Zackary Drucker is a movie star. She may not fully realize it yet but she definitely has an inkling of this idea, which you can tell from the way she tilts her head in your direction, the way she rests her chin on a long, delicate finger, the way she shoos a stray hair out of her line of site. She is very aware of how to handle herself: Zackary is a star on the rise, a local art celebrity who is on the cusp of a major sonic boom not only in Los Angeles but in the world.
Obsessed with her work, from her major show at Luis de Jesus to her interview with Interview magazine to her participance in a major Pacific Standard Time performance, we reached out to her, inviting her to have a conversation with us about her art, life, and Los Angeles. She very kindly accepted, having us over to her Silver Lake apartment for a chat–and even an impromptu photo shoot in her new vegetable garden. We arrived as she was finishing up work, her in heavy make-up coming from a shoot with Robin Black of Beauty Is Boring, and collaborator Rhys Ernst heading out, inspiring Zackary to give him a huge, lipstick leaving kiss on the cheek. Photos of their project were scattered on their table atop of a copy of Blend\, which have Zackary looking extremely modelesque. Platinum, her cat, slinks around posing, a glamour gal in her own right and co-star of Rhys’ film The Thing.
Zackary is a New Yorker, born and raised in Syracuse, New York by “two really fantastic, progressive, educated parents.” Her father is an engineer and her mother is a journalist, both with very creative leanings. She had a fairly normal upbringing and went to public school, which was “kind of torture, as it is for most queer kids.”
“Obviously, I struggled,” she said. “As anyone born in the eighties who spent their developmental years in the nineties, there was no representation or archetypes of trans people. I was always a little confused as to what my identity was; but, I always used art making and photography specifically as a way to navigate my exploration of self. I started taking pictures more seriously when I was fourteen, as a freshman in high school. That really got me through high school.”
“Up until high school, I had an easier time for the most part, socially. In high school, I sort of started to identify as queer and even trans at that point mostly as a genderfuck (that was probably the language we were using at the time),” she states with a laugh. At this time, she was discovering queer theory and feminism, reading her mother’s copy of Judith Butler’s Gender Trouble and even shoplifting (!) Kate Bornstein’s appropriate-to-steal Gender Outlaws. Through this work that Zackary was doing in her adolescence, encountering concepts most people don’t come across until college along with her “really strong feminist” mother, she had a very positive formation.
“I always knew I wanted to be an artist,” she explained. “After graduating high school, the week after, I moved to New York City, to a friend’s apartment in Brooklyn, living with these two women who were very much like older sisters to me. I lived in New York for four and a half years, where I went to the School of Visual Arts for my Bachelors. For the first time, I felt as though school was a healthy, productive place for me to learn about things I was actually interested in. I never felt that safe in secondary school environments: it was a revelation for me to be in college and discover this whole world I hadn’t been exposed to.”
After finishing school at SVA, Zackary went right into graduate school, coming out West to attend CalArts. “I had the option to stay in New York for graduate school but I decided that I wanted a change in my life. Even at 22, I was feeling jaded. I was feeling like it was a really difficult life. I love New York and I still go there six to ten times a year and I feel really fortunate to have lots of opportunities to make work there and work on other people’s projects there.”
But, she loves Los Angeles a lot more–and has been here for almost seven years. “I thought it would only be a two year stint,” she said. “I think Los Angeles is a much easier place to be an artist. Everything is more affordable and people are more generous with their resources. Space is not as much of a commodity either. Work is actually the biggest difference because, in New York, it seems that anyone who is an artist has to work a full time job in order to pay the rent and have a studio whereas in LA you can get by working less.”
“And the sun,” she adds on, “The place where I grew up was totally a world without sun. Most of the time when I think about my childhood I think about being snowed in for months on end.”
Living and working in Los Angeles has changed her and her work a lot, too. “It’s sort of hard to separate,” she says of how she’s evolved, “because I’ve changed so much over the past seven years. I think that California has a lot less boundaries and I think a part of it is that I feel really unhinged–but also really private. I’m not constantly interfacing with people as one is in New York. There’s a certain amount of catharsis possible here. I’m a happier person, too. Honestly, that’s the biggest part of it.”
As for the Los Angeles art community, she finds it to be different–and better. Here, there are more opportunities for artists to make time to contact and interact in a non-competitive way. In New York, it seems like artists have to “work and work and work to afford the closet space [they] live in.”
“It’s incredibly diverse and limitless in a lot of ways,” she explains. “I think the community here is constantly expanding. Part of that is the plethora of graduate programs and art schools keeping people moving here from other places, strengthening our possibilities.”
“There isn’t as much of a counter culture here,” she says, pointing to how counter culture is our culture. “But, for that same reason, I think its possible to actually feel like you’re living in America–not in a bubble of likeminded people.”
