Austin artist looks for the curious, fascinating, beautiful and weird

12:00 a.m. Monday, Oct. 23, 2017 Austin360
Zack Ingram won the 2017 Tito’s Prize from Big Medium. It comes with $15,000 from Tito’s Handmade Vodka and a solo show at the Big Medium Gallery. Contributed by Big Medium

It appears simple enough.

A welded metal bracket pokes out from a concrete column. On the horizontal extension hang two strands. One is an upper-body halter constructed of metal and fabric. The other is a collar attached to a thin chain leash. On the polished concrete floor below these looping cords, one spies what seems to be a recently discarded jockstrap.

What is going on?

Look closer. All three objects are made with a kind of hunting camo fabric popular not only in the field, but also worn as a cultural statement in many parts of the country.

“I’m sort of asking what if a gay man from New York or San Francisco woke up in the middle of a Southern swamp?” explains Tito Prize-winning artist Zack Ingram. “What would he wear? How would they respond? Or, for instance, if a good ol’ boy from the South ended up at the Folsom Street Fair (a leather pride event) in San Francisco?”

RELATED: Zack Ingram wins $15K Tito’s Prize from Big Medium

Trained primarily as a printmaker, Jackson, Miss.-born Ingram has been creating sculpture in his small workroom at Bolm Studios. There, he contemplates the mundane aspects of everyday life, including his Southern Baptist upbringing in a conventional suburban community.

“Recently, I’ve had an obsession with camo outside the context of hunting,” Ingram says. “It’s not just a fabric pattern. It’s part of an all-encompassing lifestyle. I look for things I find curious, fascinating, beautiful and weird.”

His is a playful world between worlds.

“I navigate between being a white male from the Republican Baptist South and being a gay man,” he says. “Not just a gay male, but a gay male in the art world. What do I need to alter as I go from one world to another, while trying to imagine another reality where rednecks and circuit queens could coexist peacefully?”

Ingram, 25, left home at age 16 to attend the new Mississippi School of the Arts located on the old Whitworth College campus in Brookhaven, Miss. He advanced to the Maryland Institute College of Art in Baltimore, where he earned a BFA in printmaking.

“There’s a charm about the hand-printed image,” he says. “It’s very seductive. There are very particular steps to follow. It doesn’t go right every time, so you appreciate each image as an original. I used a lot of found photography. I’d scan clippings and, by the end of the process, created a new image that you can’t understand from just what you took it from. I’m interested in what gets lost.”

After Baltimore, Ingram earned his MFA from the University of Texas. That’s when he started taking his printmaking resources and sensibilities over to sculpture, experimenting with wax, fabric and steel.

Yet all kinds of materials intrigue him. In his studio are several agglomerations of what turn out to be cherry pits and stems.

“While I was at school in Baltimore, I worked at various farms,” he says. “I was visiting recently during cherry season and a friend gave me several 25-pound bags of leftovers.”

The pimpled bulbs might look like oversized pin cushions or dried ungulate mammal organs, but one thing is for sure — they don’t look like anything this reporter has seen before. Very much a good thing.

Ingram teaches nonart majors at St. Edward’s University, which allows him to switch from the hothouse vocabulary he had used for two years as a TA at UT.

“It was half studio and half seminar,” he says. “We could use broader terms as they worked on transforming everyday objects.”

Part of the inaugural Tito’s Prize — hundreds of candidates answered an open-entry call — is a $15,000 grant and a solo show at the Big Medium Gallery on Springdale Road, his first without any printmaking. Rather than produce an artist’s statement using the usual art-school jargon, Ingram provided some associative poetic lines.

A segment: “The marsh is still shifting, constant, compassionate. It hasn’t seen a disturbance like this since Camille and will need time to remember where everything was before the storm — nurse log goes over here, plover somewhere about there. The water settles reluctantly while the boys try to climb out.”

Ingram’s mother, grandmother, great-aunt and younger sister plan to attend the opening of “Zack Ingram: Skin Thick” on Oct. 27. What could they possibly think about all this?

“I didn’t say they are going to embrace it,” Ingram says with a smile. “They don’t necessarily understand what I do, but they definitely support it. My mother follows my work in Instagram. So, she might be nervous to bring Grandma to the show.”

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