Artist Zak Smith says he can easily spend all of his waking hours at the drawing table. To anyone who knows his work, that should come as no surprise. Ten years ago, he created a drawing for every last page of Thomas Pynchon’s labyrinthine novel “Gravity’s Rainbow” — a project that was featured in the 2004 Whitney Biennial and was later gathered into a book.
On top of the sheer output, there’s the detailed nature of his work. A single piece can be a hallucinatory, frenetic amalgam of countless smaller drawings, such as the work he currently has on view at Richard Heller Gallery in Santa Monica as part of the group show “NSFW.” (A detail of the work is on view at right; but you can see the whole thing on Artsy. And yes, parts of it are not NSFW.)
Right now, Smith is at work on two other books (one for children; one on porn and politics — “a weird, hybrid novel/graphic novel thing,” as he describes it. He is also doing long-term prep for a couple of soon-to-be-announced gallery shows for this fall and next spring.
As part of this, he regularly spends 14-hour days working. And during that time he listens to a lot of things.
“Music and radio, books and novels,” he says. “Right now I’m listening to Rebecca West’s book ‘Black Lamb and Grey Falcon.’ I’m having my Mac read it to me in that Stephen Hawking voice. It’s sub-optimal. But I’ve done enough of it that now I’m used to it.”
Above all, Smith says, he listens to music: “A lot of punk rock. A lot of underground. Right now, I’m really into doom metal. A lot of people who were into thrash metal in the ‘80s and ‘90s are now into doom. Instead of being super fast, it’s super slow. Celtic Frost definitely influenced that.”
Which brings us to Smith’s video selection for Moment of Friday: the highly influential metal band’s Celtic Frost‘s 2006 song “A Dying God Coming into Human Flesh."
A snap-your-fingers ditty it’s not. It starts with a few moody guitar notes before crescendoing into gutteral yells of “Frozen is heaven and frozen is hell.”
“I like this song because it’s the metal-ist song in the world,” says Smith. “The lyrics make no sense. But I like to listen to it when I’m tired. It starts really slow and it has this echo-y, spacious, expansive sound and then it gathers. It’s a utilitarian song for me. Some people need coffee. I need ‘A Dying God Coming into Human Flesh.’”
And the spare materials with which the song is built (guitar, accompanied by Tom Gabriel Fischer’s growling vocals) is something that Smith sees as connecting with his own work.
“The amount of something they get out of nothing is amazing,” he says. “That’s kind of what I do as an artist. I mean, some artists have fiberglass and 300 monkeys working for them. All I have is a pen.”
Not that Smith is totally in love with everything Celtic Frost has done. “Their cheesiness defeats them on other songs,” he explains.
And he did face limits in choosing something that could appear in a newspaper: “This was the best song I could find with no swearing in it.”