Zak Smith Super(porn)star

Alyssa Bianca-Pavley


A couple of nights ago, I went to go see Zak Smith read from his new book, “We Did Porn”. The non-fiction book combines words and images, mixing memoir with gorgeous paintings. Also, it’s about porn, or more specifically, the fascinating world of alt-porn, where there are punks, real boobs and a myriad of piercings.

If you live under a rock and haven’t heard of him, Zak Smith is an artist best known for his “Pictures Showing What Happens on Each Page of Thomas Pynchon’s Novel Gravity’s Rainbow”, which was included in the 2004 Whitney Biennial. The title is pretty self-explanatory as to what the project was, a massive piece that covered over 750 pages from one of the most complicated novels ever written. Smith’s art is exquisite, intensely drawn with splashes of electric colors, sharp lines and energy throbbing in every complex detail.

Additionally, he is a porn star.

“We Did Porn” is about Zak’s experience with the alt-pornography industry, from using porn stars as subjects in his paintings to actually acting in the films under the moniker ‘Zak Sabbath’. Along with his memoir, Zak has included many drawings that illustrate porn and its stars, sometimes performing and other times doing ordinary, non-porny things. The drawings don’t serve as direct illustrations for what he writes about but instead function as their own visual memory bank of what he observed.  Even if you’re unfamiliar with alt-porn, there decently well-known stars that grace the pages of Zak’s memoir. He gives them all fake names (as well as non-porn celebrities, whom he consistently and charmingly refers to as “Dwight Eisenhower”, regardless of gender) but it’s not too difficult to figure out identities if you’re a big fan. Stars like Sasha Grey (who also works as an American Apparel model and non-porn actress, most recently in Steven Soderbergh’s “The Girlfriend Experience”) make an appearance, though the story is ultimately and uniquely about Zak.

The reading was held at McNally Jackson’s Books, one of the best independent bookstores in New York. This was one of three readings Zak was doing in NYC on his book tour, also stopping at the Museum of Sex and Solas Bar, as part of St. Mark’s Bookshop’s reading series. Zak read two selections from the book. The first was about being asked why he does porn at a film festival in Germany, something people always ask and guess about, incorrectly. The second was a longer piece, where Zak expertly blended a politic and porn with a sharp wit that cracked the audience up.

Afterwards, there was a question and answer period. Good questions were asked but my personal favorite was a dude who wanted to know how much money Zak made per porno shoot or if “he did it pro-bono”. Zak said that Pro Bono would make a great porn name and everyone agreed.

“We Did Porn” is an excellent book and Zak Smith is an incredibly interesting artist and writer. Definitely check him out while he’s still on tour for “We Did Porn”. He’ll be returning to Los Angeles for more readings next.  Check out his website to view the Gravity’s Rainbow series, as well many more brain-meltingly good works of art: There is also link to sketchbook, that he updates very often with new art. If you want to check out his porn, head to

-Alyssa Bianca-Pavley


Tags: ,