Rey Zorro knows how to capture the spirit of the age. The Brazilian-born fine artist co-founded Liquid Sky, the cult boutique in Manhattan where ‘90s rave culture–in terms of music, design and fashion–truly flourished. The shop, on 482 Broome Street in a pre-yuppified SoHo, helped catapult Chloë Sevigny towards stardom, and also gave Zorro space to develop her preoccupation with extraterrestrials, and her inimitable practice, in which the artist uses conventional materials such as paint, photography and collage, as well as less familiar media, including wallpaper, industrial and DIY materials.
Today Zorro resides in London, has her art in MoMA’s permanent collection and chooses to offer her work directly via this site, rather than through an intermediary gallery. In the first in a new series of profiles of artists who sell directly via Artspace, she describes her interest in UFOs, her memories of New York, and why she still loves to step out of her comfort zone.
You’ve long used extraterrestrials as a basis of your artistic explorations – what draws you to this theme, and how has your interest changed since, say the late eighties or early nineties, when you were pursuing the theme in NYC in nightclubs and fashion? When I was about 12-years-old, my father had this book series, ‘The Chariots Of The Gods’; there were about 20 small volumes. I felt really excited when I discovered that little treasure in the hallway cupboard, mainly because I wasn’t supposed to touch them; they did look quite fragile. But of course I’d sneak in and read as much as I could on a daily basis while my father was napping.
’Eram os Deuses Astronautas?’ (Erinnerungen an die Zukunft, in German original) (The Chariots Of The Gods, in English) is a book written in 1968 by the Swiss Erich von Däniken. Basically it involves the hypothesis that the technologies and religions of many ancient civilisations were given to them by astronauts who were welcomed as gods. Däniken talks about the mystery of who, or what, were the Gods described in ancient stories and he concludes that the Gods were not beings born of humankind imagination, but extraterrestrials who left their traces everywhere on our planet.
I was absolutely fascinated by these stories and at the same time, I was learning about Egypt in school. My mom, also an artist, helped me to study for the exams. She used to tell me about Ancient Egyptian Gods, and about Greek Mythology too.Whenever we went on holiday we’d put chairs on the beach at night to look for UFOs in the sky. This was a normal subject at home; we never spoke about this as being something ‘out of this world’. To me, it has been obvious since, that ‘we are not the only ones’. I still find it fascinating.
How did you become an artist? I spent many years trying to avoid following an artistic career like a vampire avoids garlic. Imagine in Brazil, back in those days, how hard it was to be a female artist. Oh my God. It was a big ‘no’! But my father became a bit ill and I thought I’d have to look after my mom, so, at the age of 16, I decided to choose advertising, where I worked for almost three years, as a junior Creative Director. It’s a big influence on my work today, then I stopped because I ended up working almost every day until two in the morning. My parents started getting upset about it and so I went into fashion, doing a bit of modelling. I hated it, but it was really well paid. Then I moved into doing statement t-shirts.
My grandmother taught me how to sew and my mother would dress me and my sister in super cool outfits made by my grandmother. So I grew up with a fashion presence in the house. I love nice clothes today because of that; I always loved good t-shirts, and always saw a t-shirt as the cheapest canvas. I still do. I never dare to call myself a fashion designer. The way I used to create all that in NY was, for example, to cut all the words from a favorite article in the newspaper, put it into a plastic bag, mix it, and take one word from the bag and it would be the theme of the day–a popular Dadaist ‘technique’.
Our windows at [the iconic rave boutique] Liquid Sky were real art installations, many times made by other artists. We were a community of artists in different mediums; my partner at Liquid Sky is the godfather of drum ‘n’ bass in NYC, DJ Soul Slinger. It was all about art at the end of the day.Liquid Sky NYC was never about fashion; perhaps our artistic approach was the secret of our success. So to me it didn’t feel that much of a difference to be honest; it felt like art happenings in my store actually.
In fashion you are constantly thinking about the final price and costs to make it possible and in art you must stop thinking about money all together to create good art. Of course, we artists think about bills all the time. But still, we have to be brave enough and take a deep breath, find a way out of this loop in order to create real good art. I never stopped producing art throughout all those years; Astrogirl, Liquid Sky logo, is all art.
