April 25, 1965-June 4, 2006
To the many local artists, musicians, and writers who call Peter Zahorecz a friend, he was an irreplaceable force of nature. To anybody who doesn’t recognize the name, you’ll probably recognize the face as one of the most genuinely friendly people you ever had the pleasure of coming across at concerts, art openings, events at the 14 Karat Cabaret, or just out and about. The slim, easily approachable man somehow magically retained his disarming, boyish good looks through his years, charms surpassed by his gracious demeanor and omnivorous intellect. The creative output of Zahorecz, who passed away June 4 from head-related trauma following a skateboarding accident in England, hid just as quietly in plain sight. He was 41 years old, an accomplished artist, illustrator, curator, writer, musician, general repository for aesthetic knowledge—but an even better friend, step-father to his wife DeeDee Taylor’s daughter Chelsea, and human being.
Zahorecz and Taylor were visiting London in preparation to move overseas. “It was a kind of injury that’s really rare and it was just so severe that from the beginning there was just no way,” Taylor says over the phone after returning to Baltimore June 10. “For me, it’s really important for people to know that he was so happy for weeks. Peter’s been skateboarding for 30 years. We went [to England] last year as a vacation, and this time before we went he decided he wanted to skate over there, so for weeks he was looking up all these skateboard parks. And we had gotten in on Thursday, but it was actually our first full day in England. So first thing in the morning, it’s the first thing we did.”
That impish spirit and unconditional love for doing what he wanted to do is one of the many blithe qualities that his friends, colleagues, and collaborators remember most. He grew up in California, attending Los Angeles’ Otis Parsons Art Institute (now the Otis College of Art and Design), and moved to Baltimore in 1987 after a friend enticed him with anecdotes about Baltimore’s green-glass paved streets that have steam and smoke bubbling out from their grates.
“And the apartment he ended up getting was right on Mount Vernon Place, right there on Charles Street, at the park, and right where they had all that glassphalt and steam coming out of the street,” Taylor says, laughing. “And he and I met in ’89, and at that point it was just, Whatever we’re going to do we’re going to do together.”
Zahorecz was near the center of Baltimore’s explosion of alternative arts and experimental culture in the early 1990s. He and Taylor were two of the original nine cofounders of Normals Books and Records in 1990, alongside John Berndt, Alfred Merchlinsky, Walter Novash, tENTATIVELY a CONVENIENCE, Laura Trussell, Lee Warren, and Rupert Wondolowski. Zahorecz frequented the downtown Kinko’s at Charles and Saratoga streets alongside John Eaton, Gerald Ross, Jake True, Laura Trussell, and Wondolowski when it was the hot spot for local underground publishing. Zahorecz curated—and wrote an essay for—an influential stencil art show in 1996 for Artscape at Maryland Art Place a few years before stencil art began poking through the fringes of underground art. Zahorecz’s own illustrations and graphic designs appeared on the cover and inside Wondolowski’s Shattered Wig Review, and even of the cover of the City Paper. When anything modestly offbeat about art, writing, music, film, or just something under the radar happened in Baltimore, Zahorecz and Taylor could usually be found somewhere nearby.
His passing “is one of those things where you just realize what a profound influence the person was on so many aspects of life,” says musician John Berndt, who first met Zahorecz when they both worked at Nyborg Art Supply in 1987. Together they collaborated on many music projects and art events over the next few years, often under the name Western Cell Division, which became Zahorecz’s nom de projects in later years. “There was a sort of utopian period in the Baltimore arts scene that sort of blew up in ’91 that was characterized by a lot of really extreme lifestyle experimentation, a lot of really extreme, exploratory, uncategorizable activity, and I don’t think that would have happened the way it did had it not been for Peter Zahorecz.”
“My own relationship with him was one of complete camaraderie,” says Ross, who worked most recently with Zahorecz in the exhibitions department of Maryland Institute College of Art. “I really found an affinity with him really quickly. Here’s a guy who will do anything, because that’s just the standard [that he holds] professionally. He worried, but he only worried about taking care of others.
“I would see him at 5:30 [p.m.] and I’m trying to finish up and get out of here before 6,” Ross continues. “And he would just have this look in his eyes. And I would ask, ‘What are you doing, man?’ And he’d be like, ‘I’ve got to get the pedestals down to these sculptors down in the Station Building.’ Peter was like that—he was one who just did so much for others so selflessly.”
“He was an incredibly smart and self-effacing guy,” says artist Peter Walsh over the phone from New York. Walsh co-founded the local arts journal Link: A Journal of the Arts, to which Zahorecz contributed an early essay, and worked with him on the 1996 stencil art show, On the Street—Off the Street. “I mean, the guy was smart—I had trouble keeping up with him. And I’m talking about him being a serious person, but he had a great sense of humor.”
“He was one of the best people I’ve ever known who could mix complete joy with very serious intentions,” says erstwhile CP contributor Wondolowski. “There’d be a real playfulness to his art and everything he did, but at the same time he had very serious ideas in mind, but he was able to get incredible joy out of it at the same time. Not very many people can mix those.”
As an example, Wondolowski recalls the very first Intertribal Powwow festival in 1989. “Peter at that time was really fascinated by the Boy Scouts, and he was doing a lot of research about the beginnings of it, delving into the whole hidden homoerotic subtext of it,” he says. “And at that time he was sort of dressing as a Boy Scout. So for the first Powwow he was dressed as a Boy Scout and he was going around collecting all the used syringes off the beach. So in a way, it was kind of amusing, but it was also very practical. Here’s this huge party and people getting drunk, and here are these used syringes just washing up on the shore. To me, that was a very Peter-esque moment.”
An interest in discarded syringes also manifested itself in a stencil project that Zahorecz continued into the 1990s. Whenever he found a thrown-away hypodermic needle walking around town, he collected the needle in a jar for disposal and stenciled the ground where he found it with a needle and the word stigma, keeping track of where he found them.
“It was a very complex sort of conceptual mapping of the city, which is just a totally different level than just spray-painting your tag on the corner or something,” Walsh says. “It was political, it was scientific, it was this idea of mapping the place where you live, it was concerned with other people’s lives. To me it was just the most exquisite, high-level, high-quality conceptual artwork used as a popular form.”
Not that Zahorecz embraced the term “artist.” “‘Cultural worker’ I think is the term he was OK with,” says local artist and organizer Gary Kachadourian. “To me, Peter was the perfect artist. He made exquisitely beautiful objects that were also rigidly and conceptually structured. And that’s a super rare thing. Making art just because there’s a reason to make art is rare. Maybe a ‘maker of cultural objects’ is what he would be comfortable with.”
“I think that’s probably good,” Taylor says. “Peter always tried to shun that term, ‘artist,’ although he knows that he was very artistic and very intellectual. He had a business card made up a few years ago, and on it, it says ‘dilettante.’ That’s how Peter described himself, very modestly and jokingly.”
“He didn’t try to imprint his work on it, he just let the work speak for itself,” Walsh says. “So who knows what we will have missed. For a community that’s relatively small like Baltimore, it’s a loss. It’s not going to be filled by anyone. You can’t fill that spot, and it might take another generation of people before somebody else comes along to be what he was and to take on some of those tasks [that Zahorecz did].”
Laure Drogoul (3/11/2009)
Unnatural Wonders (7/7/2010)
Soledad Salamé's works become more persuasive through distortions
That Nothing You Do (6/23/2010)
Will Eno embraces the banality of everything
All Eyes on Him? (6/16/2010)
John Potash's The FBI War on Tupac Shakur and Black Leaders offers a different version of the slain rapper
812 Park Ave.
Baltimore, MD 21201