and energy almost begging to have Jim Morrison banging away in the background.
Predictably, Zak has a decidedly positive take on his life experiences. “Coming back after one year in Vietnam, I knew I had nothing to lose by pursuing my dream, so I got into my VW bus and came to California. It’s what you did in the Sixties. A bunch of us came out at different times and set up for the next ones. The best day of my life was when I arrived in Redwood City, and my world opened up expansively.”
He studied at San Francisco State University in the 1970s where he obtained his MFA and discovered what would become his passion. “I took a photography class and found the one thing I wanted to do every day—my a-ha moment.”
Speaking of his process, Zak explained everything he does is about making something do something, engaging him in a passionate way, very much in the moment, and searching for the unknown in the fine details. Out of that comes a certain salvation.
“Photography is all about the moment, so I have to be prepared for how it appears, and how I notice it and really see it. I have a balance between that and painting, a good base. I notice shapes, how light spreads, everything. Everyone sees something different in art–it’s not what you see about my art, it’s what you see about you. Noticing these things is a true delight. I like to go museums too— it’s like church to me. I’m open to all of it, not using any filters.
“Photography and painting feed from the same place,” he continues. “A lot of times a photograph will be the turning point for something to paint, which is an indecisive moment rather than the decisive moment of photography, so I just let it go where it goes. I’m rarely in control of my paintings.”
One of his current projects is a series of photographic books entitled “Zarratives,” only available through his website: zakworld.com. Each series is limited to 20 pages, covers one journey, and contains no text except for a book title. He lets the pictures speak for themselves.
He loves to travel, and started a retirement travel business several years ago, taking small groups of people on trips around the world, something he looks forward to every year. “I’m taking 14 people to Colombia at the end of December. I’ve done a major trip every year since 1979, usually around Christmas so that I can spend the New Year in different countries. I love encountering people in far-off places. To me it’s the best of being present.” Smiling with anticipation, he adds, “I can’t wait for the next trip to Pakistan!”
What’s on the bucket list? “I’m actively working on all those things, committed to the end of my days. I envision just being, doing my art.”
Zak revels in the enjoyment of all life has to offer. He sees only more in his peripatetic world: more places to travel, more experiences, more scenes to capture, and, most importantly, more happiness at just being alive.
Free lecture “Creation Salvation” by Ron Zak
Thursday November 21, 2019 at 6:30pm
Napa Valley College Visual Arts Center
Building 3700, Room 3706
2277 Napa-Vallejo Highway, Napa