The Journal continues the once-a-month series “From the Studio” with Kathaleen Roberts, as she takes an up-close look at an artist.
Albuquerque painter David Zaintz spent years in graphic design before serendipity came calling in the form of abstraction.
Born and raised in Brooklyn, New York, until his family moved to Rio Rancho when he was 10, Zaintz’s practical family warned him against pursuing the arts.
He spent stints as a DJ and interior designer before finally taking a fine arts class at the Harwood Art Center.
“I made some mixed-media pieces,” Zaintz said. “I got a call from an artist in TorC” asking for work.
This was about 15 years ago, Zaintz said.
Today, he shows his paintings at Sumner & Dene Gallery.
He had originally begun painting to decorate his first house. He worked as a massage therapist to pay the bills (he still does.)
Then he nailed a solo show at Popejoy Hall to celebrate the opening of a VIP room.
“They told me I broke all their records for a sale,” he said.
Zaintz grew up painting by his mother’s side.
“She’d buy me a little canvas,” he said. “I was sort of the class artist as a kid.”
He has shown his work at Sumner & Dene for seven years.
“I knew I always wanted to do fine art; I loved abstraction since I was young,” Zaintz said.
He doesn’t sketch out his compositions, preferring a technique taking him back to painting at his late mother’s side.
“I start with my fingers,” he said. “I do the backgrounds with my fingers. Then I’ll use the brushes for the finer things.”
He often scribbles on top of this foundation with charcoal.
When it goes well, painting is akin to a meditation for him.
“Dance of the Divine Spirit” emerged from echoes of past trauma. His mother died when they were hit by a truck when Zaintz was 17. He lingered in intensive care for three months.
“It became what looks like a face,” he said of the recent painting. “The bottom part was like something dancing. It looked like my mother.”
Observers have compared his work to the great abstract expressionists Franz Kline, Mark Rothko and Willem de Kooning.
Rife with luminous clouds of color, “In the Direction of Albuquerque” is an abstraction that began as a landscape.
“I can feel me riding on a horse through mountains and the future,” Zaintz said.
“Rise Up” began as a yellow composition.
“I didn’t like it,” he said. “I wanted it to be an orange or a red shape.
“Then a friend said, ‘You hid a crucifix.’ To me it’s like a rocket ship taking off.”
The cross idea seems less likely when you learn of Zaintz’s Russian Jewish heritage.
“I was the first bar mitzvah in Rio Rancho,” he said with a laugh. “I believe in spirituality but I’m not a spiritual person. I call myself an agnostic Jew.”
The crimson drama of “Sky Fire” is the shadow of an older piece that Zaintz decided to push.
“It looks sort of apocalyptic,” he said, “like after a bomb goes off. Then I look at it again and see more beauty in it like you’re on a beautiful island and there’s sky fire with a volcano going off.
“With abstract art, you see what you want to see.”