By Trevor Ballantyne
BU News Service
Zak Shiff sat in his studio at the Boston University School of Visual Arts. During his first semester in the school’s graduate program, the 38-year-old Israeli artist spent much of his time working in an old parking garage turned studio while creating a three-dimensional project he calls “The W.B. Mason Truck.”
This part of the visual arts building, once a parking garage, holds a spiraling paved road that disappears around the corner of the third floor in both directions. The pavement is lined by “NO PARKING” written in big white letters on drab and dust laden green walls.
When he first laid eyes on the garage space, Shiff said knew he would create there.
“I told myself, ‘Okay I will do something.'” he said. “I didn’t know what, but I just knew I wanted to do it.”
He measured the width and height of the garage space. He said he originally imagined a two-dimensional project in the form of a screen stretching across the ramp but later abandoned the idea.
“It was too forced. I thought about it too much so I decided to drop it. Then, naturally it came,” Shiff said, referring to an inspiring vision he had when he first noticed a passing W.B. Mason delivery truck at Boston University. The delivery trucks are a familiar site at the school because it is one of the office supply delivery company’s largest customers.
But for Shiff, he said, it was extraordinary.
To the artist, the red and yellow W.B. Mason logo was powerful and decidedly American.
“With these red and yellow colors, they are really aggressive and meaningful colors,” Shiff said. “Everything starts with this really interesting logo.”
He said the flags had a particular impact on him. He recalled being a young boy in his hometown of Tel Aviv, Israel, watching the Olympics on television and marveling at the American athletes.
“It was like ‘Wow! Here come the Americans to take all of the gold medals!’” he said.
The bust of William Bets Mason, who founded the company in Brockton, Mass. in 1898, was put on full display on one side of the truck and dotted amongst the collage of colorful painted cardboard.
Shiff said he researched W.B. Mason—the company and the man—thoroughly during the development of the idea.
“I really appreciate the way that he built from nothing this family company and makes something from nothing,” Shiff said.
“But at the same time, he is greedy at the end of the day because he has this huge company that swallows so many other companies and dealing with amounts of money I can’t imagine,” he said. “I keep thinking to myself: how much money do you need as a human being in a lifetime?”
Shiff collected dozens of cardboard boxes—many of them from W.B. Mason deliveries to BU—and latched them together to form the sides and rear of the truck. He painted over the flattened cardboard boxes and installed them on the wooden frame he had assembled.
One important idea conveyed by the truck centers around consumption, Shiff said. W.B. Mason’s success as the biggest office supply delivery company in the United States relies on thousands of customers who consistently consume office supplies.
As Shiff worked, he said, he contemplated his own consumption as a painter and focused on building his truck with the use of relatively inexpensive and recycled materials.
Shiff said he planned to recycle pieces of the truck’s painted cardboard siding into future projects.
“At the end of the day, it’s garbage,” he said. “It’s art, but its garbage art. And I am thinking about, after this project, everything is breakable. Everything will be really quick to break and I can build something else, like reuse the material.”
A Christmas themed painting using paper Target bags as a canvass hung in Shiff’s main studio space next to a piece partially designed using photoshop that combines nationalistic American and Israeli motifs with W.B. Mason imagery.
Inside the truck, another target bag hung like laundry next to a painted steamship era vessel emblazoned with the popular Otto Pizza logo on its bow and a portrait of former North Korean leader Kim Jong-il on cardboard with Shiff’s son’s trousers hanging below.
He said he plans to recycle pieces of the truck’s painted cardboard siding into future projects.
“At the end of the day its garbage,” he said. “It’s art, but its garbage art. And I am thinking about, after this project, everything is breakable. Everything will be really quick to break and I can build something else, like reuse the material.”
Shiff said he designed the truck with location of the garage in mind.
“You can see the wheel—its like half a wheel soaked under the concrete,” he said. “It’s not just that it can’t move itself—this great fat beast—it’s also soaking in the mud and it’s part of the history of the place itself.”
Before Shiff deconstructed the truck—his final project for the semester—it was reviewed by his Boston University professors.
He reflected on the finality of his project.
“I have to break it and, of course, it will be really difficult for me because I look at it and I am really satisfied from the outcome,” he said.
“It’s unusual for me to be satisfied from something because every time that I am ending a process, I still have this feeling that there is something I have to do because something is not complete,” Shiff said. “And yet, I like that it is not complete.”