Inside the Studio

Liz Zorn’s works are without definition

What are the major themes you pursue in your work?

When I was a teenager I discovered Taoism and Zen Buddhism. I have always been particularly drawn to the Beginners Mind philosophy. “If your mind is empty, it is always ready for anything, it is open to everything. In the beginner’s mind there are many possibilities, but in the expert’s mind there are few. ” ― Shunryu Suzuki

With that in mind, I have no theme. Themes require forethought and planning. It’s hard to put a finger on my motive and say, yes this is it. Mostly it is me in-between the lines building layers of texture and color as a form of subtext. Sometimes it is obvious, other times not so much. If the work becomes overly thought out or defined it loses its magic for me and becomes dull and lifeless. I need that element of the unknown, not sure about the next mark or gesture, but doing it anyway just to see what happens. I don’t worry about or think that I am making a mistake. My mistake may be someone else’s eureka moment.

What was the best advice given to you as an artist?  

I went through a drip phase when I was in my thirties. The work was very chaotic and heavily overlapping with lots of color. I made an appointment with an art dealer (who was about twenty- five years or more my senior) to show the work and he was quite stern with me. He gave me the less is more speech. He was so good at explaining himself as it related to my work. I knew exactly what he was saying and that he was right. I was not offended at all by his criticism, because I understood that he was being respectful and trying to teach me something. I was trying too hard, and not listening to my inner voice. It stuck with me, and made me a better painter. Less is more. Easy to say, hard to do.

Prefer to work with music or in silence?

I usually work without music. My studio is in a city warehouse with other artists, so the sounds of the city, people working, the old elevator going up and down throughout the day. All of this is like music to me, a rhythm that sets a mood. When I do listen to music the pendulum can swing from Mozart to Motorhead.

If you could only have one piece of art in your life, what would it be?

If I could have any piece of art, it would be Cy Twombly’s The Italians or something from this period of his work. There’s something both cheerful and haunting about it.

Who are your favorite writers?

I don’t have any favorites that stand out. I read mostly nonfiction and my interests tend to be eclectic. I always have a stack of books on my nightstand and read a bit each night if I am up to it. Currently in rotation are The Heart of Everything that Is by Bob Drury and Tom Calvin, What The Dog Knows by Cat Warren, Hillbilly Elegy by J.D. Vance, Mastermind and The Confidence Game by Maria Konnikova and Tribe by Sebastian Junger.

About the Author

Katherine Henning is Senior Associate Curator at Saatchi Art. Need help finding art? Contact her via our free Art Advisory service here.