In The Studio with Zack Rosebrugh

By Drake's

May 31, 2024

In The Studio with Zack Rosebrugh

The Piñata District is a real place, a colourful corridor of market stalls and vendors deep in Downtown Los Angeles, the synthetic oranges, pinks and purples of the storefronts a balm against the washed out factories and warehouses that make up the majority of the surrounding landscape. We meet Zack Rosebrugh outside one of these old industrial buildings, where the artist works out of a studio with high ceilings and giant windows, that famous California light filtering through in shades of pale grey on a hazy morning.

A painter and an illustrator, Zack makes warm paintings tinged with melancholy and intimacy, a style that he describes as ‘contemporary flat.’ The view from his studio window, an empty plastic garden chair—he’s a master at making chairs appear loaded with feeling—athlete's faces contorted in frustration or concentration, friends and female figures, their features often obscured by shadow or angle.

“I always meticulously grid stuff out before I paint,” says Zack, whose studio walls are pinned with various colour studies, works in progress and canvases of varying sizes, a detective’s homicide wall of artistic detail. “I don’t want any surprises when I go to the canvas, which I know is not very spontaneous of me, but it works.”

One of Zack’s current projects is a series on LA’s ‘Dingbat’ houses. “They’re these cheap houses built after World War II,” he says. “You can’t build them anymore because of earthquake concerns, but I like how geometric they are, and they’re an interesting colour case study.”

“I have a colour crisis every time I paint,” he adds. “There’s a lot of trial and error involved in my work.” If you’ve followed that work for a while, you’ll notice some recurring themes, a lot of pale greens, oranges and blues that feel like they’ve been left out in the sun for a couple of days. “I got that soft orange from using coloured pencils, it’s something I can’t seem to get away from.” 

Growing up in the arid sprawl of Phoenix, Arizona, LA feels mild in comparison, even if those generous windows can make working through the summer a physical battle. “There are a lot of similarities between here and home. The light is similar, a desert climate, not a lot of rain, strip malls.” Along with Dingbat houses and beautiful chairs, one large canvas that stands out depicts two men locked in combat, pink limbs and torsos mirrored and collapsing into one another. 

“I don’t even particularly like combat sports, but I took this one from a UFC clip I found on YouTube,” he says. “There was just an intimacy to the whole scene that appealed to me. I take a bunch of screenshots, sketch them, then move them to a bigger canvas.” Another smaller work shows men racing, their faces frozen in various stages of blurred agony, inspired by an old cross-country running documentary. “I do draw from life a fair amount, but a lot comes from online references. There’s a built in flatness to the screen, which seems to work with how I paint.”

Through an old hatch and a rickety walkway that may or may not be health and safety compliant, Zack shows us to the roof. From here you can see the Coca-Cola bottling plant, two-lane highways and injury lawyer billboards, the haze slowly burning through to a sort of blue afternoon and the feint outline of skyscrapers over in the Financial District.

When he’s had enough of painting or stuck on another colour study, Zack likes to head up here, occasionally catching a police chase from a front row seat.

“The best view in LA!” he says with a smile.

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