Peter Zokosky trained at the Otis Art Institute in Los Angeles. He has also studied cadavers in much the same way as Leonardo da Vinci, which enables him to recreate anatomy on canvas in a way few could imitate. His work has appeared in countless solo and group exhibitions. Peter has taught at the J. Paul Getty Museum and several other establishments. He is currently an instructor of Anatomy for Artists at California State, Long Beach. It was an honor to sit down with him to find more about the man behind the imagery.
For more examples of Peter’s work please also see: The Art of Peter Zokosky
Is true you peeled back the layers of a dead bird to learn more about its anatomy? Why do you think anatomy has fascinated you since an early age?
I recall, very clearly, an early obsession with things unseen and a desire to not only understand hidden forces, but to see them. Seeing and understanding went together and for me, they still do. Anatomy continues to amaze me, the idea that something that is physical; bone sinew, tissue, can get up and walk around, and that it can exhibit consciousness is very exciting, mysterious, and weird.
What were you like as a child? What are some of your fondest memories from that time?
I understand I was affectionate and pretty happy. I loved my family and spent a lot of time with my grandmother, who was very patient. I also didn’t mind being alone. I would draw and build things constantly. My sister was punished by being sent to her room, my parents quickly realized that punishment didn’t work on me; hours later they would find me drawing trees or staging battles between my legion of plastic monsters. We had a boat, and it was exhilarating to be sailing over the ocean. We also had two monkeys, and they would careen between manic and gentle.
Did you always have a love for creative things?
My parents were both artists and it was just part of our life. We had art supplies, and mom and dad would draw and paint. It was natural and I loved making things. Perhaps when you have those opportunities early on, you get a taste for the magic that art adds to your life.
Who are some of your influences?
Lots of it came from my parents and the art they would introduce us to. I remember looking at Gruenwald reproductions, Gustave Dore engravings, Basil Wolverton, Howard Pyle, the most profound influences were rather fantastic, ornate and even grotesque. I definitely leaned that way, I remember thinking Whistler was boring and Picasso was stupid, and that he couldn’t draw well.
I read somewhere that you often found yourself alone on excursions to the morgue during your art classes because most of the others didn’t care for the company of the dead. Do you find it peaceful to be among the dead? Why do you think most of the world is so afraid to actually see death? What do you find most fascinating about it?
I suppose my desire to see what we’re made of was stronger than my sense of repulsion. My first encounter with dissected bodies disturbed me somewhat, mortality is very real when you see, smell, and touch what’s left of us. I guess it’s natural to be put off by the idea of death, it keeps us clinging to what we know.
What are your own feelings and death and such? Do you believe it is a final end or that there is more to be seen?
I don’t think that I have any great insight. I think it’s likely that consciousness, like nitrogen, calcium, and everything else, is broken up, scattered, and eventually reconfigured. It doesn’t disappear, but it doesn’t stay intact either.
You have said that, “We’ll all be dead soon, so let’s experience the joy of being animated meat for these 70 years.” Do you think most people tend to forget that(that we’ll all be dead soon)? What do you enjoy most about living?
The fact that life is finite does make it precious. Of course there is suffering, pain and struggle, but it’s a magnificent struggle, and there’s just so much potential for experience, the horrid and the beautiful all mixed together. I suppose I feel most alive, and most conscious when I’m savoring the moment as it is happening.
Do people seem find your curiosity a little morbid?
Possibly, but it rarely comes up. I forget that what I enjoy can be off-putting to some, but I can’t worry about that.
Is there one subject you love to cover more than others?
It’s a big subject, and extends into every realm, and that would be duality, or more precisely, the union of opposites. The fact that duality is part of everything makes it an essential part of creative expression. To present just one side of existence, whether it’s comforting or disturbing, it’s just half the story. For life, and art, to be complete both sides have to coexist.
You have also said that the power that emanates from women is amazing to witness. Can you explain that a little further?
It’s not that I see women as exotic magical beings, but I do love and admire them. Perhaps it goes back to the duality issue and the fact that the other side is essential.
What do you find makes a person the most beautiful to behold? Do you think it goes deeper than what be seen on the surface?
I’m fascinated by the science of beauty, the notion that beauty can be measured, quantified, and analyzed is compelling, symmetry and health, hip to waist ratios, pheromones, all of that is great, but there’s still the great mystery, those things that science cannot adequately explain. I’m a big fan of science, and I think we should do our best to understand everything, but I see no risk in undermining the great mystery, it will always be there, after the explanations run out.
What led you to become a teacher? Do you enjoy having the chance to teach others how to hone their skills?
Teaching opportunities came about naturally. I learned that I love teaching and that I seem to have an aptitude for it. I have to admit, I really like people, and I enjoy a structured setting where an exchange of information happens. I prefer a classroom to a cocktail party.
Are there any little known things about you that you’d not mind sharing with our readers?
I’m AB negative, I can accept blood from anyone, but can only give it to another AB negative, but they can, of course, accept blood from anyone. If there’s a profound metaphor there, I haven’t figured it out yet.
What was the best advice anyone has ever gave you?
“Think for yourself, and avoid crowds.” From my father, who lives it.
Do you have a dream projects you’d most like to bring into being before your time is up? How do you hope to be remembered when your time comes? What would you like your last words to be if you had a say in that?
The trouble here is, I lack a sense of priorities. Every project I think of seems like it’s the greatest thing ever. Every week there’s a new idea that would take years to accomplish, and it always seems like it will be worth all the effort, but then, of course, a week goes by and there’s another “greatest thing ever” project. It’s likely that I’ll have way more unrealized dream projects than actual finished projects. I like to think there will be some good stuff left and my last words will be “I just need a little more time, since the greatest thing ever just came to me…”
Anything else you’d like to say in closing?
I appreciate the opportunity to express some thoughts and I’m impressed that you, the reader, got this far. Thanks for your time, I hope it was interesting.