2016 – A Studio Visit with Zor Zor Zor


We met up with female, Chicago-based street artist Zor Zor Zor in studio 404 at Zhou B Art Center in Bridgeport that she shares with graffiti writer Zore. Zor Zor Zor just wrapped up her first solo exhibition with Elephant Room Gallery that was at our South Loop location from May through July 2016 and has her own mural in the Wabash Arts Corridor.  We sat down with her to chat about how she got started as a street artist, her inspirations, her collaboration with artist Zore and her travels in Paris, Berlin, California and beyond.
How did you get started as an artist?
Straight out of High School I went to Harrington College of Design for Interior Design and I had basic art classes like a color class and drawing 101 but the course wasnt focused on art, it was focused on Interior Design. Once we started getting into Autocad and drawing floor plans, I realized that it wasnt the thing for me.   So, I finished the two-year program and I started traveling instead.  I went to Paris as my first trip on my own.  I was 20.  I had nothing to do there.  I was there for 5 weeks visiting my friend and I would wander around and take pictures, meet people, do whatever and I really got interested in the street art and the graffiti there because it was so cool to me and so fun. I loved seeing graffiti in different parts of the city and getting to recognize the different artists.  So I bought my first cans of spray paint and just started drawing on everything there and as soon as I came to Chicago I started doing it here.  It was very natural; I wasnt thinking too hard about it.  I was just drawing, drawing, drawing and whatever came out, came out and then the drawings slowlydeveloped into the face that I now always draw. layingdownyellow
I know that Paris is known for having specific areas where you are allowed to go and paint.  Were you painting in those areas?
No… I was just going wherever- it was the best time of my life.  I would just hop on the train, and I realized it was impossible to get lost because Paris is so small compared to Chicago.  Anywhere you walk youll find a train stop and once you find a train stop youll be able to get back to wherever you need to go.  So, I would literally just get off at different parts of the city and wander around but I didnt discover the specific spots to paint until my last days.
Did you have friends that you would go paint with or was it purely self-driven?
It was completely self-driven.  I was staying with a friend but she was in a study abroad program so she was in school and she also just wasnt very adventurous I guess.  I had a really great time though.  I remember a week in I got invited to this party by a random person that gave me a flyer on the street and I found the location somehow and got in and made some friends there and became really good friends with this one guy.  He became my friend for the rest of the trip.  So I would hang out a lot with him.   He actually took me to my first paint shop because I didnt know where one was and he was like Oh I know where you can get some.  So it was all really random and.awesome.
Before my trip I never really had an interest in street art.  I went to Kennedy High School and I remember in class I had a friend, Christian, who would draw my name all the time in graffiti letters but I never really thought about it too much as far as like Oh thats really cool, Id like to do that.   In Paris it was really the street art, the fun and the mystery behind it, that captivated me because you dont know whose doing it.  I just loved it a lot. sass
So then when you came back to Chicago you continued tagging.  How did you continue to develop as an artist from there?
I came home and was doing it because I had nothing to do really since I wasnt in school.  I was kind of working but I was basically just floating around and sleeping on friends couches and doing whatever in the city and drawing all the time.  I would put stickers up not thinking like, Oh I want to be this person or this artistbut simply doing it because it was fun.  But then I remember when my friends first started commenting on it like Oh, I saw your tag here” or “Oh, I saw your tag in this bathroom hereand I saw how much they enjoyed it and that pushed me to keep doing it I think.  It really just was so much fun, thats what it was for me.  Ill never forget when I realized that people I didnt know started posting pictures of my work on the Internet and snapping it or hash tagging it.  I would look myself up and realize that people were reacting and paying attention to my work.
