by Alyssa Rabun
In 1980, Aggie Zed sat cross-legged in the back seat of a New York taxi and watched as scenes of the Bowery blur passed her. Below skyscrapers and neon lights, Zed observed the littered streets where ragged men and women, cold and homeless, made beds in cardboard boxes. She read her surroundings like a storybook as these worn personalities made a strong and lasting impression that would eventually inspire her work.
“I was interested in these box people. What was it like to live in a box?” Zed asked. “I made a little figure with nothing but a man and a box with clay. It was magical and beautiful, and I started exploring these creatures. Then the whole gang started adding up.”
A seasoned artist with a BFA from the University of South Carolina in painting and sculpture, Zed today divides her time between painting, drawing, and sculpting in her Virginia studio. The view from her studio window is a picturesque farm scene with rolling hills and red barns—a far cry from her New York experiences—but her work reflects her relationships and interactions just the same.
Forming man, woman, animal, and creature, Zed develops characters with paint, pastel, and clay—encouraging viewers to engage with the implied narrative. “The mediums of soft pastel, inks, water, and acrylic are difficult to manage. I actually enjoy the difficult nature of the medium because I am constantly held off-balance by the struggle to keep the image from becoming a total mess. And I am not bored.”
Her latest series of dry pastel and ink on paper works offers commentary on the idiosyncrasies of cubical work in an office setting. In Specifically Do Not Practice Your Kicks from your Seat, for example, Zed tells a witty tale of co-workers’ banter at the office.
“The woman in the background is being a little bitchy about what the other woman is doing at her desk,” Zed laughs, pointing to the character’s computer screen. “She’s just sitting there kicking her legs and staring at the screen, and her co-worker is reprimanding her.”
Zed’s office imagery pokes fun at cubical-working, computer-staring, drone-like lifestyles. She blends a critique of the human condition with playful humor, while mixing pastel, ink, and acrylic.
“All of my office-worker imagery evolves out of an eternal gratefulness for not having to work in an office,” she laughs. “I can’t even begin to imagine what people do when other people are always looking over their shoulders.”
She watches her narratives unfold with each brush or pencil stroke. Her process is organic. She begins each day with a cup of coffee and a blank sketchbook page. She draws from stream of consciousness then pins the images on her wall as opposed to easel. When sketches become drawings and mixed-media works, Zed uses a spray bottle to build and destroy her images, slowly getting to know her characters throughout the process.
“I might start drawing a person’s head, then ‘scumble’ it up with a nasty brush and come at it again with acrylic ink,” she said. “A blob or something happens near a woman that I’ve drawn, and I develop it into a bottle or an animal. Then I’ll start watching the relationship between the characters unfold. A good day is when something gets written on these drawings that is an interaction between these characters that makes me laugh.”
Zed’s visual poetry weaves zany characters and illogicality with non-fiction webs and social commentary to leave the viewer sometimes puzzled, perplexed, or amused.
Her small sculptures and works on paper are currently on view at The Arts Company, and an exhibition of her work is planned for October.