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Daniel Zender

We’ve been a huge fan of Daniel Zender’s ever since we stumbled upon his Hysteria print on Instagram. So as we waited outside his studio in Bed Stuy for a tour and interview, we shivered in anticipation. The Missouri native has been growing his portfolio for the past six or so years, painting, drawing and sketching his way onto people’s walls. 

Zender’s studio is covered in the vibrant, mysterious scenes we’ve stalked on his website and admired from afar. The paint is thick and shiny, and the canvases are way larger than we'd imagined. He’s a master of illustration, having done the cover of Variety magazine and various pieces for The New York Times. But he enjoys making and selling prints, spontaneous paintings and pins because it allows him to share with an audience more directly.

“I think there is something very important about making accessible things anyone can afford.”

As you can probably tell, most of Zender’s work seems to center on women and girls. Zender is influenced by art history, painting, horror movies and comics, hence the female motif.

“Historically, I feel like women in these art forms are portrayed in more passive, objective, even fragile ways that I find sort of dishonest and unfair. So, in my art I am trying to make the women I paint powerful, in the way we see men often portrayed in art. I like the idea of subverting and changing the stereotypes, which hopefully results in interesting work.”

I FEEL LIKE WOMEN IN ART ARE PORTRAYED IN MORE PASSIVE, OBJECTIVE, EVEN FRAGILE WAYS THAT I FIND SORT OF DISHONEST AND UNFAIR.

Hysteria, a personal favorite, features the most female thing of all female things: menstruation. The piece was originally meant for a feminist magazine in France called Causette. It was one of four illustrations the team commissioned for an article about the word “Hysteria” and what it meant throughout history. 

“In ancient Rome, they believed a tiny octopus lives inside of a woman and caused her to ‘leak ink’ once a month. I thought it could lend itself to a pretty nice illustration.”

Ancient Rome aside, Zender is inspired by the weird, whacky stuff out in the world. He just sold out of a black vomit pin that stole our hearts at first glance. He published a large scale comic project called “Nope,” which features a bunch of little vignettes dealing with sexism and feminism. And he’s exploring impulsive painting - just committing to an idea, putting it down on canvas and seeing how it goes. He says he’s learning a lot from the spontaneity. 

Zender hands us a roll of free prints as we pack up for the day. We bicker about who gets what, how to split our coveted gift. If only we had walked out with a bag full of vomit pins, life would’ve been totally perfect.