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The Michigan Daily - michigandaily.com

Thursday, September 12, 2013 - 3B

th b-sid Thursday, September12, 2013 - 38

The impermanence of
street artwork

The hip hop of

Local street artist
David Zinn talks
Daily B-Side Editor
"It seemed weird to pay tuition
to be taught something I was
already good at."
Ann Arbor street artist David
Zinn speaks in a low voice when
asked if he studied design in col-
He looks around the coffee
shop furtively, as if a little cau-
tious. Our meeting was meant
to be outside, but due to a small
misunderstanding, we're now
perched right in front of the main
counter, surrounded by a typical
Sunday afternoon crowd. Zinn
settles in, clears his throat and
"Maybe it wasn't the right deci-
sion, but it seemed logical at the
time," he said.
Zinn ended up attending the
University's Residential College
to study Creative Writing and
English instead. He didn't become
a writer. In the context of get-
ting paid to put words on a piece
of paper, he described the degree
as worthless, but was quick to
defend his teenage self's decision-
making process.
"I guess (writing) was some-
thing I wanted to be able to do," he
said. "But it was also something
I didn't already do compulsively.
But, with that in mind, I've usu-
ally only used art to pay the bills."
Over the course of almost three
decades in Ann Arbor, Zinn has
created scores of drawings on any
imaginable sidewalk in town. His
tools have included everything
from charcoal to paint, but he's
cultivated something of a reputa-
tion for his work with chalk.
The creatures he brings to life
peer out of the ground with child-
like innocence. The most famous
ones, Sluggo and The Flying Pig,
are featured on the homepage of
his website, both draped by a sim-
ple, Pixar-esque message: "Occu-
py your imagination. Or someone
else will."
"One of the things that made
sidewalk art so appealing, in addi-
tion to it being ludicrous - I mean,
you're playing with children's toys
so there's no highfalutin baggage,"
he said,"is that it's not permanent."
Permanence, Zinn explains,
can magnify the relevance an art-
ist inherently implies while craft-
ing more traditional work.
"I tried to stay away from
what a lot of people call 'real art'
because whenever you put brush
to canvas, there's this pressure
of wondering whether or not the
time, effort and durability you put
into defacing that blank space is
going to be worth it in the end."
It's a far-reaching, generalized
philosophy - one that, as Zinn
states, can be applicable to any
mode of work or life. In essence,
if you erase the staying power of
what's in front of you, you're free
to be true to the moment and, by

Zinn draws his detailed chalk creations all over Ann Arbor public spaces.

extension, yourself.
"If you stand there, worrying
about what you should do with
the tools in front of you, you'll do
nothing, and nothing will hap-
pen," Zinn explained. "If you just
remember that what you're about
to do is, in fact, pointless and
impermanent and ethereal, it can
be the catalyst that makes work
possible. It pushes you to realize
that you should just be enjoying
the process of creating."
The process has let Zinn
develop a style of sidewalk art
that, when pressed, he could only
describe as "kind of a Rorschach
test" - a Rorschach test admin-
istered by the disjointed nature
of Zinn's medium: concrete side-
"The sidewalk is actually not
a blank canvas because it has
all these wonderful specks and
pebbles and holes and cracks, so
what you're really doing is you're
connecting the dots," he said.
"It's a free association experi-
ment where you stare at all those
pebbles and bits and pieces of gum
until you see something, and you
just draw what you see."
That almost otherworldly con-
cept of subject matter presenting
itself in moments of visual inspi-
ration is one that Zinn references
when describing how he came
across Sluggo, the green alien-like
creature that inhabits many of his
"The first time that I thought
he appeared was as a drawing of
a kid. But, no offense to this kid,
his head was strangely eggplant-
shaped," he recounted. "So, I set
out to draw this happy, dancing
child, and this happy, dancing
child has an aborigine-shaped
head thatI then had to deal with. I
tried to wing it."
It didn't work.
"Every time I tried to put eyes
on this head, it looked terrifying.
It was just an unhappy-looking

