'The Magical World of Zono'
(Excerpt)...Another artist from Joshua Tree is the Sun Runner’s featured artist Rik Livingston. Rik is a new comer on the tours with his Zono Art creations. He lended his talent to illustrate this year's fold out road map that is included in the official program and created the tortoise and hare mascots (little kangaroo rat, too) for the tours that is on the cover of the new issue of the Sun Runner Magazine. I sat down with Rik to learn more about him and Zono Art.
AW - Thank you Rik for taking the time to answer a few questions.
RL - Thanks for asking, Andy.
AW - What is Zono Art?
RL - Zono Art, the art itself, stylistically, makes use of mass culture imagery, appropriating a popular visual vernacular, caricature method and cast off materials in seriously humorous, Post-Pop artworks of layered meaning. It’s Pop Art without the irony. Instead I use the “language” of popular culture to “mythologize” every day life and the deeper truths that lie beneath. Zono Art, the name, well, originally, I thought Zono was just a nonsense word I made up in a humorous drawing. A buddy made a t-shirt for me with the drawing on it and when I wore it, fellow MFA students at the San Francisco Art Institute began calling me Zono. Since then I have found it has deeper meaning that I hope to explain in a future animation on my website (ZonoArt.com). Curiously, it’s also a real nickname in Japan, a country that reveres caricature method (i.e. cartooning).
AW - Tell me a little more about your art and what visitors will see when they visit you on the Art Tours
RL – Well, I can guarantee they won’t be bored. We call it the “Zono Art Museum of Madness, Mirth and Magic.” The house is pretty well decorated: There’s art on the walls, the floors and even the ceiling! There’s everything from small keepsake size art to an eleven foot tall “rain-forest statement” painting. There’s also impromptu assemblage on the fencing outside and one of those carnival cutouts you stick your head through to get your photo taken! Previously, I directed a huge gallery, The Whitney Young Cultural Center Mansion, in the Haight Ashbury district of San Francisco for three years. During that time I collected some of the art from other artists who showed there and I plan to exhibit it as well. (“NFS,” of course, but it’s fun to look.) One of the artists is my wonderful wife, Cat, who has loads of photos of things like turn of the century automata and Barbie’s best dates!
AW - Where did you grow up?
RL - I was born in a VERY small town in Kansas. (Think Andy Griffith’s Mayberry.) Then my family all rolled around the Great Plains like tumbleweeds, living on prairie dawgs and sunflower seeds, until finally lighting in a cow town fifty miles from the infamous Dodge City, Kansas (Boot Hill, "Gunsmoke," etc.). I really loved the "Big Sky Country", itself, but didn't truly fit in with my classmates at the little one room schoolhouse, refusing to participate in such bonding rituals as chewin' 'n' spittin' and cow tipping. Evolution comes slow to them parts and they keep a tight rein on creativity. I went to New York first, but it was San Francisco I ended up spending a quarter century in, before I discovered the magical, mystical Morongo Basin.
AW - How long have you lived in Joshua Tree and what brought you here?
RL – A few years ago, becoming disenchanted with the “Manhattanization” of San Francisco, I found a book called, "The 100 Best Small Art Towns in America," and, on vacations, began to look for somewhere that had that small town congeniality, but was big on the arts. None of them quite seemed the right fit. But then I started dating Cat and her Mom, Luana lives in Joshua Tree, so we came here one winter for the Holidays and I was hooked. We moved here slowly over about three years. I’ve only been here full time a little over one year. I’m thinking of writing the Author of “The 100 Best Small Art Towns in America” and telling him that he missed a real jewel!
AW – I hope you do write to him. Who are some of your favorite artists in the Morongo Basin and beyond, and why?
RL – Wow, how much space do you have for this article? I mean, really, it takes a whole magazine, like the Art Tours guide to even scratch the surface of the art talent in this area. Cat and I have had little time to miss the Bay Area. You could go out practically every night here and experience really top-notch creativity. Also, when I first moved to San Fran Land, it was a toss-up whether the Western USA Art Capital was SF or LA. Now it’s, without question, Los Angeles. I like aspects of the Low Brow or Pop Surrealism movements there. I get compared to them a lot, though I’d like to point out that I’ve been doing my type of “Folk-Pop” for longer than those movements have been around…
AW – Well noted. Tell me about your comic books.
RL - I have over 17,000 comics. I jokingly call them "The Livingston Library," with an emphasis on the word "Library," since I actually READ my comics not just keep them sealed in plastic. I enjoy comics as the mythology of our culture, but as a hobby, I consider myself more of a curator than a collector. I’m saving them for future mythologists. Also, I’ve had a second career as an “Alternative Cartoonist.” So there’s quite a few of my own “comikz,” as I call them, out there. I’ll have a few copies for sale during the Art Tours. I hope to get a limited edition zine together, also, just for the Art Tours, that will collect some unpublished work and have a sneak peek at a strip that’s slated to be in the “Work!” anthology by Image Comics.
AW – I want one! What are you working on now?
RL – Well, there’s a surreal series of underwater paintings planned. The desert, with it’s sand and cartoon-like plants reminds me a lot of the ocean bottom, what can I say? I also hope to have hand colored originals of the illustrations on the map and some brand-new prints…fingers crossed!
AW – Four weeks away, you best get busy! You have a great sense of humor. Who or what inspires you to laugh?
RL - Who ever said “Laughter is the best medicine” really knew my prescription. Laughter is a powerful antidote to stress, pain, the conflicts of life. Nothing works faster or better to bring your mind and body back into balance than a good ol’ belly laugh. It’s the soul’s natural yoga. I seemed to have been blessed to have the imagination to see humor everywhere. Really, I enjoy cartoons and other things that are meant to be funny, but I can just look at clouds – or desert plants, as I mentioned above – and get tons of fun ideas. Laughter is a super effective way to heal discord, grudges, and pain, even on a societal level. Imagination can inspire us to view man’s world and life in general, with a brightened heart and new eye. It’s why I do what I do…no joke!
AW - Thank you Rik, or should I call you Zono!? I know people are going to enjoy you and “Zono Art Museum of Madness, Mirth and Magic” this year on the Art Tours.
Sun Runner Magazine - 10-11/2009
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