José DeJesús Zamora

 

“Torus Mandala” Oil and encaustic medium, on birch wood panel with gold leaf, 2018.

 

So tell us a bit about yourself!

I was born and raised in Puerto Rico in a small fishermen village in the west coast of the Island, famous for its beautiful mountain views of the sunset over the Atlantic ocean. Ever since I can remember I loved to draw! My mother recognized and encouraged the skill by sending me to private art school on the weekends since I was 13 years old. I lived in Puerto Rico until right after college in 1986. I completed a degree in Biology from the Inter American University of Puerto Rico in 1982, but became very aware that the path of medicine was not my calling.

I was an artist, but my family didn’t believe in pursuing a career in the arts as a viable option. We came to the conclusion that architecture was a good idea, which compromised and checked all the boxes. I began undergraduate studies in the School of Architecture at the University of Puerto Rico in Rio Piedras. I loved studying architecture! I loved the history, the ideas, the creativity, the artistry, the aesthetics, and the impact in human lives individually and collectively.

I was fortunate enough to study abroad during the summer of 1986 in Italy, at the Centro Internazionale di Studi di Architettura Andrea Palladio. We spent two months that summer traveling throughout Italian cities, visiting museums, cathedrals, palazzos, public monuments, piazzas, and villas. We arrived in Rome in early June, and spent the first 11 days drawing, touring and studying. After that, we drove north, spending time in some hill town or larger city of interest for a couple of days or just one night. We then arrived in Vicenza, where we spent most of the time working in an architectural studio at the top of the Basilica Palladiana. This was an unforgettable life changing experience.

After that trip, I knew that I wasn’t going to stay in Puerto Rico for the rest of my life. My next stop would be New York, eventually. I was young and had no one in New York City so on January 31st 1987, I moved to Massachusetts, where I had relatives who kindly welcomed me during the first few weeks of my new life in the USA.

I landed a job right away, in a small architects’ office in Springfield Mass, making 6 dollars an hour, which I thought at the time was reasonable. I was happy! In less than a month I met someone, fell in love and moved in. I was in heaven for the next ten months, at which point I returned to my dream of moving to New York City. Sometime during the early spring of 1988, I made the move to the Big Apple! By then I had a community of friends who had moved to the city to continue their graduate studies at Columbia University, so I crashed on their couches for the couple of weeks.

I was lucky enough to land my first gig right away with architects Thomas Hanrahan Victoria Mayers. They needed help with a presentation for an architectural competition for the Elise Chapin Interpretive Center Nature Museum in Chattanooga Tennessee. Their project won the competition for construction and was also a recipient of a Progressive Architecture Award in 1989. It all was good and I felt like I was home in NYC. During the recession of the early nineties, I had to work on other venues outside of the architectural field, since jobs were lacking. I was willing to work in any type of job to make ends meet and began working with a mural company. I went back to my roots, and decided to go back to school. I completed an MFA from The New York Academy of Art with a major in Sculpture in 1995.

While I was at the Academy I was fortunate enough to get gigs here and there working for architects and designers, doing freelance office work or decorative painting, which was a trend at the time. Right after I completed my MFA I began to work for Jeff Koons for the collection he called Celebration, which included most of the very famous inflatables. I was in charge of the modeling of one particular sculpture, The Sacred Heart, which has been since reproduced five times and have been sold for around twenty three million dollars per piece. A red one was exhibited at the roof of the Metropolitan Museum in 2008, and each of the others have been exhibited in various exhibitions and installations world wide, such as Seoul Korea in 2011, Almine Rech Gallery in Brussels in 2013, the Israel Museum in 2015, and The Gagosian Gallery in Beverly Hills in 2017.

“Sacred Heart” for Jeff Koons “Celebration” collection. One of Five pieces produced in Stainless steel with red color gel, 12.5 feet tall by 6 feet wide. 2008, At The Roof exhibition, the Metropolitan Museum.

 

What brought you to Parsons?

After working for Jeff Koons’s studios I found more work as a sculptor and work in other projects. I kept connected with my school and my teachers/mentors. The teachers I had at the NY Academy had a deep impact within me. I became aware of my desire to continue learning and practicing, and started contemplating the possibility of exploring teaching as an interest which could extend my own learning experience.

