Zwadlo grew up on a dairy farm, helping his family feed 50 cows in northern Wisconsin. In 1967, he began to pursue his undergraduate’s degree at the University of Wisconsin in Madison, Wisconsin, and in 1980, he received his Bachelors of Fine Arts’ degree from SUNY-Potsdam. He continued to live in New York City for 20 years until finally coming to reside in the South Side of Milwaukee.
My subject is people represented realistically in an abstract urban space, as seen from an imaginary aerial point of view. I title the paintings “Pedestrians” to make it clear that the point of view is the point of the painting; the people are not doing anything especially interesting, just walking in the street.
I lived for many years in New York City, working in office buildings, thinking about how to orient myself. From the aerial point of view, to me, the Manhattan landscape became, literally, a map of itself. The urban space flattened visually into a kind of “found” painting. Being a native Midwesterner, I translated my sense of the flatness of the Midwestern landscape into a solution to how to paint the verticality of the urban landscape.
I use photographs as a way to reconstruct images from the real world and transfer them to the real painting. For me, photography functions as a catalyst, as in a chemical reaction: photographs are instrumental to making the painting, but they do not appear in the completed painting.
I refer to Impressionist cityscapes, Bauhaus photography, New York School abstraction, and Minimalism as some important influences
For me, the urban pedestrian symbolizes a complex social milieu. I paint each figure as a detailed individual portrait, familiar yet anonymous. I construct the crowd from thousands of photographs, arranged randomly to suggest patterns, and in patterns that suggest randomness.
Imagery from the aerial point of view is instantly recognizable even though we rarely directly experience it. In contrast with traditional perspective, with its closer-is-bigger implied hierarchy, from above each figure is equal in scale and in space, as in a democratic vision, but with the added ambiguity between the arrogance of “looking down” versus “looking at.” The aerial view makes it possible to imply the entire infrastructure of the city: cars, buildings, streets, etc., without actually depicting any of those things.
The aerial view compresses space. The spatial flattening of the images intensifies the surface of the painting, and enhances the colors in a unique way. The compressed space is a map, a kind of living map, which shows a way of seeing, and a way of being in the world.