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Jack Zajac Works Biography

Jack Zajac

California sculptor

The sources of Jack Zajac’s imagery are rooted in ancient  rituals, symbols and forms of both eastern and western cultures. Intuition and knowledge of and respect for his chosen materials of marble and bronze are summoned to create works encompassing a wide array of subjects, ranging from bound goats representing sacrifice to tall columns of water which symbolize mysterious life forces. His style can alternatively take the form of a rough-hewn, expressionistically executed piece conceived romantically with wrenching emotion or be a quiet, eloquent work using serene, rhythmic, flowing movement highlighted by a smoothly polished marble or metal surface. Particularly important to Zajac is the enrichment of profile imagery to reinforce solidity, density and weight. The artist feels that his pieces come together when interesting silhouettes form, a balance emerges and he feels a sense of equilibrium.

Jack Zajac was born to a first generation Czechoslovakian family in Youngstown, Ohio, in 1929 and moved with his family in 1946 to Southern California. He initially surfaced as an extraordinarily promising young painter at Scripps College in the early ‘50s where he had the opportunity through Millard Sheets to study with such famous Southern California modernists as Henry McPhee, Phillip Dike, Sueo Serisawa and Jean Goodwin Ames. After winning awards from the Pasadena Art Museum and LACMA he then became a Prix de Rome recipient from 1954-1957, establishing roots in Italy that have lasted a lifetime. There he met Jacques Lipchitz, Willem de Kooning, Philip Guston, Alberto Giacometti and Henry Moore. In Italy he was also introduced to the media of etching and aquatint and it was where he made his first bronze sculptures, Standing Lamb and Kneeling Lamb, and his first small Metamorphoses modeled in wax.

A 1959 Guggenheim Fellowship took him to Southeast Asia to study after which he returned to Rome to continue work on a small Metamorphoses and a large Deposition. During travels to Asia and Africa he drew inspiration from such disparate sources as southern India bronzes, Chinese sculpture from the Han and Wei periods, pre-Columbian art, African tribal art and early Cycladic figures. During 1960-62 residual parts of earlier, more literal sculptures emerged as symbols of sacrifice and evolve into his Ram Skull series of bronzes. The Big Skulls series first emerged in 1964, reading as  masks or giant remnants of a long-ago cataclysmic event. His later work with broken shapes is metaphorically different from the earlier work. As in all his work, he balances representation and abstraction by using forms and modeling that leave much to the imagination.

The Split Almond series began in 1967 after sharing lunch with young friends in Rome who had just married. Almonds, being the traditional marriage favor given in Italy, were

part of the meal. He noticed that quite often the almond, when cracked was found to be in two parts with one side always more massive, the other more  delicate. As the artist states, they became “an irrisistible metaphor for the male and female match itself, ideally one of sharp and complimentary contrasts…When parted, they revealed the full measure of their differences. When closed, there was a perfect fit.”

The Falling Water pieces (1962-1996) launched Zajac’s work in an entirely new direction, calling for materials that lent themselves to the depiction of water, with greater polish and reflective qualities. These pieces have a serene fluidity and a quiet strength and clarity. The forms are not literal, but suggestive, offering connotations of female figures or serpentine shapes.

In all of Jack Zajac’s art, certain dominantly curving and volumetric forms and shapes reappear. Throughout his career, the artist has reverted to earlier creative modes or subjects as an opportunity to use more recently learned skills and refinements.

Excerpted from Oakland Museum catalogue, Jack Zajac: Sculpture 1954-1987, by Terry St. John,  Associate Curator

 

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