How would you describe what you do? I describe myself as a true multimedia artist–or a dolphin trainer! I’ve been very much criticized in the past, as an artist that was ‘in fashion’, as well as I’ve been criticised when I got into digital too, which happened when I bought my first computer, a long time ago.
You came out of a pretty intense period of NY nightlife, where fashion, art and lifestyle crashed into club culture, Chloe Sevigny, Supreme and rave in pre-Yuppie SoHo. Do you ever have to pinch yourself and think ‘I actually did that’? How does it affect what you do today? I never thought about it from that perspective. Yes, I’m pinching myself right now that you asked. Yes, we actually did that and it feels good. It continues to affect me in the best way possible, now more than ever. It affects me in a good way from an artist’s point of view too. But it wasn’t exactly like that in the past, there was a lot of criticism as you can imagine.
How does the moving image fit into your practice? I studied Advertising and Movie Direction in College, though I had never made a movie until recently. I presented a movie to the public for the first time at the Florence Biennale at the end of 2019, and received an unexpected award. I believe true art should have no limits, no prejudice of using any medium so I think multimedia as a word sums it up.
Look what is happening now…NFTs! I love the concept. I'm mentioning that, not only because it fits my profile but because I think it's an important, new and fresh Art Movement, it's giving opportunity not only to 'unknown' artists but to new collectors too! As an artist, I don’t think NFTs are less art or spoils ‘solid art’, they are totally different, with a very different perception from the viewer’s point, there is no comparison.
I want to learn everything, I love stepping out of my comfort zone. One can become addicted to gestures or colors. I don’t really like to do long series of works, for instance, it bores me, of course I can, and most probably, will get back to each one of them. Art is possible in any medium one can possibly imagine.
What inspired the series of UFOs over London’s Royal Docks artworks you have on Artspace? The Royal Docks is where I live today and I have no intention of moving from here. It’s by the River Thames in London. I’m passionate about it; my previous studio in London, for almost nine years, was in Wapping, also by theThames. This river has a mystery feel, a silence and a particular ‘noise’; a lot of action, funny boats doing different things, big boats, taxi boats, police boats. It’s almost like a parallel little universe; even a bit extraterrestrial. I feel really inspired by it. This particular series was inspired during lockdown from the simple thought and desire to have ‘Close Encounters’ with my friends.
Where do your titles come from? I often start an art piece by the title. My titles are a reflection of my daily life events. I love pop expressions; I love just words as titles. I love reading the Oxford Dictionary. I speak two completely different languages, Brazilian Portuguese and English. When I started to seriously study English it was delightful to discover all those words with double, or even triple meanings. I love playing with language. I enjoy thinking about titles before I start a piece; it’s fun. My titles are like solid things to me. I’d love to have more time to learn German, Mandarin and Hieroglyphs. I like the way those languages look and sound.
Can you explain the link between the Hunter and the Hunger series? There is a popular expression in Portuguese that says: ‘Juntou a fome com a vontade de comer’; it’s tricky to translate in English but it would be something like, ‘this is something that brought together two different things in a perfect combination’, or ‘a match made in heaven’–something along those lines. Literally it translates as: ‘joined hunger with the desire to eat’. I had just moved back to London, had no studio; I was hungry for a space to work, to smell my oil paint again. Then an old friend of mine here, who owns a restaurant, asked me for an art piece for his restaurant so I did a food painting sketch. By my own account, he didn’t ask for it to be food. I loved it, I couldn’t stop painting food, and at the same time having this hunting feeling to hunt for a studio space. I’m not quite sure why I chose wolves and fierce dogs for the hunter series. I’ll go back to them at some point too but do them in oil on linen.
Can you briefly explain the idea of Dis Installation? Our means of communication have evolved, nowadays we communicate through emails, text, mobile phones. This is our reality; we find it practical, cheaper and sometimes we enjoy the fact of having ‘The Chance’ of playing ‘A Game’ or ‘The Game’. People are not going to slow down with it, this is a fact, therefore from now on, I believe we are and will be often dis understood instead of misunderstood.
