Heart Nebula; A Conversation With Zimer
My name is Zimer. I’ve been doing graffiti art, street art, in New York city for over 20 years.
I honed my craft at the infamous Five Pointz. I started before that, but it helped expose me to all these international legends. So I got to learn from, and then eventually paint with all of these people I consider my heroes.
What’s the story behind your handle, Zimer?
Zimmerman is my last name. But I didn’t just cut off the last part. It was Zim and in graffiti we’ll often add an “E-R” to a name, or a one, or two. So it’s “Zim one” or “Zim-ER’’ or even “Zim one ER,” this is just how they did it.
Aesthetically, I was going by Zim. It’s three letters but five letters just works that much better. So I just settled on Zimer, which brings in plenty of confusion when people try to do the double M in the middle. It is in Zimmerman, but not in the tag. It’s graffiti. The way something sounds is often secondary to how the letters stand next to each other.
It was a very fully formed culture. That to me was the strength of it that it has all of these boundaries and rules and styles to stay within. I thrived within the structures that they provided.
Tell us a bit about Heart Nebula. I see a lot of hearts in your work, isn’t it a bit of a trope?
It’s a nice form. It’s both a nice shape and it’s relatable to people so it’s a double win.
The best way to make art in general is to tap into just these universal archetypes. This information has been passed down from, from human to human over the millennia and these universal truths are just there. If you tap into them, you will make a very easily digestible stuff no matter what your output is because you’re reminding people of something that they already believe in. You know, slaying a dragon. There’s no real dragons, but everyone gets it because back in the day you had some ancestor that saved the day.
And if you do use those elements in your art, it just makes it a lot easier for people to accept and the less they’re fighting to understand what it is. Then they could spend their time appreciating stuff instead of just getting a grip on what’s going on
I’ve been doing these sculptures, which I’ve done in many different ways. I’ve mounted [them] on wood and concrete before, similar framed objects of a similar size. This is the resin version. I added another layer in between, which is this starry heart background. That juxtaposition I think is actually a very successful step up from the other ones, because it’s just another layer of that information which also compliments the languages that are already there.
So as you move your head back and forth, you’ll see the stars glitter. They’re going to shine. But juxtaposed next to this smooth, translucent color and the wood will tie it together in the background.
A lot of your work brings fine art into this street art and blends them together. Can you tell us about that process?
I would agree with that except it’s sort of reversing that order. Graffiti was my introduction into art, period. I learned all the fine art after the fact.
When I sketch, someone who’s from a traditional art background would immediately pick that up. I draw funny because I’m used to these hard lines and these aggressive strokes and they just sort of like jig their hand around. I don’t do what they do, it’s just different.
But I did have this obsession with bringing fine art in. Fine art is like a study of nature. It’s not a cultural thing. Really it’s just trying to emulate nature with pigments or taking a piece of rock and trying to reproduce what you see over here in the rock.
It’s kind of like this. If you look at a Michelangelo or Bernini sculpture. Hundreds of years ago, they carved a portrait of somebody. It doesn’t matter how many hundreds of years passed, you’re not gonna be able to get better [than them]. Maybe you’ll get as good, but it’s just using these materials to just emulate what, what’s there. And no matter what time you’re in, where even what materials you’re using, it’s just doing that process of studying and emulating nature and applying it to whatever medium you have.
I think doing it to graffiti is more of a unique thing. A lot of classically trained artists are being brought into the aerosol mural. That has a lot of overlap. But my personal niche would be that I came from the graffiti side but really pursued fine art.
What’s the relationship between graffiti and fine art?
Well there’s a lot of overlap [in] what society accepts changes over time. I would say the big turning point is Banksy. Once they found out that people were getting money for these things it changed. He broke the barriers.
When I started you would get a compliment here or there, but most people just thought you were just doing something wrong. Society really turned around and I really want to give Banksy a huge chunk of that credit because he just made people think in a different way.
Not that I agree with that, because it’s the same thing. The only thing that changed was people are getting money for it, which is not what I joined up for. But if it leads to the artists getting compensated for their work, then that’s a net positive by far.
When I started painting in Brooklyn, by that time, I always got permission to paint what we were doing and did not stop the police from thinking, for a second, we were allowed to be doing what we’re doing. We weren’t the first people obviously to paint those neighborhoods. I’m talking about Bushwick and those areas. And now it’s a real Mecca. We got the brunt of that transition.
I know that I’m not the first person to ask you about this, but please tell me about Biggie, the king of New York at the corner of Bedford and Quincy.
I do want to say that Biggie does all the heavy lifting with that. I get a whole ton of credit and from the artist’s perspective it’s not just me. It’s my friend, Ron who curated a wall and he’s in charge of SpreadArt NYC. He basically put the project together and he did all of the calligraphy within the mural.
I did the portrait. It’s biggie, man. He’s just bigger than life. And he’s unique. It’s beyond Elvis because he died really young, so he just didn’t have enough time to potentially mess up any of his legacy. So he’s just this special figure and he was just an old soul, this guy.
So when you see that mural, that’s what you’re looking at. It’s not much that me and Rocco did to make it happen.
It really captured his persona. Also the photographer whose image that we use, Barron, him and Biggie created this moment. And I just kept that moment going. So again, he does all the heavy lifting with that, and I am absolutely dumbfounded that [people have] such an amazing reaction to it.
[The mural] was in the proper location and the community really got affected in a positive way by it. So I think that that was another thing that made it very special. It was all the things just combined at the same time. So I’m happy to be a part of it. It certainly doesn’t feel like I did it, it was just, you know, it’s Biggie man.
You’ve got painting architecture, sculpture, fashion furniture, graphic design. What inspires you? Is there a thread that runs through all of these things that you do and that really lights you up?
I’ve heard many times, people will say everything’s already been done before. It’s true in a micro sense. Because of that, not just because of that I just think it’s a good technique, you take two things that obviously already existed but not necessarily together. In forming those two things you do create a new thing. Creating a style or method and applying it to different genres, different histories, allows me to further that.
[For example,] I like these forms and they’re really cool. They’re just as cool in 2d, but now in 3d I could actually make them functional. It’s just another layer on top of it. A chair or a table has this function to it. I could do just as much style on it as I could on an art piece, but [a chair] will be viewed in a different way.
It’s kind of funny, if something has no function at all, then people are forced to look at it in a different way. It helps us stretch the creativity.
A painting you can see and you could experience it. A mural is bigger than you often, so you could really be in it. But a piece of architecture you’re really in it. A piece of furniture you’re using it. I just like exploring these avenues that bring a new dimension to everything.
Why release a physical NFT now?
A NFT on the screen has its own charm to it, its own aesthetic. I think it’s just as credible as any other form. So by combining [physical art] with it, it just elevates the stuff to another level in a new dimension.
It’s got this relationship as they’re tied together, that if you look at the NFT, you feel different about the physical object and vice versa.
That’s just a new aspect to it that really just didn’t exist before. What do you have, a certificate of authenticity next to a sculpture? It’s not going to evoke the same emotion.
It’s literally a new dimension of what people are accepting as art. I don’t need every major media organization or even the art world as a whole to accept it, which I think they are.
Maybe not the media, but the art world I think, is taking it seriously enough. I think people who are looking at [NFTs] now, they’re fortunate enough to not get in their own way. They could just look at this stuff objectively.
Take a physical object: now they have the NFT and they’re able to compare and contrast, and it gives it another dimension that didn’t exist before NFTs existed. I don’t know how anybody could, could downplay that you’re taking one form of art and making it more.