“Artists from Los Angeles have always revered the area for its scale,” she adds, pointing to a medium she very often is involved in: film. Before her collegiate education, she had to dig in order to find and learn about art, which came to her by way of movies: film acted as an artistic conduit. “My mother is a total cinephile and I remember watching every single Fellini film and every Hitchcock film. I had a really saturated period in my life where I was watching two to three films a day just to experience another world as a way out.”
Obviously, Los Angeles is knee deep in this, a town whose history is intertwined with film history. “The possibility of making work that isn’t confined to small spaces: that’s what defines the medium of film,” she says linking the art form to the city. She, like many in Los Angeles, find film to be a connection to the past, a means for us to unlock the “mysteries of Hollywood.”
“I mean, Hollywood Babylon is one of my favorite books,” she says, gesticulating to the book on her shelf. “I usually keep it on my nightstand and read a story or two before I go to sleep.”
She finds her tie to Los Angeles history to be quite vivid as she lives in a piece of the historical puzzle. “This house is a hundred years old and the history here is really palpable. It was built in 1917, the year that America joined World War I. The area itself, Sunset Junction, was the intersection point where all the trollies met. That building, the one sort of at the very end of Santa Monica, was the original junction. This area has a rich history. I think that’s unusual.”
With such a knowledge and tie to Los Angeles and history, you’d think the city was something always on her mind–but it never was. “I never thought I’d be in LA,” she says, pointing to CalArts as the sole factor that drew her out West. But, she also notes that she never really knew where she would end up. “I think a big part of being a queer person is that we don’t have clear archetypes or clear trajectories into the future: it’s hard to imagine what your life is going to be like. I don’t think I ever had much of a sense of how I would exist in the future, which has made everything a tremendous surprise. I feel really fortunate to have been able to create a healthy life.”
Zackary’s life here is obviously going quite well and has afforded her a lot of great opportunities–one of which you may have heard of: the Hammer’s Made In L.A. When it was announced, it was just days before our talk with Zackary and weeks before we started to showcase the participating artists. This, of course, affirmed her star status.
Looking around the room, you could see items that would play roles in her upcoming Made In L.A. piece, which is a film she is making with the help of Rhys. At the corner of the room, stealing attention, is a bedazzled walker. “It’s a prop for the new film,” she says. “They’re Swarovski crystals that come in strips. It took days to make.” Even though the piece is not physically a part of the show, she’d like to feature it as a piece of art itself in the future. She even jokes that she’d like to “copyright it for seniors in the future.”
“I can’t even imagine how things could have turned out differently,” she says. “I probably would have stayed in New York.” But, instead, she is in Los Angeles adding to the rich, new artistic narrative. She doesn’t really see that, though: “Whenever there’s an important movement happening, it’s hard to recognize it within the moment. It’s quite possible that we’ll look back at these years with nostalgia.”
As far as the future, she sees her work having the potential to change in huge ways. “There are times when I think the art world has a very insulated audience. I think one of the advantages of living in Los Angeles is the film history and the possibilities of reaching a broader audience through film. That is one possibility. Another possibility is developing more of my work as a writer, however that takes shape.”
“I sometimes think that I’ll move to Canada or Alaska and get me out of the rat race,” she says with a giggle. “I’ll always engage in a creative process no matter where I am or what my situation is. But, I also hope to at some point no longer need to address my gender. That’s very much a personal exploration that I’ve made outside of my artwork but I also feel impossible not to address when talking about my work because there is no precedent: it’s the first thing people really latch on to.”
“I think that in five, ten, twenty years, that will no longer be necessary–I hope it will no longer be necessary. I hope that we’ll all be living in a world where the gender minority is accepted as they are, without an explanation. I think that part of what I do is complicating meaning and complicating signals instead of reducing them to a more palatable formula.”
And, being in Los Angeles makes her feel all the more powerful in relationship to this. “I feel like I’m living in the real world,” she says. “There’s a certain amount of assimilation that we face as Southern Californians because of urban planning and architecture: there’s a really detached way we deal with each other. We claim less entrenched identities for that reason. There’s a fluidity possible here that I feel mirrors my own experience of self: it’s totally fluid and changing from one moment to the next–and I like to play with that destabilized existence.”
For more on Zackary, be sure to check out her website. Zackary is currently raising funds to finish up her Made In L.A. project, a film entitled She Gone Rogue, which you can donate to here and catch the promo video for below. You can also catch more on Rhy’s film The Thing, which Platinum the cat is in, here.
Zackary’s interview is a part of our Made In L.A. series, which is an upcoming show to the Hammer, Barnsdall Park, LAXART, and billboards around town on June 2 and will showcase sixty emerging, under-recognized Los Angeles artists–one of which will be voted to win a $100,000 prize. In order to help you make an educated vote this summer, we’re counting down to Made In L.A. by showcasing each artist participating in the biennial.