Artist of the Week

Zachary Betts

March 26, 2024

Zachary Betts (b. 1990, Minnesota) received his MFA in Sculpture + Extended Media from the University of Texas at Austin in 2017, and his BFA in Studio Art from the University of Wisconsin - Stout in 2013. His work has been exhibited nationally at various galleries, including SOIL in Seattle, FJORD in Philadelphia, Well Well Projects in Portland, Visual Arts Center in Austin, Night Club in Minneapolis, MdW Fair in Chicago, amongst various others. Betts completed residencies at the White Page (Minneapolis,MN), Fogstand (St. Paul, MN), Vermont Studio Center (Johnson, VT). He was a 2019/2020 recipient of the Jerome Foundation Fellowship for Early Career Artists. Currently, he lives in St. Paul and works as a Lecturer for the University of Wisconsin - Stout.

Tell us a little bit about yourself and what you do.

I am a visual artist that primarily creates sculptural works. I was born and raised in a suburb outside of the Twin Cities. I spent a large portion of my youth skateboarding, building ramps, tinkering with go karts, and helping my Dad in his mechanical engineering shop. At a young age I would assist him in his shop by milling and carving large blocks of plastic/aluminum into detailed parts that would then be used to form larger kinetic machines. In retrospect, I think this experience sparked my interest in creating sculptural work, that combines industrially-fabricated elements with those that are meticulously handcrafted. When I’m not working on my own practice I also serve as a Lecturer for the Department of Visual + Performing Arts at the University of Wisconsin – Stout.


slipping touch, Cast Silicone, Stainless Steel, Leather, & Twine, 87” x 8” x 3.5”, 2021


How do you describe your practice?

I would describe my practice as familiar, yet difficult to decipher. The works I create are those that emulate the forms of everyday objects and interactions while obscuring their purpose. I think of my work as bittersweet — slick surfaces which often mask a deeper emotional references, allowing them to reveal themselves slowly over time. The surfaces are scrutinized, the edges are caressed, each detail executed to a “T”, and yet the metaphors remain abstract and the origin stories never clear.

What are the overarching motifs in the art you make?

Precise details and consideration.
Designed to appear impeccably fabricated.
Transmitting a sense of use or function.
Distant-like produced things – slightly removed, slightly detached.
Approachable, like familiar existing commodities – embedded with history and touch, intimacy and desire.


smelt it dealt it, carved acrylic, motorcycle mirrors, & stainless steel ball chain, 48” x 22” x 3”, 2024


Describe your current studio or workspace.

My current studio exists in a Midwest garage. It has its moments of frigid, freezing temperatures and hot, humid dog days in the summer. I have fixed it with a variety of work stations and shelving to hold a proper amount of materials, tools, and machinery to fully utilize the limited space. I have access to a full wood & metals lab through the university where I’m employed, but I prefer to work in the garage.


Betts’ Studio. St. Paul, MN.

What excites you about being an artist?

I am always interested in resetting the bar in my practice. We all have an idea of what we want to create and where we envision the path of our work leading. Usually, I’m pleasantly surprised when reaching the end goal of a project — culminating in a similar manner to what was envisioned, but it’s still slightly missing the mark. Instead of having a do-over, I push myself to tackle the dissatisfied aspects as I continue to create. Alongside chasing this idea of “perfection”, I’ve always enjoyed challenging my work by introducing new techniques and materials in each piece.

smelt it dealt it (detail), carved acrylic, motorcycle mirrors, & stainless steel ball chain, 48” x 22” x 3”, 2024


What have you been reading and listening to recently?

I’ve been diving back into some poetry and creative writing. Kathleen Stewart’s Ordinary Affects, Life Supports by William Bronk, and more recently, Ron Padgett’s Alone and Not Alone. Been very drawn to the color blue lately, rereading Bluets by Maggie Nelson will probably be next on my list.

Although, Eyes Without a Face by Billy Idol was my number one listened to song last year, I’m always listening to Bowie.

What / who influences your current work?

Very drawn to everyday design elements / signifiers. From a more user based ergonomic design to unpleasant design seen implemented onto architectural settings — I love it all.

I’m very inspired by artists such as Nairy Baghramian, Camille Blatrix, Jonathan van Doornum, and Sebastian Jefford, to name a few. Not only does my interest come from their use of form + materiality, but more importantly, the pace of their work — the kind of work that burns at a simmer.


carry-on baggage, cast aluminum and polyurethane resin, acrylic, & stainless steel ball chain, 22” x 16” x 6”, 2024


What’s your hottest take / most controversial opinion?

Chocolate is an overrated flavor. Vanilla is a far more delicate, sophisticated and – I’ll even go as bold as to say: it’s the superior flavor. Mcdonald’s has an amazing vanilla shake. Golden Oreo’s are out of this world.

What do you collect?

A lot of parts, pieces, junk really. There’s a pretty amazing surplus store a couple miles down the street that I visit frequently. Sometimes I’m looking for a specific part or hardware, but usually I am just browsing for things that stand out to me — especially those that I don’t fully understand their purpose of function. I have a couple boxes of trinkets that I continuously add to and have been carrying around with me for the last decade. Every now and then a piece finds its way into the work. Sometimes it’s been sitting around for years and sometimes it was stumbled upon that day.

objects of guidance and direction, cast graphite and polyurethane resin, & elastic bands, 34” x 32” x 2”, 2021

What’s your favorite quotes / mantras?

“Every day, once a day, give yourself a present. Don’t plan it. Don’t wait for it. Just let it happen. It could be a new shirt at the men’s store, a catnap in your office chair, or two cups of good, hot black coffee.”

— Dale Cooper, Twin Peaks, 1990.


Interview conducted and edited by Natalie Toth. All images courtesy of the artist.