Khalid Zakzouk, ‘The Sunset’s Banksy’

By Noma Faingold

When 55-year-old artist, Khalid Zakzouk, whose current favorite medium is chalk on sidewalk, was diagnosed with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) many years ago, it was a relief. 

There was an explanation why he went from job to job (butcher, construction worker, secretary and gas station attendant, to name a few) while living in Milwaukee for 18 years. 

“I wasn’t dysfunctional,” he said. “I just wasn’t satisfied doing just one thing. I used to think I was a broken person. Then I realized I was multifaceted.”

Khalid Zakzouk creates a chalk image of a dragon, one of dozens of different images he has drawn to delight and inspire his Sunset District neighbors. Courtesy photo.

Born in Israel, Zakzouk’s Palestinian family moved to Saudi Arabia when he was young. He said he was surrounded by desert. The only color he vividly remembers is the neutral hue of sand.

When his father, an artist and educator, returned from a two-year program at the University of Wisconsin (UW) in Madison, with a degree in Art Communication, he was armed with magazines like Time and MAD, which the teenage Zakzouk devoured. 

“I got hooked,” he said. “English became a fascination, then an obsession. The seed was planted.”

After high school, Zakzouk’s father sent his eldest son to UW. After a couple of years, Zakzouk left college and headed to New York, which didn’t work out either. 

“I would learn something, get really good at it and then drop it because it would become boring and monotonous,” he said. “I constantly needed new challenges.”

It wasn’t until he moved to San Francisco in 2007 that he found home. 

“I started to see color for the first time,” he said. “I fell in love with the City and the City loved me back.”

Artist Khalid (Kal) Zakzouk fell in love with San Francisco when he moved here in 2007. “I started to see color for the first time,” he said. He grew up in Saudi Arabia. The only color he vividly remembers is the color of sand. Photo by Noma Faingold. 

Sunset District resident Zakzouk also met his wife of 11 years, Jessica Leaper, who is in the special education field in San Francisco. 

Like many people, the stay-at-home father to daughter Judah Kai (Judah was named after the Sunset District street), 11, was going a little stir crazy with San Francisco’s initial shelter-in-place response to the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020. He so liked exploring the City and he couldn’t really do that. 

Pre-pandemic, he had painted a few murals and did some commissioned portraits. His wife encouraged him to “do something with your art.” She bought him water colors, oils and chalk. 

“I was creating a lot but I still wasn’t satisfied,” Zakzouk said.

One day he walked outside and began drawing with chalk in front of the house. Each day, the pieces got bigger and more complex. 

“I started getting into geometry and sacred art,” he said. “I wanted to communicate that and practice that.”

To draw circles, he uses a Hula Hoop as a guide. Even though the drawings grew intricate, most take Zakzouk about an hour to complete. 

Neighborhood passersby began to take notice and started conversations with him. Children in the neighborhood tried to figure out his Pac-Man style mazes. Sunset District merchants started inviting him to create works on the sidewalks at their storefronts, including Sam and Ghada Kaleh, owners of Lucca Food Deli and Wine Shop on Irving Street and 20th Avenue (established in 1927). They also commissioned Zakzouk to paint the exterior of the building. 

“I updated it for the 21st century,” he said. 

Subject matter of the sidewalk drawings became more varied, to include animals and imagery inspired by current events, such as the war in Ukraine and human rights abuses in Iran. Zakzouk also had a response to the increase in violence toward the Asian American community. 

“I drew big tigers and big dragons everywhere. I did massive Chinese art,” he said.

Even though his chalk art is temporary, Zakzouk loves that his work can be seen by anyone. 

“It might not culminate in an exhibition or a collection. That’s not what art is to me,” he said. “Art is a transcending process, a sacred process. It’s about seeing or feeling something magical and sharing it.”

Someone recently called Zakzouk “the Sunset’s Banksy,” a reference to inventive London-based street artist/activist Banksy, a major hero to Zakzouk. 

“Art is for the masses,” Zakzouk said. “That’s what Banksy is about. He takes public space and makes a comment or feeling available to everyone. That’s how you create change. It’s the message, not the messenger.”

Zakzouk considers this period of creating sidewalk chalk art to be life changing. 

“If my wife hadn’t bought me the chalk, I don’t know what would have become of me,” he said. “It made a 360-degree difference of who I am as an artist and as a person. I realized the purpose of art.”

Below: Zakzouk’s creating of intricate geometric designs and sacred symbols “is about seeing something magical and sharing it.” Courtesy photos.

See more of Zakzouk’s artwork on Facebook:

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