I was also still very into traveling.  As soon as I would save up enough money, I wanted to go somewhere new.  After Paris I went to New York, then Costa Rica, then California, Minneapolisin some kind of order like that.  It was kind of the same experience as Paris.  I knew a friend but I wouldnt necessarily hang out with that person the whole time and I would just walk around discovering things like a child.  I wanted to leave my mark in these new places, not knowing if I would ever visit them again, so I would leave stickers and tags everywhere I walked. From stickers it moved onto stenciling and then wheat pastes. Before leaving home I would create a stencil, unique to each new place that I was going to, and spray it onto a piece of newspaper and wheat paste it places.  From there, people in New York started taking pictures of my stuff and hash tagging it.  Then people in California started to too and it became this whole collection, which kept pushing me to keep doing it.  But I think when I started doing the wheat pastes was when I realized that Im not just a tagger but that Im actually an artist.  As I kept creating, I had friends that started to want to hang things in their houses and then that eventually developed into commissions.  I began to realize I could make money off of my art and from there also started hanging work in shows.  It was just a slow, natural progression.  I never, never in my life had the intention of becoming an artist.  But it became something that I really, really enjoyed doing and I wanted to do it all the time.  I always have ideas and I always see things that I want to do or am inspired by.
Where did the Alias Zor Zor Zor come from?
Well, Z, O, and R are three of the letters in my last name and I have a difficult Polish last name that throughout my life no one could really pronounce, so when I was 17 or 18 my friends just started calling me Zor. Getting into street art and that worldpeople all have aliass so my name just kind of developed from that.  Im not sure why I decided to have‘Zorrepeat itself three times.  I guess I like pairs of three. longblack
What were some of your first commissions?
I remember my first sale but that wasnt a commission.  I did two stencils on newspaper; normally something that I would wheat paste but I hung them up at Canvas in Wicker Park when it first opened up.  It was their first opening or something like that and the owner asked me if I wanted to hang some work for the first party they were having, so I put two pieces up.  One I priced for $50 and one I priced for $75 and they were pretty big and both sold.  I was blown away by that but at the same time I realized that for $50 it almost wasnt even worth it.  Like what is $50?  You could spend that in one night on dinner with friends or on drinks.  That changed my mindset on pricing art and on what it should be or could be worth.
How did your collaboration with street artist, Zore start?
We met at the Chicago Cultural Center at the “Paint, Paste, Sticker” street art show and we were introduced to each other by the curator because we had the same name. it was like, Zore… meet Zor Zor Zor. When we met, I was blown away. I didnt know what to make of it. I didnt expect to meet him that night. I never heard of him before the show though I didnt know what he thought of this whole same name thing. He might want to beat me up (haha) because you’re not supposed to take another persons name in the graffiti world. So then we just wanted to hang out and get to know each other because of the name thing and how weird it was.  Especially since were both from Chicago and were 20 years apart so he has obviously had the name for a lot longer than me and then of course because in the graffiti scene you dont take someone’s name, you just don’t do that.  After hanging out and getting to know each other, he invited me to start working in his studio at Zhou B Art Center because I didnt really have a studio and still dont really have one.  I always work out of my bedroom.  The collaborative process with Mario is cool though.  He works a lot faster than me so hell have pieces just done, done, done and I am just slowly trying to keep up.  We work very well together though and our styles mesh well. Ive never worked with another artist before so I learn a lot from him, for sure.
Are you both still tagging around the city?
He doesnt really tag anymore.  I do from time to time but not like I use to.  Ive definitely become more studio based but it all depends.  I feel like I used to do it a lot more because I had a lot of free time where as now I have a lot more deadlines and actual projects and commissions.  The tagging also comes out a lot more when Im already out drinking because now Im usually too tired at night.  Im only 26 but Im tired (laughs).
How did you first meet Kim and get involved with Elephant Room Gallery?
I first remember being introduced to Elephant Room through my friend Lindsey Newman. She had a show at Elephant Room four years ago or something.  I was walking around downtown one day and remember walking by Elephant Room and it was closed but I remember seeing Lindseys work through the window.  I was so happy for her- never thinking that I would work with Elephant Room and instead just super excited for my friend that had a show downtown because it seemed like such a big deal and there is so much foot traffic there.  Then Kim just came here a year and a half ago, to Zhou B Art Center and asked me if I wanted to have a show. It was really random and of course I said yes and then had a show!
What do you find influences and inspires your work?

