If you’re looking for paintings of thundering Thoroughbreds or statues spitting and spatting, Saratoga artist Zack Lobdell is not your guy—even though a younger Lobdell had other ideas. “Originally, I was a photo-realistic illustrator,” he says. “That was what I studied, and I hated everything abstract up until I was in my 20s. I thought it was just people who didn’t know how to draw right.”
How the tables have turned. Over the past quarter century or so, Lobdell has shifted gears from the readily recognizable to the dumbfoundingly abstract. “I’m a big believer in just starting and going and reacting to what you’re putting down when you’re putting it down,” says Lobdell of his completely stream-of-consciousness process. This year, he’s pushed the envelope ever further, wading into territory that echoes the neo-expressionism of Jean-Michel Basquiat. “Almost every single piece I’ve done has been in a single session, all the way up to a series of three eight-foot-by-five-foot paintings all at once. I’ve just really been letting it all out.”
But getting to a place of seemingly unmitigated creativity didn’t come easy. First, there was the pandemic; then late last spring, Lobdell lost his older sister, Zoë. “It was devastating for my whole family, and it really took me off my feet for awhile,” he says. “I didn’t paint for about a year. I got into this new studio [in Gansevoort], didn’t really know what I was going to do and had a couple cans of spray paint in an old box, and I just started going off on a canvas.” The result was nothing short of extraterrestrial, a volcanic eruption of color interrupted by squiggly lines, arrows, symbols and shapes. “I’ve taken down all of my self-imposed boundaries,” he says.
Despite making atypical horse town art, Lobdell’s work has proven popular among both local and national art collectors. While he’s shown and sold his work in places such as New York City, California and Colorado—and even has representation in Singapore—he’s also sold pieces to prominent members of the Saratoga community, including Stewart’s Shops President Gary Dake. Many have discovered him through his social media, too. “[A number of] opportunities that I’ve had with my work have come through Instagram,” says Lobdell, who posts regularly to @lobdellstudio. The topic was front of mind when he had a chance to talk about art with some impressionable high schoolers in Vermont. “I was saying to the kids, ‘Instagram is like the new freight train,’” he says. “You tag up your work, and suddenly it’s all over the world in five minutes, and people can see it.”