Zach Bartel


When you’re kind of in a pinch and need something phenomenal done in a short period of time it’s always kind of unnerving to put all of your trust into one basket, but it became very plain to see why Sam Johnson from Firecracker Studios was so adamant about referring Zach Bartel for a job I needed done.

Before I started asking around for help with a mural at Freedom I hadn’t ever met Zach.   Which was surprising when I found out he’s my age and he grew up in the same area I used to stomp around on years ago.  Once we had agreed on what was to be put on the wall and where, everything about the process of the project went smoothly and it was so amazing to see how Zach approached the painting.  It was clear that he had a vision and that I could have faith in the completed piece no matter how vague it looked during its creation.

From laying the perspectives out with string grid guides and drawing the outline, to the amazing spectacle of color that has become a radical representation of the struggle between a skater and their adversary, people have been completely in awe when their eyes stumble upon it.  This is why I wanted to ask Zach a few questions that may answer some of yours, and do my part in helping spread his name around.  Zach is a very talented individual, he is the master behind our fantastic mural and he has become our house designer for all things Freedom. I hope you find the man and his work as inspiring as I do.

Austin: A lot of folks have been coming into Freedom to admire the mural you created on its wall and they ask, “Who did that?” So who are you?

Zach: A man of mystery.

F: Where are you from? Where did you grow up?

Z: EastSide, Madison.

F: Have you lived anywhere else?

Z: Sure, spent the last 9 years between Florida, Boston, and Milrock

F: What’s your favorite city?

Z: Ummm… that’s a tough one…Well as much as I love my fair city of Madison I would have to say NOLA (New Orleans, Louisiana).

F: What for?

Z: Man it’s just got something other cities don’t.  It seems like corporate America has had a hard time integrating into the fabric that is New Orleans culture. Chain restaurants, stores, advertisements all the shit you see in other cities aren’t as prevalent in NOLA.  Whether that’s by chance or purpose, NOLA has a true homegrown feel.  I’m also a pushover for any cities with traces of heavy industry, and being that NOLA was and is a big port town; it’s got that urban industrial feel most southern cities don’t.

F: What do you think about all these kids skateboarding nowa days?

Z: It’s great! It’s sick seeing all these kids shredding way harder than I ever could.  Makes me jealous.  I can only speak from my own personal experience but skating for me at a young age was a great outlet.  Skating harnessed my ADD/ rebellious personality into a constructive activity, rather than me breaking sh*t and bouncing off the walls with energy.  Not that I still wasn’t breaking sh*t, but it kept it to a manageable amount.   Skateboarding is a good thing, keep it up kids.

F: How long have you been making art?

Z: Ever since I could remember. Probably before I could walk and talk.

F: Do you have any formal training?

Z: BFA from the Art Institute of Boston.

F: What’s your favorite kind of art to create?

Z: Art that I don’t despise after I’m done with it.  Hahahaha!

F: What is your favorite type of “canvas”?

Z: Exposed brick.

F: What have you worked on around Madison that we might have seen?

Z: I did the mural on Tranquil Tattoo on East Washington and the mural on New Orleans Take-Out on Fordem Ave. I also did the Scott the Snake mural on Mothers Fools on Willy Street. Recall Walker!

F: Before you create a piece for a client how do you go about deciding what you will do?

Z: Every client comes to you with a problem that needs solving, and I try to find the most dynamic straight forward way to solve the problem.  With that being said I do try to push my mind out of my comfort zone to see the project from other angles.  It’s like taking a panoramic shot of all the information I can gather in regards to the project and then bit by bit refining it down to its purest form.  And I think that’s where my personal touch comes in, because I hope that my outcome is truly unique to me and in-turn unique for the client.

F: When you work on projects that you have the freedom to do whatever you want, what kinds of things inspire you?

Z: Music for sure! That would be number one.  Other than that here’s a short list in no particular order: trains, rust, vintage labels, hand painted signage, decay, escapism, steel mills, wanderlust.

F: You are getting ready to launch your own clothing line right?  What’s it called?

Z: Indeed, it’s called IronSea.

F: What’s the idea behind it and what does it mean to you?

Z: Really I’m just staying true to what I love and hoping that more than just me see my vision.  Trains, heavy industry, labor and vintage Americana are the overwhelming themes.  Ultimately I think offering something that has a sense of ambiguity to it in that it can’t be placed in any set time and space is the key.  That and offering products of high quality and good fit are the things make a good line to me.   I’m also firmly opposed to manufacturing anything overseas; a lot of clothing lines do it to compete in the market place and to each his own.  I’m sure in the end this will limit my line to your more basic garments, but I figure if you can make it in the USA then why bother.  As far as what it means to me….it’s everything to me. It serves as an arena for my creativity to run uninhibited – drawing on all my inspirations and refining it into a feasible product that I can be very hands-on with.

F: What kinds of apparel are you designing?

Z: It’s predominately a t-shirt line as of now, but I’m venturing in to long sleeve bodies, hats, and a line of accessories.

F: What do you think will set your line of apparel apart from the other brands out there?

Z: I have no wings, guns, crosses, naked women, fancy cursive writing, swords, or skulls on my clothing….Wait a minute I do have skulls….Well screw it I like skulls, they’ve been hijacked by crappy clothing lines and I’m sick of it.

F: Besides friends that have seen your designs are there any interested Retail buyers?

Z: A few choice stores are interested, but wouldn’t want to speak on it till it was a sure bet.  Just online for the time being.

F: Well I know I can’t wait to wear one of your shirts.  Where can our readers go to find Iron Sea?


F: Are there any other up and coming projects you’re working on?

Z: Yeah, boards, shirts, and wheel designs for Freedom.  They’re gonna melt your eyeballs!!    That and working on my fall10 line for IronSea.

F: You demeanor is pretty relaxed and your work ethic seems to be focused and very professional.  What keeps your head on straight?  What activities do you partake in to assure that the level bubble stays between the center lines?

Z: Relaxed, focused, professional….hahaha that’s crazy.  Art is definitely the only thing that allows me to be any of the aforementioned words.   As far as activities go art is kinda the giant elephant in the room but I do drink a healthy amount of beer on the weekends and I ride my bike a like a madman,   never together of course.

F: It truly is people like you that will keep the flavor in Madison and I think at the rate you’re going your awesome work will be impossible to ignore.  Is there anything else you want say or anyone you want to thank?

Z: Yeah you Austin!  You’re a good dude.  Glad you’re realizing your dreams with the shop, you deserve it.  Ummm thanks to all the people that dig on the mural and thanks to my momma, she’s the reason I’m an artist for sure.