 Ive always been really inspired by love and relationships and how I feel.  My earlier work was always just letting out things that I could never say, for example, to the guy that I liked because Im really shy usually, so I would just weave what I wanted to say into my work.  I am also inspired by music and lyrics, like when I hear lyrics that are saying exactly what I couldnt figure out how to express.  I am also a huge inspiration to my own work.  I normally use myself as the model or figure.The whole pattern and design work is just kind of random.  Its naturally the way that I draw.  I think it may kind of come from my schooling when I was in Interior Design school because we would just draw shapes and shapes and shapes to try and plan things out so I do see that as a possible influence.  I remember I also always used to like drawing shadows and tracing the shadows on a persons face. Right now, Im really into bunny rabbits.  I grew up with bunny rabbits and my dad still has a bunch of rabbits.  So I guess I just pull from a bunch of different things that I like.
What are your preferred mediums to work in?
Everything.  I really, really want to work more with Plaster of Paris and thats what Ive used for my sculptures.  I also really want to experiment more in general with different materials to sculpt with which I dont even know what that would be yet.  I almost feel like I need to take a class or something so that I can really get to know what I could work with.  For the first time too, Im starting to think about what materials I could use that would last.  But I always use house paint.  Im not really into acrylics or anything.  I just like regular paint because its cheap and its always around.  My dad works construction so there are always paint buckets everywhere around my house.  When I first started taking art more seriously, I didnt have a lot of money so I would use whatever was around me.  Thats why I used to paint on newspaper a lot.  I would literally glue together 20 sheets of newspaper and make my own canvas, which was awesome.  I never thought I would stop doing that, but I havent really done that in a while.
A lot of the pieces for the Elephant Room show came from different things I found at thrift stores, like this little shadow box.  I originally bought it for the frame but then I realized that someone had written on the back the year that they had created it.  As soon as I realized that I was like Oh wow!  A person made this thing, I dont want to destroy it!.  So I just added to it by scratching on the glass.  It almost has two lives.  Oh and I titled it Caring for Anotherwhich I guess means respecting who originally created it and not wanting to destroy it but instead give it new life.  I hate waste.  I dont want to buy new things, so I would rather use things that I find. 
Whats your opinion on the Chicago art scene in comparison to some of the other cities you have been to as you have chosen to stay in Chicago despite having done some work in Berlin etc. 

I think I stay in Chicago because my familys here.  As far as the Chicago art scene, I dont know.  I feel like its the same everywhere.  There are things that I really like and then there are things that I am just not into at all and its like that anywhere that I go.  I think Chicago has a lot of really great artists but I prefer to stay focused on myself and on what Im doing rather than thinking about what other people are doing.


What is it like being a woman in the street art scene?
I honestly never really ever thought about it until people started asking me about that.  I always would just tag because I thought it was so fun and didnt really think about it that much.
And how did you get involved in the art scene in Berlin?
Through Zore.  Zore has a good friend in Berlin and we went to go visit him.  Hes a street artist as well.  He had this little store front space which was a studio and pop up gallery.  We were there two years ago and he asked us if we wanted to have a show and we said yes so we started creating a bunch of work there.  It was a four-person show; me, Zore, Prost and his friend from Indonesia whose art name was Love, Hate, Love.  It was really fun because we created a body of work in four days and then had a pop up show and got to meet people from Berlin and from all over the world really.  Then the next year, since that was pretty much a success we decided to do it again.  It was kind of the same thing where we met up, had a quick pop up show and went home.  Its really cool having a show in a different city because no one really knows who you are which is good and bad- you get a whole new response from strangers but then at the same time, a lot of people dont know who you are. Its really amazing to touch someone with your art though.  At the last Berlin show that we had, this girl bought a little piece from me and I was going to give it to her for free because she really, really loved it but she insisted on giving me something, so she gave me 20 euros.  How much she loved my work really stuck with me though because of the fact that she was a stranger from a different country and now she owns one of my little pieces and who knows where it will end up after that…  
-written by Charlotte Klein

Published by taylorkimel

Artist located in Chicago.

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