The smell of nail polish carries throughout the living room and out the windows of a small mobile home in St. David, Arizona. Inside the house a man sits, engulfed by a large La-Z-Boy chair draped with a white and yellow afghan. Slowly, he dips the tip of a brush into an ebony jar of nail polish and removes it, revealing a concoction of cyan. With a steady hand, he pushes down, creating a splotch.
Although Zachary Billings is one of many artists living in southeast, Arizona, his artistic abilities stem from a different part of his life.
“I have an autistic upbringing,” said Billings. “I started out with symbols – my understanding of the world around me and the universe was pretty much a symbolic interpretation – I even associated language from symbols,” said Billings.
Abstract compositions of his own creation hang along the walls behind him, spewing bright hues of scarlet and gold.
“It [my artwork], was free flow. There was nothing I was really thinking about when I was doing it. Like all the work that you see, I had nothing premeditated,” said Billings.
Billings discovered his passion for art in 1980 when he began experimenting with simple brushes and black ink.
“I started out using a brush and Indian ink just to see what I could do, because I didn’t know if I had any artistic abilities,” said Billings.
It wasn’t until six months after getting out of the Army, where he worked as a counselor for the 7th Medical Battalion, in Fort Ord, California, that he started using color in his pieces. Eventually, Billings made his way no
rth to the state of Washington, where he also had his work shown.
Despite having his art shown along the West Coast; pieces displayed in the Endeavor Gallery, in Benson, Arizona, and other various locations throughout the town, Billings still feels like he is struggling to become the artist he dreams of being.
“I’ve had at least a dozen showings up and down the coast, and I’d have all my contact info – email address, phone number, everything and I’ve never had any feedback from the public, so I don’t know how my artwork effected anybody,” said Billings.
Billings believes his individuality and desire to be original is the reason why people don’t understand his work.
“I wanted to be so original that nobody understood me, and as time developed and to this day, nobody really understands my art. It is from an autistic mind and viewpoint,” said Billings.
According to Billings, art is a means of keeping his mind grounded to the world around him, as well as to feed his active imagination.
“As long as I’m in my art and doing my art, I’m always being stimulated, and it helps me stay down-to-Earth. I need to stay down-to-Earth, because if I veer more into my autistic world, I’ll get unfocused and preoccupied and start dwelling, so it’s important to get grounded,” said Billings.
Ultimately, Billings says his dream is to be discovered and to have a professional gallery showing in either Sierra Vista, Tombstone, Bisbee or Tucson.
More than anything, Billings wants people to see his work for what it is: his own deeply original pieces of art.
“I’d like a face with my name and a name with my face – so when people see Zachary Billings they’ll say, oh he’s an artist.”
If you would like to contact Billings about his artwork he can be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org
Click here for high resolution photos and a Word version of the story.
This article was a collaborative piece by Nick Smallwood and Deanna Sherman – reporters for Arizona Sonora News, a service from the School of Journalism with the University of Arizona. You can contact either email@example.com or firstname.lastname@example.org