Dis understanding is about being understood in ways we do not really mean, or maybe, we do mean. The three main aspects of a Dis Installation are: a) The Absolute Possibility of Dis Installing it: it is in the literal sense of Displacement, including of the concept; b) The Absolute Impossibility of Installing it: meaning when an artist chooses a particular real life ‘Episode’ and shows it as an art piece, either in loco or transporting it to an Exhibition Space; c) The Absolute Possibility Of Dis Understanding it:
It is about a collection of images and/or objects, in any medium, that will lead the viewer to a surprise of pre-judgements and a reminder of so many ways of understanding. Dis Installations reflect on the impossibility of a truly arbitrary art form at the end of the Century. Philosophy Of The Language Written x Spoken words USEFUL = USELESS Dis Installations are about the future we live in. Rey UK- since 1998
Tell us a little about three of your works on Artspace Can I pick four? ‘It is about … Time', 2015 MIXED MEDIA Wallpaper, oil, enamel, pigment printing, tracing paper, gold leaf, transparent billboard loose sequins, skirting board, canvas, varnish, and glue This is a Dis Installation on the a and c aspects; a) Displacement. From the viewer’s point it’s as if you were in a transparent room corner watching the outside world today, on transparent layers of space and time. You can’t see on a picture but it literally has some movement; if you look on the top of the old century blue chair on the left hand side, there are those big loose floating sequins that move according to the amount of air flow in the room. I literally made a room corner to hang or lean on the wall. My first ones were walls hanging and leaning on walls. C) The absolute possibility of Dis Understanding.
‘Space Invader’ is one of my favourites Dis Installations Photograph series. It’s inspired by an event that happened to me the very first time I went to Tate Modern. I went with four other people who invited me. It was after hours thought everybody was out of their minds, how could we possibly get in there at that time. To keep it short, we did. The security guy would open up room by room, those massive silver ‘garage doors’, just 5 of us in that vast space full of beautiful art. It was mind blowing. I will never forget that. So this series was made at The Met (Metropolitan Museum of Art NYC) as if I had invaded the museum, uninvited, after hours, to have a literal private view, mainly in Rembrandts room (he’s one of my gods).
The lighting is inspired by Rembrandt’s paintings and by the dark times we were experiencing in 2016. This ‘Space Invader’ series made in NY is a Tribute to John Lennon who was shot in NYC. He was always treated as an alien (as in foreign); as a ‘space invader’ if you like. All titles of this series are taken from his song titles, to invite the viewer to look at the picture and listen to the respective songs, it will give another dimension to each piece.
When I first saw ‘Rabbit’ by Koons, I immediately thought of ‘Astrogirl’; that was ages ago. Inspired by Koons, I did two prototypes of stainless steel sculptures at the time, a garbage bin bag entitled ‘Unbreakable Plastic Life’, and an inflatable sex doll entitled ‘Flying Object’, it was hanging on the ceiling of my studio until they both melted! And a Dis Installation project of a small, silver chrome-like Zeppelin, in the form of a blow-up sex doll that would fly around London; the event would be linked to a radio station that would say where it was in the sky, and provide a soundtrack; I just wanted to make people to look at the sky, instead. This piece above, is the most recent and simpler version from my inspiration and admiration of Koons. We are all made from the same thing.
She is my girl. She loves music, she has antennae, she doesn’t miss a thing, and she’s got a heart. She is a ‘human alien’ or ‘an alien human’. She’s all ages and ageless. She’s everywhere, all dimensions at the same time. She talks from the heart. She can do anything, has ‘Brain Power Soul Power’. My wish always was/is to turn her into toys and fun games. She is a lucky charm to whomever. You only need to focus on her and make wishes.
What’s next for you? I’m in the process of moving studios, focusing on that and I am working on an exciting project with my musician friend [British acid house pioneer] Adamski at the moment; it’s an art book with a collection of fun short stories about his life. He called me to do the visuals; we have similar taste in several areas. I can’t talk too much about it right now, as it’s still confidential. I can only say that it has been fun, it’s looking good, and we are all loving it! That's another new thing to me, love it. Besides, we, Liquid Sky NYC, are launching new t-shirts, too; it has been very busy around here.