At USC, there are countless minds that have gone above and beyond what is expected of them. One of the brightest on campus currently is fourth-year studio art student Zachary Diaz. Diaz’s concentration lies in painting, and he has sold many of his works and has shown art all across the country and the world. Surrounded by his work, Diaz talked to the The Daily Gamecock about what art can mean to different people and what it means to be an artist.
Diaz comes from an artistic background. His family works in interior design and music, but it was his father that first struck the fuse that began his lifelong love of art.
“My father drew cartoons of me and my older brother when I was little,” Diaz said about his first artistic memories. “So I started to do lots of cartoons with him.”
Not long after doing this did Diaz realized that this was something he could set his mind to for the rest of his life. He studied art at Coker College before transferring to the Savannah College of Art and Design. After taking a few years off, Diaz came to USC to finish his degree.
“I can say through all the schools I’ve been to, this is the school that has, in my opinion, the most resources,” Diaz said.“I love coming here to USC because I feel like there’s a huge community of artists ... The fact that things are much smaller so you get more of a one on one learning experience. It’s really what helps us, me and everyone else, grow from it.”
Earlier this year, Diaz went to Italy for a three week residency.
“With residency, you show up, you live there, you walk around, you explore, you consume everything you can, and then you create work from it,” said Diaz of his time abroad.“What I got from Italy is how much more appreciated art is there. I really took in their way of simple life.”
It was in Italy where Diaz got to be even closer to one of his favorite artists of all time.
“As cliche as it sounds, my favorite artist is Michelangelo,” Diaz said.“I loved how inspired he was by his craft. I love how, how consumed he was with art. He was kind of crazy, but I guess who isn’t crazy and brilliant at the same time?”
Diaz also looks at contemporary artists, like Brad Kunkle, Casey Baugh and Jeremy Lipking, who can embody the gray area of art that blends realism and abstract.
The woman behind Diaz's Italy residency opportunity is Pam Bowers, the senior instructor in the School of Visual Art and Design in painting. Bowers is a co-director of the International Center for the Arts in Italy.She also happened to be Diaz’s intermediate painting teacher, and then continued to teach him in various subsequent art courses. She chose Diaz for the residency program, and spoke very highly of not only his talent as an artist, but also of his agreeable personality.
“You want to make sure if you’re doing that you’re selecting someone who’s both got the qualifications to pursue advanced independent work … and also someone who will be a positive force and get along well with others,” Bowers said.
Bowers also hoped to challenge Diaz by selecting him for the program. She foresaw the benefits that would come from sending Diaz to central Italy, a place rich with artistic masterpieces.
Another faculty member who has worked with Diaz is Sara Schneckloth — she too holds Diaz in high regard.
“Zachary Diaz is one of the most dedicated student artists I have had the pleasure to work with,” Schneckloth said.
In addition to advising Diaz, Schneckloth is the advisor for the Artist Guild — an artist organization founded by Diaz, who also serves as the president.
“By founding the Artist Guild student group, he succeeds in bringing together students from all artistic backgrounds to work together on advancing their creative visions,”she said.
Diaz knows painting is his life’s calling and is ready to do the work that is required of him, but is not unaware of the challenges artists face.
“One of the biggest challenges is having the patience to see it through, understanding that it all doesn’t have to be finished now,” Diaz said.“You can step back, you can take a few days off, you can come back to it with fresh eyes.”
However, Diaz says having the patience isn’t enough. Sometimes, you need to look deep within to take hold of something valuable to use in you art.
“It’s also staying true to yourself,” Diaz said.“I think a lot of artists go wrong when they do work for money as opposed to themselves, because, at the end of the day, the art is about the artist it’s not about the money you make from it.”
Diaz has had many successes with his art; he was part of auctions for the Georgia Association for Women Lawyers and for Tapp’s Art Center. He also placed in first in 2016 for a undergraduate showcase at USC. All this success can mean a lot to a young artist, and while Diaz knows that, he wants to take all his previous accomplishments with grain of salt.
“I know that my work is of good quality, but art is forever changing and what people want is always changing, but everyone likes something different,” Diaz said. “Once you start to sell ... you have to stay humble. You have to understand that any given the whole ‘what people like can change’."
Diaz’s plans for now is to collaborate with different artists, continue to pursue residencies, travel abroad to discuss his art and go back to Italy. He also has a new exhibit planned for the end of the year before he graduates.
No matter what lies ahead for him, Diaz is prepared and confident for the future because he knows that art is the right path for himself.
“Anything is possible, but I do know that this is what I'm to do.”