John Zinsser's paintings emphasize the transformative power of the literal. His work is fully up front by design. The subject of his paintings is realized in paint, residing in those features the artist intended to make most present. Literally, almost bluntly, Zinsser advances his idea of "imaging paint" by forwarding the face of painting to its structural limit.
Although he usually begins with a programmatic premise, the results are most often lively and surprising. In this show, the paintings were limited to just two colors applied individually to four 72-inch squares in a graphic format that establishes an immediate figure/ground relationship. Zinsser has thankfully discarded the bureaucratic impulse that tends to accompany, and ultimately exhaust, similarly planned examinations of this kind.
The four paintings here titled "The Architecture of Color" couple the transient properties of color with the physical characteristics of paint in an installation that reinforces their overall structural presence. Zinsser's choice of color is high-chromatic and his handling of the paint surface is no-nonsense. An undercoat of thin, uniform color is topped off with overlapping thick, wide and flat bands of opaque, near-complementary color, which is spread along with a large palette knife.
One painting placed in the back of the gallery had an undercolor of cobalt blue that was so roughly ground during its manufacture one could see tiny crystals of pigment stuck like little sapphires on the surface. The thick drips and sagging lips of paint in The Architecture of Color I through III are literal examples of gravity, an effect that plays well against the background free-floating fields of color. These tactile surfaces are necessarily aloof, nuanced, but also immediate and unretouched.
Paint is a poor adhesive and the surfaces could not be much thicker, unless the paint were either endlessly overcoated or heavily adulterated, without shearing like a glacier away from itself. Uneven edges left by the knife, along with Pop-confrontational color, enhance the optical quiver and graphic intensity of these paintings. The Architecture of Color IV, with singular, unwoven, vertical bands, leaves a graphic imprint not unlike the old Black Flag logo, and also suggests columns, stacked upwards with bent building blocks. Zinsser's tactful use of the 6' square has a long history among many varied abstract painters since its size naturally corresponds to human scale.
John Zinsser's paintings clearly imply that the nature of painting is best addressed directly by paint itself. He is committed to the idea that abstract painting will "continue to respond to its cultural moment." Two colors can be culturally relevant. When looking at the snappy red and silver of Zinsser's The Architecture of Color I, consider that such combinations remain the visual currency of the late `90s. John Zinsser's new paintings are wry, timely and disarmingly free of anxiety. There's an obvious inspiration that comes from looking at something that is so straightforward and effective.
This show follows his recently completed commission of several paintings for permanent installation at Republic Towers in Dallas, Tex. Later this year Zinsser will have finished another group of paintings, a separate commission, to be permanently located at Louisiana Place in Houston.
John Zinsser at Pamela Auchincloss, 601 West 26th Street, 12th floor, New York, N.Y. 10012