Small objects dot symmetrical protrusions from a wall bordering the walkway that leads to Jeff Zischke’s Scottsdale home – rocks, toys, miniature metal sculptures, and more. Some he created; others were left by visitors. But it’s the larger objects visitors see first when approaching the place that’s also home to Zischke’s studio. There's a giant seed pod, a tower with human figure balancing on top, and a tall abstract twist of metal.
He's lived in the home for 17 years, on a corner property where’s he’s created several gardens, each with a different assortment of plants and art objects that reflect his interests in nature, cooking, and travel. There’s the vegetable garden, where he grows greens for homemade salads, and the Japanese garden where he spends a bit of each day trimming tiny bonsai trees rooted in simple white pots. Some objects were procured during summer art residencies in places including Serbia and France.
Zischke’s studio, built about eight years ago with John Kane, architect and principal with Tempe-based Architekton, sits within the eclectic oasis he’s created. Its large windows let in plenty of light, bringing the feel of the outdoors in so spaces for work and play feel unified and organic. Objects he’s created — or evidence of their design such as drawings, photographs, and small models of large-scale sculpture – abound.
His days here are filled not only with making art, but also with the business of being an artist. Zischke says up to 20 percent of his time is spent on requests for proposals. They’re the formal processes undergone by artists seeking commissions for public art works. He’s clearly nailed the finer points of pitching his work. Several Zischke works, including Impulsion and Sonoran Seed Pods, are part of the Scottsdale Public Art Collection. But he’s created works for several other cities, too.
Zischke’s computer, which is an integral part of his arts practice, sits atop a desk overlooking his garden retreat. It’s filled with images of works he’s hoping to create. “I’m a Photoshop king,” he says. “But I need to improve my 3-D modeling.”
Currently Zischke is working on several kiosks he’s proposing for a university in New York. He imagines them being 7 feet tall and 4 feet in diameter, and bolted to the ground. For one, he’s picturing a galvanized sheet metal surface where community members could place magnets. But he also envisions people sharing stories about their magnets. Another might be designed to hold locks, referencing the famous “Locks of Love” removed last year from a Pairs bridge. He’s also working on a proposal for an 80-foot-high wall, imagining that people could write texts that would then appear there. “I like doing interactive stuff,” says Zischke.
It’s clear from surveying the landscape of his life that Zischke is a perpetually busy guy. He’s up each day at around 6 a.m., and makes the short walk from home to studio after toast and coffee, and reading The Wall Street Journal. “I throw away the money section,” he says. “I don’t understand it.” He’ll traverse the short path home for lunch, often cooking with ingredients culled from his own garden. “If I wasn’t an artist, I’d be a chef or a gardener,” Zischke says. “It’s all creating.” He’ll work all afternoon, then break for dinner and wine. After that, he’ll spend about two hours at the computer. But Zischke knows his limits. “I don’t work at night,” he says. “I’m 61 so I can’t grind like I used to.”
He’s been making art for nearly five decades, if you count all those projects completed during student days. Zischke recalls winning an award for a wood block print when he was in seventh grade, and making a balsa wood scale model of the Globe Theatre in England around 9th grade, after telling a teacher he’d rather build it than write about it. He hated math, but loved taking art in high school. “I loved going to school because of art.”
His first experience making public art happened at the Ann Arbor Art Festival. “I wanted to do something clandestine,” he says. “I put string between trees and did a whole cobweb thing in the courtyard.” Zischke says he got asked to do it again, and got paid $25 the second time around. Although he’s best known to many for large-scale metal sculptures, he continues to work in other mediums – as evidenced by the paintings, photographs, and mixed media works placed around his home, studio, and outdoor environments. Recently he opened a gallery called Art|Object to display both his own and others' works.
It appears he’s something of a poet, as well. We ask all our studio visit subjects to answer one question in haiku format, but Zischke decided to run with the idea and use haiku for all but our final query. Here’s what he shared.
Tell us about your work in haiku format.
light parallax change
public conceptual art
grand is new petite
What artist(s) are you really into right now?
otto piene the man
Starn brothers photo
What are you reading?
wall street journal now
cote' sud abitare
What's the last TV show, film, or video you watched
old boy 003
challenging korean film
plot fantastic this
If you could collaborate with any artists, alive or dead, who would it be? And why?
Christo yes Gormley
vast scale thinking big ideas
What was the last exhibition you saw and what did you think of it?
lots of rows cds
prismatic reflections there
done there been that
Jeff Koons or Marina Abramovic? And why?
koons as a cartoon salesman
What's the best advice you've ever received?
don’t be a member
of a club that would have me
as a member!
What are you currently working on?
residencies in foreign lands
r f q public
What's your most valuable tool as an artist?