Folk art is the umbrella term used to encapsulate the spectrum of creativity by outsider artists. It’s a rich tradition in Georgia, from the visionary works of Summerville’s Howard Finster to the intricate carvings of Savannah’s Ulysses Davis — to name just two of the many self–taught artists who’ve created legacies for themselves by virtue of raw talent and unique vision.
One day Jeff Zeigler’s name might also be added to that list.
For more than a decade Zeigler’s enthusiastic paintings have brightened the local art scene with primitive forms and a pyrotechnic use of color.
“I have this energy and...I like the vibrant colors because they tend to reflect that energy,” explains Zeigler, sitting in a coffee shop with a stack of paintings. “Some people use their energy to mow the lawn or something, I like to put it into painting. I like exciting art.”
As a teenager with an interest in skateboarding, Zeigler was first drawn to art by renowned skateboarding artists like Ed Templeton and Mark Gonzales. He began pushing his proclivity for classroom doodling further, and started making art on skateboards and t–shirts, earning good reviews from friends.
Although he enjoyed other creative pursuits like writing and music, once he started painting, after acquiring a watercolor set in 1993, he discovered his passion was steered by a brush.
“I just gravitated toward art,” says Zeigler. “Some of it was probably hereditary too.”
His great-grandmother was a painter; raised in the country, she found inspiration in her surroundings, painting landscapes and animals. Zeigler’s father was also a painter, although his work was strictly abstract. A bit of each of their artistic DNA exists in Zeigler’s work, which takes inspiration from daily life – children playing in the park or a mother holding her daughter – but without being anchored to a strictly representational style or palette of colors.
When he has time, Zeigler will walk around with a camera, capturing moments that might serve as inspiration in a painting later. He also carries around a small, green spiral–bound notebook for sketches, should inspiration strike while he’s at work or in class.
Zeigler came to Savannah with the intention of attending SCAD, but years later ended up going to Armstrong instead.
And although he’d been painting for years by the time he got around to higher education, he chose to pursue criminal justice rather than the arts.
“Going to school is a good thing, because it’s allowed me to learn about myself. It’s allowed me to see I’m good at other things and made me more well–rounded,” says Zeigler.
With only a few classes left before graduation, Zeigler is enjoying the balance of left and right brain pursuits offered by school and art. When he finishes, he plans on looking for a job doing work helping people cope with substance abuse issues, something he became passionate about while volunteering at Recovery Place.
“I’ve always liked to talk to people and connect with people,” says Zeigler. “I’ve always had that helper instinct.”
It’s a quest that stems from personal experiences as well. Besides having friends who struggled with substance abuse, art helped him move away from days and nights of partying.
Helping others find the right path, whether its returning to families or channeling energy into some constructive, Zeigler is motivated by affirmation, something evident in his upcoming show at Lulu’s Chocolate Bar, “Life By Chocolate,” which will include new work, as well as a few old favorites.
After seeing the phrase, “death by chocolate,” Zeigler decided to flip it. “I said why not ‘Life by Chocolate’,” he explains. “I like to capture everyday life. I think life comes through in the art, and then there’s also life in the chocolate. You enjoy life more.”
“Life By Chocolate: Selected Works by Jeff Zeigler”
When: April 4–30, Recept. April 7 p.m.
Where: Lulu’s Chocolate Bar, 42 MLK