In early 1997, I was awarded an opportunity to spend time making art at Altos De Chavon in the Dominican Republic. This allowed me to not only spend uninterrupted time making a collection of sculptures, but I was also given the chance to teach freshman students in drawing, painting, and sculpture. It was my first time trying to teach, but it was surprisingly successful. I spent the whole spring semester teaching and building teaching experience, which I was hoping would open my chances of landing a teaching gig back in NYC upon my return.

Little did I know, that I would meet a couple of Parsons officials who came to the school at Altos de Chavon to review students’ portfolios and make a selection of students to enroll and transfer to Parsons NY! I met them, and was invited to send my resume and portfolio to apply to teach at Parsons. I began working as a Part Time faculty in the fall of 1997, and I became full-time in 1998. I have been at Parsons for the last 21 years, and it has become my second home.

What courses do you teach at Parsons?

I teach first year courses in Space and Materiality and a drawing elective called Design Drawing which is offered for first and second year students and is recommended for students interested in careers in the constructed environments majors.

Tell us about your work / research and what your work / research is on. Why / how did you become passionate about this?

My work has evolved over the years. The multidisciplinary experiences I’ve had as a student coming from science, architecture and art has informed and expanded my vision and interests, both as an artist and as an educator. The subjects of study that have remained a constant throughout my practice and teaching are, among other things: Visual Perception and Representation, Retinal Images, Geometry and patterns in Nature and Design, the human body, history and a little bit of Neoplatonic philosophy. I have uncovered very interesting methods of observation by following the footsteps of old masters like Leonardo Da Vinci, who, in my view, exemplifies the ideal of a systemic thinker who uses the tools of observation and representation of a draftsman in order to discover the secrets and the wonders of nature. I believe Leonardo is the model to emulate for a contemporary approach to learning and making connections across subjects and disciplines. It has been through the eyes of Leonardo that I have found a new meaning and reason to practice and teach drawing in the era of digital technology. This journey has moved me to uncover very old methods of observation, as well as a passion for the construction of intricate geometric patterns which emulate the patterns in nature. My own recent work has been heavily influenced by the discovery of these old forgotten practices.

 

 

“Dionysus” Private collection, Beverly Hills, Los Angeles, California. Aqua resin, life-size.

 

What is the most important thing that you want Parsons / First Year community to know about you and/or your work?

I will never forget what it was and how it felt to be a student. I can place myself in the shoes of my students and I am capable of empathy, which I believe to be essential for a job in education. I remember how I used to see the world and how that has evolved over time. As a draftsman who believes in the critical importance of the drawing practice for the teaching, learning and practice of art and design, I have invested a lot of time researching the possibilities of drawing as a tool for learning to see the world with a fresh eye; as a practice that enables one to always see the world as if it was the very first time, as a way to be mindfully present. I have learned that drawing is not just a means to make nice picture, but a way to think, learn, and find connections and associations among the otherwise unlikely.

Who are some of your influences?

Plato, Pythagoras, Euclid, Leonardo Da Vinci, Buckminster Fuller, Nature.

What is your favorite part of teaching?

Teaching first year students is a unique and rewarding experience. I feel a great deal of joy when I see my students blossom and evolve into mindful, sensitive and inspired young adults. And I could swear, I see this happen before my eyes throughout the semester I spend with each group.

What is the most challenging part of teaching?

I can not imagine a better way of staying in touch with the times than by connecting with the minds of young people. Parsons students are inspired, energetic, and full of curiosity. They force one to stay tuned, stay focused, and stay relevant.

 

“Crucifix” for Holyrood Episcopal Church, Fort Washington Avenue NYC. Polished bronze figure and oak cross, 40 inches tall. 2006.

 

Do you have some favorite food and coffee places around campus?

When in Campus, I love to go to Bar Six on 6th avenue between 12th and 13th streets, and sometimes I like to go to Vapiano on the corner of University Place and 13th street, for my spaghetti a’la carbonara. But I sometimes just go across the street from 2 west 13th, to a tiny little place called Mapi which has great coffee for a low price.

What is one piece of advice that you would give to a First Year student?

Open your senses to experience the world around you in real time; turn off your phones and be present in real time and space.

If you could go back and tell yourself something as an undergraduate / First Year student, what would that be?

Follow your dream, no matter how crazy it may seem.

 

“Study of Female Nude” work in progress. Clay, 30 inches tall