Hometown: Pittsburgh, Penn.
Has 10 years of Art Basel in Miami made it easier or harder for you as an artist to get your work out there and your talents recognized?
Both. It’s made it easier because it’s brought a global eye to our backyard. It’s harder because it promotes or projects the allure that the young artists are going to be rock stars overnight and that has set me back a bit, in the sense that, I kind of expected something else to happen; for the art world to make it rain on me, because I saw my peers who graduated before me acquire that instantly. So I think I’ve had to redefine what success is to me and it’s not financial. It’s more about just being heard and validated as a thinker.
What mediums do you work in?
I like to draw, sculpture, but my love is photography.
What photographers or artists excite you?
Marina Abramovic. Annie Leibovitz. Bruce Weber, who I met at Soyka and then worked with for 2½ years, I really love him as a photographer, very classic look. The person I connect with the most is Diane Arbus, not necessarily because of her subjects, cause they are tough, but she wrote something and said “taking pictures feels naughty to her and that’s why she likes doing it” and I immediately connected with that.
What motivated your interest in photography?
I went to Costa Rica with my father, where I lost my virginity. He bought me a hooker and he handed me a camera. We were in the rain forest and I got lost. I literally got lost for a week with a camera in the rain forest and I knew that, that’s what I was supposed to do.
Where do you draw inspiration from?
My own painful life experiences. I try hard to make tangible things out of intangible experiences. It’s the hardest thing I can think of to do. To take something that you can’t see, touch, hear or feel and try and capture an image of that.
If you had to choose another career, what would it be?
I’d be a musician
What song brings back your best Miami memory?
Old school Uncle Luke booty music
Where do you eat?
Kosher sushi, in waterways Kampai. Best freshest sushi I’ve ever eaten
What do you do on Sundays?
Competitive beach volleyball
If you were hosting a fantasy dinner party, who are the four must-have guests, dead or alive?
TS Elliott, Marilyn Monroe, Heath Ledger, God
What do you listen to when you are working?
Mostly hip hop but real hip hop, not the junk you hear on the radio, but Common, De La Soul, Digable Planets.
Tell me something about yourself, no one would expect?
I was raised in Pittsburgh, after my parents separated when I was young. I went to elementary school in the middle of the projects, so I was one out of a couple white kids there. So fighting became an everyday thing to me. Being the tough white kid, where it wasn’t cool to be a white boy or Jewish, but I was able to fight. So rather than be crazy my father thought I needed to have some discipline with this, so I did boxing for a while, then wrestling and Muay Thai. Almost in promotion of my stage character, the mister tough guy, mister hard ass. Which maybe becoming an adult, I’ve allowed myself to shed that character, because that’s not who I am. Maybe what I wanted you to believe at one point in my life, but that’s not me.
Any other unique interests?
I’m mentor to a lot of young guys who have difficulties with drugs, alcohol, ex-gang bangers etc, which is where some of my subject matter from my last body of work came from. I’m kind of like a big brother to a lot of guys, because at 18 I found myself in an ultimatum where I got faced with 25 to life in prison or to change my life. So I steered the other way and along that journey I met these guys.
Zack Balber - photo by Anthony Spinello