mutant child, and I kept having to
erase and erase and erase," Zinn
said. "So, out of sheer annoyance,
I drew eyes above his head. Fine.
There. Done. And as soon as I did
that, he was OK with what he
Since that fateful first encoun-
ter, Sluggo has become Zinn's most
recognizable character and also
one to which ("at risk of sounding
too arty") he feels he's developed
an emotional attachment. But if
there's a place where the green
mutant won't be found, it's a wall.
Walls aren't public property
and, as a result, are out of bounds
for Zinn's artistic pursuits.
Because Ann Arbor has such open
policies about usingsidewalks and
other collective University spots
for open art, Zinn never really felt
the need to endeavor into graffiti
Ann Arbor law allows artists
like Zinn to use chalk on public
sidewalks and walkways as long
as they aren't a disturbance to
anyone walking down the street
or going to work. Graffiti, tradi-
tionally associated with images
of hooded hooligans gleefully
marauding around at night with
cans of spray paint close at hand,
is a different story. It's usually on
private property, a lot more per-
manent and therefore more likely
to be fined.
"The only issue I have with
graffiti is that it puts people on
edge when they look at me," Zinn
said. "I've had a few run-ins with
police officers who had to make
sure that it was indeed chalk I was
using, which, interestingly, is how
I found out chalk was legal."
Of course, Zinn adds, graffiti
puts local business owners in abad
mood because they are required
by the city to remove it from their
property after-the-fact or face
the risk of ever-heftier fines. As a
result, usually the only backlash
Zinn ever receives for his work

has to do with drawing on walls
classified as private property.
"It's nice to be working in a
medium where I actually don't
have to hide in darkness and
break the law," he said. "Because,
technically, it's a performance art.
I can even put outa hat for tips -
something I don't think you can
do with spray paint."
And he's done it in the past, the
first time collecting a grand total of
"It was a bunch of teenagers
who pointed out the lunacy of
drawing outside with a hat on your
head instead of on the ground," he
Zinn speaks at length about
coming to terms with the per-
ceived irrelevance of his medium
and art. Unlike traditional forms
of expression, he never gets to
see the reactions of his intended
audience. He draws on the side-
walk and walks away. To some
degree, he describes, there's a cer-
tain freedom that comes with not
looking back.
"It's reassuring to think that
because you don't know how it's
going to be perceived, or who's
going to see it or what effect it's
going to have on them, the pos-
sibilities are endless," he said.
"Even though I don't cure can-
cer, I can draw something on the
path that someone takes to work
on a job that affects someone who
does. And even if they hated what
I do, that might be the catalyst."
When the discussion shifted
back to his time as a student in
Ann Arbor, Zinn seems a little bit
more at ease. He laughed briefly
and further explained his deci-
sion to not study design.
"That was my college self mak-
ing a decision," he said. "Think-
ing back, ifI was absolutely being
honest, I'd say that college self
was using that decision to ratio-
nalize not wanting to take the bus
to North Campus."

