George Marruffo
Zach Fleming-Boyles. Credit: George Marruffo

La Quinta High School has produced many creative people, including singer/actor Tyler Hilton and singer/model Aubrey O’Day. While Zach Fleming-Boyles has not yet reached their levels of fame, he has accumulated local recognition—and he has a lot of big plans for 2020.

He lives in Palm Springs with his two parakeets and works as the manager of school programs at the Palm Springs Art Museum, but in his spare time, he is a painter and musician. Using the moniker The Fat’s Sabobah—a name he claims “has no meaning” and is “search-engine optimized”—he’s been making what he calls “ambient techno” since 2003.

Fleming-Boyles played his first show in four years at Bart on Dec. 30, and he is now branching out and performing/exhibiting in new and exciting ways. He will have an exhibition at the new Tim J Leary Studios at the Backstreet Art District throughout February, with a reception at Backstreet’s First Wednesday Art Walk on Feb. 5. From noon to 5 p.m. on Saturday, Feb. 15, Fleming-Boyles will perform his music as The Fat’s Sabobah at the gallery; he’ll also DJ songs that inspired him.

His paintings focus on a common desert-dweller: the cactus. He has painted works as small as 4 by 5 inches, and as large as 5 by 5 feet. He works with an almost-scientific approach (always using live cacti as references), and said he paints every day after work, spending three to four weeks on each painting. Painting daily gives him a way to stay grounded in a traditional medium, he said, which enables him to experiment in other ways.

“(The cactus is) a resilient object in one of the most inhospitable places on the planet,” Fleming-Boyles said. “The fact that they thrive in this environment—I think that’s fascinating. They’re such bizarre plants, really alien-looking, which contributes to the whole surreal feeling of the desert.”

Fleming-Boyles counts Cristopher Cichocki—another desert-inspired artist, who is taking part in this year’s Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival, aka Coachella—as a mentor, friend and inspiration.

“The whole neon orange I use in my paintings is inspired by his work,” Fleming-Boyles said. “He’s using all those day-glo colors, too. He’s taken his art to a more-conceptual realm than me, with how he works with the desert and how the desert influences his work. I feel I’m more of a straightforward guy who says, ‘This is a cactus.’ His work with the Salton Sea, and his installations, and all the colors are dreamlike, or more of like a nightmare scenario. It’s fascinating.

“I’m looking forward to what he does for the Coachella festival. But I’ve never been to Coachella. The city, yes, but not the festival. Crowds aren’t really my thing.”

Fleming-Boyles grew up in the desert as an only child, and his parents instilled in him a love of performance. His mother was a writer, public speaker, teacher and performer; his father was a drummer.

“I’ve always had a compulsion to make music,” he said. “It’s been second-nature for me.”

He got started in the art world by doing graphic and web design, before moving to paint.

“I think if you want to improve at something, you have to do it every day,” he said.

He did just that, graduating with a degree in art practice from the University of California at Berkeley in 2009, where he focused on painting, performance and sound art. How about his technique?

“There’s a lot of glazing, a lot of layers, building up the image one layer at a time, and letting the colors underneath shine through,” Fleming-Boyles said. “My professor once said if I was born 500 years ago, I’d fit in with the old masters and their style.”

He considers the Richard Diebenkorn, Giorgio De Chirico, René Magritte and Marcel Duchamp his biggest inspirations.

“I’m a big fan of the surrealists—and the desert is an extremely surreal place, especially growing up here,” he said. “I don’t know; maybe it’s the sun that gets to everybody and makes them a little bit weird. It’s a beautiful place. Sometimes, when you’re out there in nature, out there in the desert, it feels like there’s something out there. I don’t want to say magic, but it’s something. It’s definitely a surreal place.”

Fleming-Boyles has previously exhibited at the Coachella Valley History Museum in Indio, and at Flat Black Art Supply in Palm Desert. His paintings are currently up at RD RNNR (pronounced “roadrunner”), a new restaurant in La Quinta. He has also participated in “crowd-sourced art” in the form of an experiment: He expanded a painted dot one millimeter in size for every Instagram “like” it received. Over the course of nine days, the dot got 452 likes—meaning he concluded with a 452-millimeter dot.

“I had a lot of fun experimenting and generating social-media interactive art,” he said. “It was fun to watch people’s reactions to the dot. People were cheering it on. I learned that art should be more interactive. People respond well if they feel they are contributing to the creation of art.”

As for his music, his first band was a ska/punk project in middle school called the Jaywalking Superheroes. The drummer from that band, Jon-Paul Lapeña, introduced Fleming-Boyles to Benjamin Benitez, the singer with a Coachella-based indie-rock band called Courtesy Knave (which to this day has a cult following); he performed with the band through high school. Around the same time, he also began composing electronic music as The Fat’s Sabobah, a name he said is just a “random thing my friend said. And I thought was just a funny thing.”

He considers his music to be “ambient techno,” a term he said is oxymoronic.

“My music started very tongue-in-cheek and instrumental, but I started adding lyrics and pop sensibilities, which are a new direction,” he said. “The songs serve as a musical diary of sorts.”

Today, his setup is minimal—yet peculiar and tactile. He has a preference for analog synths and drum machines; he plays a Korg MS2000. But it works for him.

As for inspiration, he credits Björk, Animal Collective, Aphex Twin and The Postal Service as his favorite artists—and Daft Punk’s Discovery (2001) for igniting his interest in electronic music. Shortly after that album came out, he acquired a version of the digital audio workstation Fruity Loops and began making his own electronic music. In 2002-2003, he produced music for the game Flash Flash Revolution, an online Dance Dance Revolution simulator through which he made an internet friend named For Great Justice/SpookGoblin, with whom Fleming-Boyles credits for inspiring him to continue pursuing electronic music.

Today, almost 20 years later, Fleming-Boyles has just more than two hours of material. He said the reason for his infrequent performances is that he dedicates more time to painting.

“I wouldn’t even be doing electronic music if I was a better musician,” he said.

Today, he considers music as his escape from painting—and at Tim J Leary Studios, his art and music will finally intersect. This will be the first time he displays his art and performs in one space. He said he recognizes some similarities between his approach to painting and producing music.

“The way I work with color, and layering colors on top of each other, is very similar to how I layer various tones, melodies and rhythms in my electronic music,” he said. “I also consider my paintings to be ambient, passive and mostly pleasant—I would hope—and I think my music is that way, too.”