“Good lord Zucca, you are drunk. Either that or you’re writing for a very small audience.”
You may have seen phrases like this on stickers in downtown Phoenix. If not, don’t worry, you’re just as clueless as the rest of us.
These stickers are the property of local artist Abe Zucca, 37, a controversial painter that runs his art gallery out of his wife’s hair salon (1301 Grand Avenue) because it allows for normal business hours. He said this was not his most unusual set-up, however.
When he broke into the Phoenix art scene, Zucca opened his apartment to the public to showcase his nude drawings that were clipped to extension cords and lights around the main room.
“It wasn’t like I was trying to be artistic,” he said. “It was all I had. You should have seen it. I had the door open and people came in to look at it, and they were tripping over the extension cords. It looked like a prison of art in its crudeness.”
Zucca said this is when he decided to try more abstract concepts in his art, because he liked the feeling it gave him when he stood out.
“I don’t want to be so ‘there it is,’ even though it’s photographic at times with portraits,” he said. “I want texture. I don’t want just another face or surreal thing.”
Zucca said this motivated him to start his sticker campaign around downtown Phoenix. On parking meters and bulletin boards, Zucca and a few of his anonymous helpers placed large stickers with outlandish statements to intrigue the public.
The stickers say anything from “Zucca’s father was a rabbi” to “Zucca often went without socks.”
He said it gets people to notice.
“I feel a smirk when I write it and then it goes out and I love it when they’re contradictory,” Zucca said. “It was meant to catch attention because nothing I do is subtle.”
He said he finds comfort around artists like himself, who are abstract and unique.
“I hang out with a lot of musicians and artists,” Zucca said. “People see who is in your circle and I need to be around other creatives.”
One of these “creatives,” Jay Bitsue, 47, performs live electronic music and works with Zucca at large art events like First Friday in downtown Phoenix.
“I met Abe a few years back. He had some paintings displayed at FilmBar and I really liked the artwork he had,” Bitsue said. “There were wooden panels of various celebrities and I took pictures on my phone because I couldn’t afford it back then.”
Bitsue said Zucca posted a photo on Facebook saying he was going to paint over the artwork he saw at FilmBar. He messaged Zucca to purchase the art and has remained friends with him since.
“He was all excited and I met him up at his place and he told me at that point that he would never paint over another painting again,” he said. “I keep contact with him as much as I can.”
Bitsue said Zucca is one of the best artists in Phoenix and he was fortunate to work with him because it was a great opportunity for him to discover more artists downtown.
“When you’re an artist of any kind, you try to meet up with like minded individuals help each other because it’s such a small scene,” he said. “Us working together can only be beneficial, not only for us, but for Phoenix in general.”
Another Phoenix artist familiar with Zucca is Phil Freedom, 44, who met him at art parties downtown.
“He’s kinda larger than life,” Freedom said. “He’s a fantastic painter and he’s been painting for years. His productivity level is 12 times the average person and he’s constantly cranking out artwork.”
He said Zucca had eight art shows in March and is planning on having more for April. Freedom said there was a mutual respect for each other’s artwork and that Zucca made a portrait of him to show his respect.
“He’s an enigma,” he said. “I think he’s one of the only people I know who’s really trying to hustle his art to live and it’s not an easy thing to do.”
Freedom said Zucca understands the Phoenix art scene better than most local artists and has a presence everywhere downtown, “even beyond his art gallery.”
He said he does not always know what Zucca means in his artwork, but that he acknowledges his artistic choices.
“He’s got some weird shit right now and I don’t know if I totally understand it but he’s made himself into a personage and he’s examining what it means to be a personage and critiquing it,” Freedom said.