Zac Yeates on His Paintings, Living in Lithuania, Why He Started to Paint & More

by Rubén Palma
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Zac Yeates’s work strives for a connection with the viewer, exploring personification and human forms using mixed media—mainly gouache and oil pastels—to reveal color-intensive portraits. Fascinated by ordinary life and elements of pop culture, Yeates evokes a parallel between the absurd and the comedic, a contradiction between the familiar and the strange, and a relationship between the artist and the viewer. Yeates was born in Western Australia but continues his artistic journey in Vilnius, Lithuania, reflecting the zeitgeist back onto the viewer with the final objective of mutual understanding expressed through a knowing smile.

Hi Zac, It’s a pleasure to sit down with you. First question. What brought you to Vilnius and how does a regular day look like for you?

Hey Ruben, the pleasure is mine. My partner is Lithuanian and we decided to settle down in a place where we have some roots for half a year or so. I have visited Lithuania many times so it feels almost like a second home to me. I would say I am quite intertwined with Lithuanian culture and life. I can even order a coffee without anyone knowing I’m not Lithuanian. My day looks regular: order a coffee, 20 minute walk to the studio, hope to see something irregular on the walk to make my day not regular and spend the rest of the day painting. When it’s time to go home, it takes 15 minutes, I take a shortcut.

In 2018 you decided to pack your bags and move to Berlin to study film production at Catalyst Institute, where you graduated in 2020. What made you pick up a brush and start painting?

In January 2020 I travelled to New York for 10 days. I spent most of my time visiting museums and art galleries. When I came back to Berlin I felt sick. Then, as you know, a little thing called COVID happened. I felt immensely inspired by my trip to New York and with nothing else to do I started painting in my room. And for the entire quarantine, my bedroom was covered with paint and the fumes of turpentine. You would feel light-headed just by walking into the room.  

I see.. So what is it about painting that makes you choose that as your prefered art form, when expressing yourself, and not film?

The simple answer is that when I want to make a painting, I can make a painting, a physical painting I can touch and see. When I want to make a film, it costs money, I need the help of tons of people, it takes months, even years, and in the end, I can’t even touch it, I can only touch the hard drive it’s stored on.  

Staying on the subject. You only started painting about 2 years ago. And last year you had your first exhibition. This year your works have already been exhibited in Amsterdam, Paris, Stuttgart and Osaka in Japan. Talk to me a little bit about that experience of succes this early in your career.

Firstly, thank you! You are very kind. When looking back on it, it was surprising to sell my first work on Instagram, I couldn’t help but think why would someone want a painting like this? Instagram has done wonders to help artists get discovered so I think early success is more common nowadays.  

Do you remember which of your works that started to make you noticed on a broader scale?

Yep! I visited Lithuania for a couple of weeks and I didn’t have any of my painting supplies. So I raided my partner’s childhood bedroom and stole all her crayons and pencils and just started drawing. It felt freeing and fun. There was a lack of funness in my previous work so when I started to apply this new technique and attitude on canvas that’s when I started to get noticed.

Walk me through the process of creating one of your pieces.

There is quite a bit of planning before I start an artwork. It begins when I have thought of a visual that I find amusing or the thought “It would be funny if…”. Then I try to sketch that vision on paper and then turn that sketch into a digital one and play around with it in Photoshop. Once I’m happy with the digital sketch I transfer it onto the canvas. This is when I do most of my improvisation. My main medium is oil pastels. They are the perfect medium for me, they allow me to use my fingers to blend, removing the brush between me and the canvas. I was never good at mixing colours anyway so having premade colours works in my favour.

What’s your favorite movie(s) and why?

I enjoy the movies of Yorgos Lanthimous. I love his world-building and how surreal it all feels. It’s not a movie but I love the sketch show I Think You Should Leave with Tim Robinson. 

For more information about Zac, check out his Instagram and website.

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