Beauty & Longevity with Elizabeth Zvonar

Joseph Staples
June 28, 2024
July 3, 2024
Shake the Dice, 2022

Elizabeth Zvonar is a Vancouver artist and curator working in collage and sculpture. She is represented by Daniel Faria Gallery in Toronto. Her work has shown in galleries and museums throughout Canada, the US and internationally. She was featured in the new Phaidon collection of contemporary collage, Vitamin C+. 

Elizabeth is a fixture in the Vancouver art scene for two main reasons: consistent, evolving output of work and for remaining someone that is a relentlessly positive individual. Though a smart and introspective writer and thinker, I chose to talk with her about some consistencies in the work that I have seen over the years to look at what makes her work easily distinguishable from the sea of cut paper around the world. 

Face, 2013

Joseph Staples: Maybe we can start with a technical question. I don’t see you cut off the line of the images you work with, as in you cut around what you are working on, not through. Most things seem to be a separation between the fore and background. I sometimes think the cut line of collage is a substitute for the pencil for some people and others sort of draw through the picture. Do you think about drawing much? 

Elizabeth Zvonar:
When I’m composing an image, there’s the advantage of using fully developed images. This is the short-cut to conveying a story or idea; rather than the labour and skill required to flush out a drawing concept. Working with chance and what I have available is also an advantage and limitation of collage. Using found images and juxtaposing them against other found images creates pictorial ruptures or complications simply by using content from a wide variety of eras. 

Ambitions, 2023

I sometimes digitally draw or paint on an image once the collage has been scanned. I have considered drawing on a collage with ink at times but have not yet gone in this direction. Perhaps it’s the fixed state that I’m wary of. Which segues into your observation about how I cut around rather than through an image generally. I am very careful with the knife to include all the details and am concentrating my focus similar to how I would if I were drawing. 

JS: Quite a few collage artists work their way to sculpture, such as Thomas Hirschhorn or Wangechi Mutu. Collage is sculptural of course, but in the sculptures one thing I think you do really well is approach sculpture with a collage sensibility. The sculptures seem to take that idea of one thing plus another. Is that your approach to sculpture or is it just a natural progression?

EZ: I imagine I grew into this approach organically. I can be stubborn to follow my intuition. I try to think about the entire context of a work I’m producing. What other images or objects it will show with and what potential that might have. Exhibition making is no small feat. It’s challenging to build a show to have the works operate individually and form a cohesive conversation; visually and conceptually. It’s not easy to do but when it works, it works.

Ceramic Tongue Incense, 2023

I want to expand on this idea of having a collage approach to sculpture - which I agree with entirely - and extend that to the development of the exhibition. I think that not only are we making work, we’re making worlds with a set of ideas or a thematic within the context of making a show. Using a collage methodology as a way to support a multitude of ideas in an exhibition context keeps interpretations open and surprising. 

I think about my hands a lot lately. They have a different presence about them, especially as I get older. They feel fine but the check engine light does flash on from time to time. Talk to me about hands, or maybe just fingers more specifically.

EZ: Although I don’t think I have much to say about hands and fingers I suppose they’re the artist’s tool(s). I do realise I use hands and fingers a lot in my work. I’ve used a cast index finger over and over again to create sculpture out of porcelain. I’ve cast this same finger in bronze and it functions as part of a larger whole for sculpture. Definitely within the realm of collage for sure as I’ve connected the bronze finger to the bronze stiletto heels that prop up a collage. Maybe meta.

Equestrian Statue After Verrochio, 2009

I find it interesting to set up limitations for making. Restrictions can open up worlds of possibilities that help focus the conceptual parameters that aid in the production of the final work. Using an index finger repeatedly in my work is an example of doing a lot with a little. I think that is an ethos I come by naturally. 

Magic Hands, 2022

JS: Where are you at with appropriation? It has an adjacent relationship with collage. 

Collage artists are pros at making something new from things that already exist. Our material tends to be paper content reserved for the recycle bin; its use value having passed its best before date. The trick is to compose, erase, mask, add to and/or juxtapose in such a way that the original content doesn’t make sense on its own anymore. Titles can help a lot to shift the context. With the work I make, titles are essential. That’s where I can slip in humour or an unexpected idea. There’s an art to considering a good title. The picture is part of it; the title clarifies the concept.

Milky Way Smiling, 2019

JS: There is a reference to transformation in your works. In the series of bags, they easily could have been re-presented as appropriations, just straight up hanging a bag, but you've made these choices of bronzing for the bags, and porcelain for the hands. They are almost always in conjunction with other contrary materials like chains or logs, or in the finger sculptures, with themselves.

With the work I make in bronze, particularly the bags, I'm thinking about monuments and what gets monumentalized. The bags are about burdens and the emotional weight that we all carry. I'm specifically talking about the ism's and archy's that structure our lives. White-Supremacist Capitalist Patriarchy, (thanks to bell hooks for the language); is a system of control. Finding words to identify the ties that bind us collectively is the first art of finding or making visual metaphors.

History Onus Old Bag, 2023

Materially, I'm into beauty and longevity as a way to present heavy ideas. I think of it as the physical container. Bronze is a gorgeous material, and when it’s polished; it has a champagne glow. Porcelain too can be very beautiful. The final object is invariably nice to look at. And if we succeed in getting people to engage with art and ideas, that’s when things might get transformative. 

I Spy, 2020

JS: Collage feels like classic rock for me sometimes. We've listened to the 70's and 80's in the 90's, 2000's, 2010's, 2020's and I think culture will always engage with that era. That is popular radio, but whether museum level or gig posters, collage seems to still go back to these eras. Why do you think that is?

Hi, 2013

EZ: It might have something to do with the ubiquitous nature of visuals associated with popular culture. The gateway I would argue would be record covers and gig poster graphics and typography as there are exemplary examples from the late 20th century to refer back to. Also possible that those who grew up under the sun of the 1970’s have absorbed the visuality of it in their DNA. It has a classic look that my mother’s generation would have argued was fleeting. It works for some people. Wink, wink, nudge, nudge.

The Serpent, The Spectre, The Ghost, The Thing, 2013

JS: About 15 years ago, you wrote something that I've come back to a few times.

"I am acutely aware of my surroundings and am aware that as individuals, our lives are complex but like it or not, we are all in this together. Here’s to counteracting the death of civility through conscientiousness, generosity, gratitude and being open."

You are in a different place since then, has your approach to the art world changed? Are you any closer to this as an ideal?

It’s a way of being. I still do my best to counteract the death of civility by being awake, checked into reality and aware. Empathy is self-preservation.

Join the Resistance, 2015