In Ann Arbor, it’s not all that rare to see a pig fly. You may not be familiar with David Zinn the man, but if you’ve spent enough time in Ann Arbor, you’ve probably seen his art. Using chalk and charcoal, he creates fantastical characters that often seem to be escaping from the city’s underground or into a beautiful world that exists just below the sidewalks or through walls.
Zinn grew up between South Lyon and Whitmore Lake, “in the country where there were no sidewalks.” He and his parents moved to Ann Arbor when he was seven years old, where he later attended U-M’s Residential College, majoring in Creative Writing, not Fine Art. “Why study what you’re going to do anyway?” says Zinn.
Part of his attraction to staying in Ann Arbor is its walkability; he often goes out for a walk with chalk and charcoal, and if inspiration strikes, he’s ready. He’s been doing street art for years because it’s been a good excuse to be outdoors. But why work with a medium that will wash away with the next rainstorm? Zinn calls his art’s ephemeral nature not a bug but a feature.
“Saving the art is not the fun part of the art, making the art is the fun part,” Zinn said.
Sluggo, the green alien-like creature with his eyes on the ends of stalks, and Philomena the flying pig, are Zinn’s most popular characters. Sluggo has even become popular in China. In September, Zinn will bring his talent to the No Limit Festival in Boras, Sweden—known as being the rainiest city in that country.
Differentiating from Graffiti
While the ephemeral nature of Zinn’s work separates him from many street artists, it still begs the question: what’s the difference between street art and graffiti?
Zinn answers, “Technically, graffiti is a subset of street art that is created illicitly, so my chalk drawings only count as graffiti if they are drawn on private property without the permission of the property owner. This legality and/or willing participation of other people is the only difference, so skill is not a consideration. There are lots of brilliantly skilled graffiti and terribly rendered street art and vice versa.”
Jeff Hayner, owner of The Gum Giant, a property maintenance organization with a niche in gum and vandalism removal, is familiar with Zinn’s work and offers his opinion – it’s not just Zinn’s material that separates his art from graffiti. “David is doing something clever, artistic and something everyone can appreciate,” he said. “What it comes down to is whether someone is adding or subtracting from the visual environment.”
Zinn hopes to attract a positive dimension to the art. He points out that his method can be done spontaneously, easing up the pressure to produce something worthy of endurance and creating more of a feeling of chance and discovery in the people who stumble upon it.
“My drawings are my friends, and if they couldn’t come and go from place to place, then they would be less real to me.”
Most recently, Zinn finished a wrap-around piece for the utility box on the corner of 1st Ave. and Liberty. The piece is called “Selfie Monster.” These wrap-arounds are commissioned by the city of Ann Arbor to discourage unsanctioned street art.