Arts » Arts Stories & Interviews

Gilbert Zarate Jr. printing 'Sweet gzas' collection on American Apparel tees


Desiree Prieto


Its popularity rose in the United States during the 19th century when soldiers were given the garments during the Spanish-American war. T-shirts eventually caught on with skilled laborers and basically anybody challenging the heat. But hippies and tie-dyed t-shirts taught us that the garments are as much about comfort as they are about displaying important messages, political statements, and art. While some tees feature a favorite band or quirky slogans such as, “I Write about Fashion, Bitches!” the best t-shirts remain those that are not only comfortable and convey a message, but are real works of art. Sweet gzas (pronounced Sweet Jesus), the art alias and digital signature for an up-and-coming clothing line, is founded by Gilbert Zarate Jr., an award-winning graphic artist and illustrator from Brownsville, Texas.

A graphic artist for over 12 years, Zarate previously worked at the Brownsville Herald, the Express-News,


and in advertising. He holds two Associated Press Sports Editors awards (APSE) and an Associated Press Managing Editor (APME) award for his visual journalistic work. Today, Zarate is the senior graphic designer at one of the top multicultural advertising firms in the nation, Interlex, headquartered in San Antonio. The source for Gilbert’s success, however, is his passion for art, which he’s pursued since childhood. “Since I was in junior high, I drew digital mazes, at home, in the classroom, everywhere, and then I began to see M.C. Escher, one of the first artists I was inspired by,” Zarate says. “His pencil drawings of varying shades and textures are incredible. He did a lot of mathematical patterns that were well drawn and penciled in—shaded but it’s almost like his drawings were computer generated before the computer was generated because he had fluid transitions and very intricate designs.”

Zarate is also a fan of Juxtapoz and Empty, two international magazines that taught him about the world for modern artists as the digital age has changed. Today, artists rely more on getting published than the more traditional gallery exposure at exhibits.  “It got me thinking,” Zarate says, “my goal is to publish a book of my art work, sort of like how a writer looks to publish a novel.” Zarate is well on his way to achieving that goal. Based in Sydney, Australia, Semi-Permanent is a world-leading design conference (kind of like SXSW) that publishes a book each year featuring the best creative artwork in the industry, and in 2009 Zarate submitted his artwork for publication. He did not get selected.

However, in 2010, he got a call from Semi-Permanent and now his design, Monkeyboy, is published in Semi-Permanent’s 2010 1st Edition Art Book, which is a design you can buy in print and will soon be available on his t-shirts. “It was my proudest moment and makes me believe that I can publish and continue creating artwork,” Zarate says.  It is his passion to share his art with the world that inspired Sweet gzas to produce their designs on comfortable American Apparel, 100% combed cotton tees. “My most popular designs are the ‘Jayberd’ and the ‘Elephant', so I began by printing those on the t-shirts,” Zarate says.

The “Jayberd” and “Elephant” are also a little bit more “mainstream” fashion, a little less urban than some of Zarate’s other designs. A mom and/or the boy and girl next-door can wear them as well. If you’re more of an artist, check out his famous “Monkeyboy” design or one of his intricate, fully-functioning mazes by logging on to and make sure you check out the t-shirts — yours truly got to be a model for a day :). Additionally, check out the designs that are going toward Zarate's artbook at Behance Network.

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