Spanning minimalist presentations and classical still lives, painter John Zabawa is not married to any school or style – instead, he seeks the best way to convey his message, to express something of himself and his process. Having trained initially as a graphic designer, Zabawa sees painting as an act of rebellion, a way to break free from the rules of ‘good’ design. “I’ve spent the last few years trying to unravel and unlearn, because I don't want my painting to be guided by rules and angles,” he says. “I want my art to come from the soul, from feeling and vulnerability, sensitivity and emotion – not from the hand, but from the heart.”
Zabawa’s practice takes many forms: painting, of course, but also poetry and music, with each aspect feeding into the other: “Being multidisciplinary is like learning another language: you’re able to think about and articulate ideas in very different ways,” he says. As a painter, Zabawa is similarly multilingual, moving seamlessly between glowing abstract expressions and crisp figurative compositions.
Using only pure colour (those that derive from a single pigment rather than pre-mixed shades) , Zabawa’s palette consists of just six hues: ultramarine blue, cadmium yellow, cadmium red, burnt sienna, mars black and titanium white. From these pure pigments, the artist creates his own mixes and blends, producing a range of muted tones and sun-bleached shades that speak to his temperament and preferences. “I spend a lot of time mixing colour and trying to find colour relationships,” he says. “Living in LA, you can’t help but embrace warmth – the reds and yellows – but lately I’ve been immersed in searching for harder to find colours: darker, deeper shades – such as the deepest shade of red you can make without it being black.”
Van Gogh, George Braque, Milton Avery, Félix Vallotton, William Scott, Rothko; these artists offer lessons in form and balance, rhythm and colour, but however much Zabawa admires these masters for their technical prowess, it is their depth and rawness – the emotional resonance of their paintings – that he wishes to emulate in his own work. “Painting has always been very hard for me. It’s never been easy – never once. I think I’ve become so obsessed with it precisely because of how challenging it is.”