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Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Artist Profile: Zak Zaikine

Press kits are not an everyday occurrence in my mailbox and often unsolicited materials are immediately relegated to the circular file in an attempt to eliminate clutter in my life. So when I received a large envelope a couple of months ago, I immediately looked with skepticism at the elaborate addressing and sighed. The return address was Zak Zaikine, artist of considerable talent and a name on my list of artists that I must meet. The book that emerged from the plain manila encasing was a colorfully crafted tribute to one of my favorite places in the world, the Hawaiian Island of Kauai. The Magic of Hanalei Bay is the story of Kauai rain and wind, the chickens that survive in this environment and the mercreatures of the sea. Inside was a personally inscribed message offering rainbows and blessings to me and my family. A coy little chicken graces the middle of the inscription and holds a heart with the words “for you.” The package was a hard sell that immediately grabbed my attention and warmed my heart. Such was my second introduction to Zak Zaikine.

I had first heard of Zak from Janet Charnofsky in 2006. (She was featured in this column in May, 2006.) Janet gave me a greeting card with one of Zak’s whimsical images and suggested that I contact him. “He is going through some health issues right now but please keep him in mind,” was Janet’s advice. The card has been amongst my desktop collection for these three and a half years – reminding me that someday I will meet this young man with a flair for bright colors, fanciful images and apparently poor health. Little did I know that this “young” man has produced art for over 60 years! The vibrancy and joy in his paintings and children’s books reflect youth and optimism that is not anticipated. But meeting Zak takes away all preconceived notions of age or health.

The first thing that comes to mind when entering the lair of Zak Zaikine is that he loves to make art. His art is everywhere and comes in all varieties. The kitchen walls and surfaces are covered with ceramics (he has two kilns), sketches and metal figurines of Zak’s making. As he leads the tour of his house, each room has a theme – although not necessarily adhered to – of a genre or era in his lifetime of creating. He talks of making sculptures out of hangers in the 50’s and the famous patrons he has known over the years. He reminisces about the house he built on Long Island and sold to Paul Taylor, the choreographer, because their numerology was compatible. He beams as he speaks of his two daughters, Lynda and Anastasia. He insists that the people who have cared for him during his struggle and recovery from MRSA and the loss of his leg be mentioned because without them, he would not be having this discussion today.

Zak was born in Queens, New York to immigrant Russian parents with the name Victor Eugene Zaikine. His New York heritage is woven through his conversation as easily as his life in California. He has resided in many places but Sonoma County is the final refuge that supports his desires to be in consort with the universe and partake of the fruits that abound. While no part of his artist endeavors take a back seat to others, Zak’s current emphasis is on his children’s books. In addition to The Magic of Hanalei Bay, two other books are currently available – A Mother’s Love, a story of kittens based on his experiences while living on a ranch outside of Healdsburg, and Eugene and the Magical Carrot Tree. Any child would be delighted to have one or all of these books under the Christmas tree. They are beautifully produced on recycled paper with soy inks. You can purchase the books on Zak’s website or you can locate one of the many local galleries where Zak’s work is displayed. I know that you will find signed books at Quicksilver Mining Company in downtown Forestville.

Zak’s large collection of art works is truly as magical as his stories. I sincerely hope that you will take time in this busy holiday season to find a little magic.
In honoring Zak’s wishes to give praise to the many who have helped in his recovery, I am including this thanks from him.

My Healing could not have happened without the help of my Darling Daughter Anastasia, My Dear Friend Karin O’Keefe, My Friend and Acupuncturist David Walker, My Dear Friend and Neighbor Ron, Dr. Thomas Yatteau, Cheryl Caletti, N.P., Vicchi Oleski, Claude Smith, Rick Hobbs, Natalie Slanina, Adrianne Sinclair, Lorenzo De Santis, Shayne Cook, Bud D’Orazio, Elizabeth Draper, Joshua Muscat and Steve of Buffalo Direct. Let these few represent the countless other folks in my extended community.

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