Artist David Zaintz Talks About Making Paintings and Confronting AIDS in the Desert Southwest
by Lester Strong
Disc jockey, masseur, graphic and interior designer, artists’ model: Albuquerque, New Mexico-based painter and mixed-media artist David Zaintz has had various careers, and in a recent interview commented on where the different facets of his talents have taken him over the years, as well as how his work and life have intersected with the AIDS crisis.
Born in Brooklyn, New York, in 1963, Zaintz moved with his family to the Southwest when he was ten years old. He didn’t just fall into painting. “It’s not something I expected to be doing,” he stated. “My mother painted, and I enjoyed assisting her as a child. I was often told when growing up that I had talent, but never really thought too deeply about continuing it.” Instead he became a dance club disc jockey for nearly twenty years, during the 1980s and 1990s, eventually becoming head DJ at one of Albuquerque’s big clubs. “There’s a special place in my heart for club/dance music,” he said. “Club music from the 1970s to the present means a lot to me, and has influenced my art in various ways both visually and in terms of how I’ve titled some of my pieces.”
Looking at his art, it’s also clear the vivid New Mexico sunlight and colors have had a deep influence on his work. “Color is the bomb,” he said during the interview. “Certain colors draw me in. Take orange, my mother’s favorite color. Or blue. I’m drawn to all shades of blue, due to its calming effect, and like to incorporate it into a lot of my work. I love pinks and bright fluorescent tones. I was reluctant to speak up about liking those colors as a child, due to the connotations of seeming too gay. Now I proudly push them forward.”
He continued: “I recall a friend using a lot of orange in his restaurant because he’d heard it will induce hunger. Taking a cue from him, I enjoy how one color will support another, and in my art like to experiment and see how they’ll work together to achieve a certain feeling—wondering how different combinations will ultimately affect viewers.”
In addition to color, Zaintz brings to his work a highly sensual element of touch. Both his abstract and figurative pieces pop out at you, as if reaching out to touch you physically through your eyes. This may have something to do with his parallel career as a massage therapist, where for the last twenty years he has worked with clients through his hands and fingers to help heal and relax them physically. Indeed, you might almost say he massages his art into existence. “I use many methods to apply my paints,” he said. “Mostly my fingers, but also occasionally brushes. I always start by using my hands to apply a textural coat onto the board or canvas and to start the background color. I then incorporate the use of rags or a pallette knife, charcoal or ink, along with brushing on paint or scraping it off to get the desired effect.” Here he laughed, adding: ”Not that it always ends up the way I want it to.”
In recent years, Zaintz has won a number of awards related to his art: He was named a Local Treasure by the Albuquerque Arts Business Association (AABA) in 2012, and OUTstanding Artist by the Albuquerque Pride Committee in 2015, 2016, and 2017. “AABA puts on the Albuquerque ARTScrawl held the first Friday of each month at local galleries,” he said. “I was nominated, without my knowledge, by the gallery where I was exhibiting, the owner noting that my work was so bold and colorful it tended to draw people in and sold very well. The AABA committee was also aware that I donated work to raise money for many local organizations. The Albuquerque Pride Committee’s OUTstanding awards are people’s choice awards given out to folks who play a major role within the local gay community. It was especially awesome to receive the award three years in a row.”
It goes without saying that among the local groups to which Zaintz has donated work to
raise money are those related to AIDS. Asked how he first became aware of the disease, he replied: “I first heard about AIDS as a rumor, as ‘the gay cancer,’ when I was coming out in the early 1980s. But I had two strokes of good luck. The first was sneaking into a gay bar while I was still underage using my older brother’s ID. I drank too much too soon, and someone noticed I wasn’t doing very well. He asked if I’d like to go for a walk, and as we got some fresh air I found out he was an MD. I now had a gay doctor! From him I learned to avoid infection by not doing anything sexual to cause bleeding and to always use condoms. I mostly did play safe, but it was scary. Hearing about friends and acquaintances getting ill eventually had me to the point of thinking it was sure death every time I felt a cold or sinus infection coming on. I attempted to make peace with my maker on more than one occasion! I will add that movies like Longtime Companion and Jeffrey helped educate me.
“My second stroke of good luck happened when my father eventually found out about my sexual preference. His main concerns were first, that I might contract [HIV], and second, that I’d end up alone in life. He decided therapy was the answer. Then the therapist he chose for me after much research let him know that he was the one needing help in accepting me like I was.”
Asked how the epidemic affected his personal life, Zaintz answered: “In the early years of the epidemic, I don’t think Albuquerque was hit as hard by AIDS as the bigger cities were. But it started to take its toll around me in the clubs where I was a DJ—co-workers and patrons not showing up. It hit my psyche, causing me to think: When is it going to be my turn? I didn’t date much after a while. I had a partner who left me eventually for someone else who was HIV-positive but also suffered from mental issues and abused drugs. Then my ex got infected. He was living in Provincetown at the time and was planning on moving back to New Mexico. We stayed in touch and even talked about getting together again, but unfortunately he passed before that could happen. As time went on, I became something of a loner and eventually decided I could be happy with just some good porn and a dog for company. Then six years ago I met a wonderful, sweet guy and amazing photographer, named Max Woltman. We’ve been sharing out lives together since that time.”
According to Zaintz, AIDS has come into his art directly on at least one occasion. “I’ve been painting professionally since 2010. Around that time I lost a dear friend whose name was Matt Bubb. He and his partner Ken performed with a very talented local drag group called ‘The Dolls.’ Matt went by the name of ‘Geneva Convention’ and Ken by the name of ‘Tequila Mockingbird.” A few months after Matt passed, I was working on a large abstract piece, but having trouble coming up with a good concept for it. I was listening to music, and suddenly some awesome club music popped up on my player. It put me in a trance-like state, and I ended up with a very abstract portrait of what appeared to be Geneva. It’s been really well received over the years and I’m very proud of it.”
How do you end an article about such a multi-talented person? Indeed, several of his careers—graphic and interior designer, artists’ model—were barely touched on in the above paragraphs. Perhaps it’s best to turn to a description he offered of himself during the interview: “Here I was, a tall, agnostic Jew from Brooklyn, looking to find his place in the New Mexico high desert.” Take one glance at his art, and it’s clear Zaintz has definitely found his artistic place in the high desert world of the New Mexico sun.
For more on the art of David Zaintz, visit his website at www.davidzaintz.com. His work is shown and exhibited in Albuquerque at Sumner & Dene Gallery (www.sumnerdene.com), and in Santa Fe at Reside Home (www.howyoureside.com).
Lester Strong is Special Projects Editor of A&U.