Artist Peter Karpick, also known as Trust Zabo, in his home studio, photographed by Isadora Pennington

They’ve been popping up around Atlanta for years. Sometimes happy, sometimes haunting, usually trippy or psychedelic, artist Trust Zabo’s skulls have become a familiar part of the fabric of Atlanta’s street art scene. I recently had the opportunity to chat with the man behind the skeletons, artist Peter Karpick, in a garage studio behind his Oakhurst home. The air smelled of oil, paint, and wax, and a window-mounted AC unit hummed behind me as we talked. Adjacent to his project car– a vintage VW Bug– are a desk, work station, shelves, screen printing setup, street signs, collectibles, and of course plenty of artwork on the walls. 

Karpick, who grew up in South Carolina, has always been drawn to art. His father is an architect and his mother was constantly doodling and drawing so he had easy access to art supplies and tools from an early age. Another major influence in Karpick’s life is his love for skateboarding and all of the art and imagery associated with the sport. “As a kid I was always drawing on my boards, my shoes, my clothes. My mom would buy me a new pair of shoes and they’d be covered in drawings and paints on the same day.” Sure enough, during our interview I noticed that his pants and socks bore the faint remnants of doodles. 

Following high school Karpick attended SCAD in Savannah where he studied illustration and later pursued a degree in graphic design at Rhode Island School of Design. A pivotal moment for Karpick’s career was when he landed a position in the design department of a jewelry factory in Massachusetts. “I would actually hand draw their jewelry for their catalogs, and I made a friend who was a model maker. We started doing a lot of collages,” recalled Karpick. “There was a photocopier there so we would work back and forth with some of the stuff that I still love today. It was so weird and fun. That kind of got me into collage stuff, and it really sparked. I was in a slump; it helped me to kick it up a notch.”

As for the name? Trust Zabo is a throwback to those early days working at the jewelry factory in Massachusetts. He and his friend found a picture of a man named Edward Zabo in the Providence Phoenix Paper, cut it out, and incorporated it into their art. They began writing “Trust Zabo” on the bottom of their collaborated artworks and then hanging them around town for months. 

Since growing up in a small town, Karpick gravitated towards cities and especially became enamored with discarded and forgotten items he finds on the street. “For a while I was into collecting parts of fire hydrants and parking meters… Sometimes I would paint on them and put them right back on the street where I found them. There’s something about reclaiming that grungy lost stuff. I love painting on signs and old skateboards, even old paintings that I find in the trash.” He is most comfortable when engaging with art on a free and publicly accessible level, sometimes finding it hard to place a price on his pieces when he lists them for sale. 

Eventually Karpick and his now wife made their way to Atlanta, her hometown. Karpick worked as a creative director at Adult Swim for a decade. Today, he works as a Design Director at Trioscope and spends virtually all of his free time making art, skateboarding, and churning out skateboard wax skulls for his company Shred Heads. He has exhibited his work at local galleries, participated in live painting performances with the Outerspace Project, and was a regular contributor to the Free Art Friday movement in its heyday. 

These days Karpick stays busy with design and creative work on productions with his day job at Trioscope, parenting his two teenage sons, working on project Volkswagens, skateboarding around the neighborhood, and compulsively drawing in his sketchbook. He hopes that he will find more retail outlets for his Shred Heads wax and more opportunities to showcase his work in gallery settings. To learn more about Trust Zabo and see more of his artwork check out his website and follow him on social media

Isadora Pennington

Isadora Pennington is a freelance writer and photographer based in Atlanta. She is the editor of Sketchbook by Rough Draft, a weekly Arts newsletter.