Pittsburgh Current Staff Writer
It hasn’t been all fuzzy puppies and sporty doggos for Bunker Project’s most recent artist-in-residence, Mark Zubrovich.
While working in an open studio in Queens, a woman saw his work and approached the artist about it.
“She walked in and, not even knowing I was the artist, started yelling at me about how this art was gross, about how I should think about the church, you know, going on this whole rant to me. And then the only thing I could think of to say in the moment was, ‘Don’t worry, it’s only up for one day.’ And she said, ‘good’ and stormed out.”
Despite feeling vulnerable and jarred in the moment, the memory now inspires him.
“That kind of reaction just makes me want to make more art about it,” he says.
Zubrovich’s work centers around a fantastical world of anthropomorphic, homoerotic baseball-obsessed dog people. His show, “Mutts and Goodboys,” runs through the end of June at Bunker Projects in Bloomfield. Zubrovich explores how these pup-people might show their sports pride through soft sculpture, embroidery and painting.
According to Zubrovich, he grew up in a “both very creative and very strictly religious” house.
“I kind of got this odd mix of, ‘art is important but make art that’s safe,’” he says.
His work focused on religion while in college at SUNY Purchase. According to Zubrovich, a gift from a friend helped lead the way to his current practice.
“A friend of mine gave me a big box of 3000 baseball cards and said, ‘You can probably do something with this,’” he says.
So, he began painting animals onto baseball cards, painting animal heads and paws onto human baseball players.
Eventually, the dogs stuck.
“We, as humans, think we understand dogs. We’ve evolved next to dogs and they’ve evolved next to us. We can read their emotions. They have eyebrows! So we tend to put a lot of human emotion into canine affectation, even though we’ll never really know what’s going on in a dog’s brain,” he says.
Soon, he decided to create his own sporty, dog-filled alternate universe.
“At some point I needed to have this world become more my own and less influenced by the real life histories or names or dates or locations that are involved in the mythology of baseball,” he says.
According to Zubrovich, dogs were also an interesting way to comment on gender.
“Dogs are not necessarily sexually dimorphic to the human eye, but we almost always present them as male and masculine in pop culture. If you want a female dog in your cartoon, you gotta put a bow and eyelashes on her!” he says.
This combination of gender, sexuality, sports culture and dogs allows for multiple entry points to the show, he says, offering different viewpoints from a wide net of audience members.
“The ability to bring different perspectives in is something that has been really fruitful and kind of surprising for me,” he says.
But, according to Zubrovich, living in Pittsburgh—a place with a specific sports culture where even the bus seats are black and yellow—inspired him to focus more on the dog fans instead of the dog players when creating the show.
“It’s caused a pretty radical shift in the way I am positioning myself as the artist and the viewer and as somebody who is coming to relate to this world,” he says. “That entire unified world was so inspiring and it made me kind of step outside of the world that I was exploring, and it made me approach it from a more personal perspective.”
For his artist residency at Bunker Projects, Zubrovich wanted to push himself out of his comfort zone. His show incorporates painting, soft sculptures of baseball bats and balls and embroidered patches featuring scenes between his dog-people.
“It ended up being that when I sat down in front of it [the sewing machine], I realized that the mark of a sewing machine is just a line. And I’ve been missing that in my work, that kind of closeness and the slowness because the paintings have been relatively quickly especially because I’m working with an airbrush,” he says.
According to Zubrovich, these patches bridge reality with the imagined.
“I think of the patches not only functioning as compositions, as paintings, as images that we can understand as supplementary or contributing to this world, but I also think of them as things that exist in this world and now exist in ours,” he says.
After his residency at Bunker Projects, Zubrovich is headed back to New York City for a bit, and then to Vancouver for another artist residency, where he’ll continue to build on incorporating different mediums into his practice.
“That’s been kind of an inspiration for me, to kind of push this material diversity a lot more,” he says.
Zubrovich’s work is as small as a playing card and takes up entire walls. According to him, this variety immerses people in the world he’s created.
“I love that push and pull of getting somebody to get really close to it, but then feel the need to step really far back, but then they want to get close again,” he says. “I think that’s something that all painters want.”