Art by Design: Zinc Contemporary Makes Its Mark on Pioneer Square

Posted on March 01, 2017, 11:00 am
9 mins

A handmade wood dining table presides over the center of Zinc Contemporary. It’s a finely-grained expanse that holds fliers and exhibit information, but it also invites me to unload my life. As I shed layers and bags on the table, I realize this is the first time I’ve encountered a white-box gallery with such prominent furniture. I remark to gallery owner Laura Zeck that I’m grateful for the creature comfort, and the feeling of being welcomed.

“That’s exactly the idea,’ says Zeck. “I want this space to be approachable. It feels more like a home, like we can sit and have a conversation and be surrounded by the art, instead of awkwardly standing on concrete.”

From Design to Fine Art

The interior of Zinc Contemporary in Pioneer Square.

An ethic of approachability drives Zeck’s two businesses, Zinc Contemporary in Pioneer Square, and Zinc Art + Object in Edmonds. The shop in Edmonds combines aesthetic design, accessories, furniture and fine art, mingling them in a setting that invites visitors to consider how paintings or sculpture might easily integrate into their homes.

“People who have a love of things that are highly functional and aesthetic are already primed to consider collecting art. They’re creative, and they want to show that their style is unique. At the Edmonds store, people will come in for design and accessories, but will continue into the gallery section. Design is the gateway drug to fine art.”

The Contemporary space is more austere, save for that homey table made by her husband, Jesse Doquilo. But, even within the model of the white-box gallery, Zeck finds ways of being approachable. Each artwork’s label breaks out how much the piece would cost when put on monthly layaway payments. It’s something I’ve rarely seen, and it’s smart—both enticing and encouraging, which might transform passive viewers into first-time collectors.

“Most people have no idea you can buy art on layaway, and the majority won’t ask. You have to meet people at their knowledge and comfort level. Give them the information, and the opportunity.”

From Seattle to Edmonds and Back

Zeck—a printmaker, interior designer and ex-dotcommer in her late 40s—has lived in Seattle since 1991. Soon after the 2008 crash, she and her husband sought larger spaces spaces for their respective practices. They relocated to Edmonds, where Zeck continued to exhibit in group shows. After years on the merry-go-round of hauling, installing and deinstalling work in other spaces, Zeck opened Zinc Art + Object in downtown Edmonds, where she can show her own works and provide a platform for others.

Works by Jacob Foran, Liz Tran, Beth Gahan, Junko Yamamoto, and Esque Studio during the Pop-Up event at Zinc Contemporary. Photo by Zinc Contemporary.

“When we moved there it was referred to as ‘Deadmonds.’ Now, it’s getting hip. I keep meeting people who have just moved in from from San Francisco, from Brooklyn. They had this idea of moving to the Northwest and being able to find a little house with a yard. They can’t find it in Seattle, so they’re arriving here and falling in love with this spot they see as a little Mayberry town.”

Zeck opened Zinc Contemporary last August in the TK Building, alongside cultural mainstays 4Culture and the Tashiro Kaplan Studios. Punch Gallery vacated their space on the first Saturday of August, and Zeck and Zinc were in with their first exhibit by first Thursday.

For that show, Verge, Zeck encouraged artists Liz Tran, Kate Sweeney and Lydia Bassis to work as large as they could—both to take up room and to make a shouted statement of intent. So far, Zeck’s curation skews towards flat media, with a highlight on abstracts, bright palettes and a playful sensibility.

“This section of Pioneer Square is a locus for art in Seattle. We’re swarmed during the Art Walk. But the galleries have to do something to keep them coming back on days that aren’t First Thursday.”

One solution was to create a pop-up of Zinc Art + Object within the white-box gallery, bringing smaller and more affordable accessories, furniture and objects into the gallery space from Edmonds. Through December, Zeck says she met visitors who were daunted by traditional white-box galleries but felt comfortable coming into what they perceived was a retail store.

“A lot of people said they wished that combination could be here year-round—as do I. But, I was told by the leasing agent that they were looking for a ‘gallery-gallery’ to rent the space. So, I’m doing what I need to in order to show that I can run that ‘gallery-gallery’ they have in mind. But, I do think that the gallery model is changing and that we all need to do anything we can to get art seen and supported.”

New Ideas for a ‘Gallery-Gallery’

Zeck may be running a ‘gallery-gallery,’ but she’s also incorporating some unorthodox programming and alternative uses of her space. In January 2017, in lieu of a monthly exhibition, she invited one of her represented artist Liz Tran to use the gallery space as a studio. Tran had landed a large-scale commission that her own studio space couldn’t accommodate, so Zeck offered the gallery for the month. January is a notoriously sluggish sales month for galleries, so the timing was perfect for everyone involved.

“A residency is a great way to shake up working methods—it gets you out of your normal studio and into a different gear. And it’s fabulous to do it in your own city: you sleep in your bed, but change your environment. Liz was prolific during that time.”

Zinc during Liz Tran’s residency. Photo by Liz Tran.

Desiring privacy, Tran strung curtains up across the window and kept them closed while working, but opened them and kept the gallery lights on when she wasn’t inside so passersby could peer in. Zeck sold smaller works from Tran’s studio on First Thursday, and the pair decided to donate a percentage of proceeds to NARAL. Citing the success for both gallery and artist, Zeck plans to dedicate the gallery to one of her represented artists each year in January.

The name ‘Zinc’ holds meaning for Zeck, who spends her week managing both spaces and learning the ropes of running a ‘gallery-gallery.’

“I didn’t want to name the shop or the gallery for myself—this is a team effort. Zinc is also a material I use in printmaking. Plates for intaglio are made from zinc, and so the word reminds me of a blank slate. To me, it’s raw ground for a new beginning.”

ZINC contemporary is 119 Prefontaine Place S. This Thursday, March 2, Liz Tran debuts her new abstract mixed media series, JaWbReAkEr, at the gallery from 5-8 pm in conjunction with First Thursday Art Walk. The show is on display through Saturday, April 1, 2017.

Sarra Scherb an arts writer, gallerist, curator and graphic designer in Seattle. Her writing has appeared in The Stranger, The Toast, Stackedd Magazine and Weave Magazine. She has worked with five Washington museums and four Seattle art galleries, and none of them have caught fire or flickered into a different dimension, so she must be doing something right.

She runs around town as Brass Archer: https://brassarcher.wordpress.com/