Nowthat everyone has
more or less survived
the tornado that is
welcome week, it's time to get
back to business. Summer 2013
proved to be
one of the
most memo-
rable in hip-
hop history.
Kanye West,
Jay-Z, Big -
Sean, J. Cole _ i
and count- JACKSON
less more HOWARD
grabbing projects, while Ken-
drick Lamar set the hip-hop
world on fire with his lyrical
onslaught "Control" verse. Even
as the summer officially winds
down, though, hip hop continues
to make news. I've included here
a couple of the bigger topics over
the last couple weeks to keep
you updated. Recognize.
Drake andthebuildup to
Nothing Was the Same
Following in the footsteps
of Jay-Z and Kanye, Drake has
been ultra tight-lipped about his
upcoming album, Nothing Was
the Same, set to release Sept.24.
As the date approaches, however,
details have started to appear. The
second single "Hold On, We're
Going Home" findsDrake harken-
ingback to his "Find Your Love"
sound, while the streetsingle, "All
Me," with 2 Chainz and Big Sean
is boasting at its finest.
Still, as a secretly diehard Drake
fan (I love his music, but at points,
he's just too easy to hate), I'm wor-
ried that NWTS can't live up to
Drake's last album, the momen-
tous Take Care. On that record,
Drake somehow managed to
pour his heart out without being
cheesy, effectively makingup for
his mediocre debut. Take Care was
genuine, dark, cohesive and epic.
Come on, the album cover is Drake
sitting pensively alone at atable
holding agoblet.
So far, Nothing Was the Same
has beentrue to itsname:Almost
nothing resembles Take Care.
And this is great, but is it wrong
to want "Headlines" instead of
"Started From the Bottom," ortto
feel somewhat skeptical when the
album artwork is an oil painting
of baby Drake facing old Drake
against a light, blue sky? This is a
classic case of judging a book by its
cover, I know. Then again, artists
will - and should - evolve. The
tracklist forNothing Was theSame
shows features from only Detail
and Jay-Z, a promisingsignothat
Drake's lyrical ability will shine
more this time around. There's a
song called, "Wu-Tang Forever,"
which makes me want to squeal,
and the opening track, "Tuscan
Leather," supposedly flipsothe
same Whitney Houston sample
three dfferent times, once for each
Challenged by up-and-comers
and giventhe spotlight byveter-
ans, Drake is in the prime of his
career and on the top ofhis game.
Let's hope he pulls through. Who
knows? In a fewyears,Nothing

Was theSamecouldbe the start
of an epic sentence ending with,
"after Drake released his third
Lil WaynereleasesDedication5
As someone who appreciates
quality hip hop, I have a really
hard time enjoying Lil Wayne's
recent string of abysmally bad
music. This year's IAm Not a
Human BeingIIwas anail in the
coffin of sorts for Wayne's stand-
ing as a legitimate rapper. I actu-
ally had to take multiple breaks
in between songsato process the
vulgarity of Wayne's lyrics.
Where Wayne has always
shined, however, is on mixtapes.
From the legendary Da Drought
series to the prequels ofDedica-
tion S, Wayne has a knack for
picking the best beats around and
absolutelyspazzing. On Dedica-
tion 5, Wayne manages to avoid
regressing even further, which,
at this point, should be deemed a
The tape is 29 songs, which is
15 songs too many, but it's clear
that Wayne is serious about rap-
ping again. The Weeknd shows up
for a classic feature on the open-
ing track, while T.I. kills three
separate songs. The best appear-
ance, though, goes to Chance The
Rapper, who, as of rightnow, has
early-Drake-levelhype surround-
ing him. His whimsical rhymes
and nasally flow on "You Song"
make the track a highlight and,
surprisingly, Wayne keeps up.
It's easy to see Wayne's influence
on Chance's style, and I can only
imagine the excitement Chance
felt when he got a phone call
requesting him to be on the tape.
A much bigger question
remains: How is Lil Wayne going
to continue to grow? So far, his
attempts at changing have been
painfully clear: releasing a rock
album, signingeverybody to
his label and even becoming a
skateboarder. Wayne's one-time
contemporaries, Kanye West,
Jay-Z and, even to an extent, Rick
Ross, have all noticeably evolved
their art in attempts to be ground-
breakingor, atleast, relevant.
Wayne has done no such thing; in
fact, his two most famous prote-
gs, Nicki Minaj and Drake, have
already eclipsed him in growth.
Lil Wayne isn't going away, but
sooner than later a time is going
to come when people stop caring.
Wake up, Weezy. The game isn't
yours anymore.
Finally, my favoriteesongs of
the summer:
Big Sean, "Beware" feat. Lil
Wayne & Jhene Aiko; Ciara,
"Body Party"; Drake, "Hold On,
We're Going Home" feat. Majid
Jordan; Drake, "The Motion"
feat. Sampha; Earl Sweatshirt,
"Sunday" feat. Frank Ocean; Fan-
tasia, "Without Me" feat. Kelly
Rowland & Missy Elliott; J. Cole,
"Forbidden Fruit" feat. Kendrick
Lamar; Kanye West, "Bound 2"
feat. Charlie Wilson; Wale, "Bad"
feat. Tiara Thomas
Howard is blasting'Body
Party.' To dance with him,
e-mail jackhow@umich.edu.

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