In his unfinished "Fortress of Solitude," a hyper-realistic young boy in a Superman suit walks through a complex field of abstract shapes and colors. The boy is living in his own reality, and the painting represents Zimbro's interpretation of humanity's present and future.
"I often think of why we paint, of cavemen paintings and the people who made them," Zimbro said from his studio in building 9 of the Workhouse. "I usually conclude that they painted their desires. Yes, hunting deer is good and we want to celebrate that, and over here — our friend died, so we stamp his hand on our wall for remembrance's sake. Every artist has a goal in mind, and it has to be a process of creation and not destruction.
"I'm hesitant to propagate an ideology, but I do want to capture our human response to our time now, the time that we have created. It's technological chaos, and it's one of the obstacles humanity is always going to have. Our unique scenario in our time is learning how to catch up emotionally to the advances of technology," he said.
Zimbro, 31, was born in the District and raised in Dale City. He was a wild child at Gar-Field Senior High School, he admits. "My rambunctiousness was contagious. The only way my teachers could control me was to send me out of class and into the hallway to draw — specifically my Latin and math classes," he said. "My senior year I actually got kicked out of high school for a week because of a picture I drew. All I'll say is that it was a really explicit scene. … And after spending thousands of hours painting over the years, I've trained myself to focus that energy into my work."
Zimbro received his associate's degree in fine art from the Maryland College of Art & Design, and his bachelor's from the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts. "In Pennsylvania over those four years I got to meet some of the best artists in the country, and these are guys who have work in the Smithsonian," he said. "They taught me the importance of honing my craft. You can spend a lot of your time marketing yourself, but you also have to have that thing that makes you unique, and that's why I'm here at the Workhouse — to hone my craft... Selling my work isn't my main priority right now."
Zimbro joined the Workhouse in February, and lives with his girlfriend in Dale City. In June, he was named one of the top 10 Artists of Arlington's Artomatic 2012 by art critic Lenny Campello. "I love this guy!" wrote Campello. "He reminds me of me, except that he can paint much better than I can."
Painting in oil can be a long process, and some pieces take between a week and a month to dry. "I've always been in love with oil," said Zimbro. "I opened that first tube of paint when I was 20 years old, and I fell in love with the smell of it and then what I could do by pushing it around. It was one of those rare moments in life where you know exactly what you're going to be doing for the rest of your life."
You can see more of Nicolas Zimbro's work at building 9 of the Workhouse Arts Center.