New York

Joe Zucker

Holly Solomon Gallery

In Joe Zucker’s new painting series, “Combinations,” patterns amount to considerably more than mere patterns. In these 15 works hung frame to frame, which dramatically overcome the gallery space, arms and boxing gloves jump and converge lyrically. The subject, a 15-round boxing match, is immediately clear from the red gloves and arms that appear in most of the pictures; but Zucker’s forms are silhouettes, two-dimensional abstract shapes that emphasize surface and are painted in a limited, repetitive palette. Zucker further accentuates the importance of surface by using heavy Rho-plex, painting incomplete (though recognizable) forms, and alternating his negative and positive spaces.

With all of this surface action, the depicted violence of the fight in progress goes unnoticed at first. Even in the last three paintings of the series (the final rounds), in which we may decipher a face being smashed by gloves and, in the last painting, a face swollen and battered, it is not the imagery that initially draws us into the work, but the lyricism. Because the paintings are so formally pleasing, individually and as a group, when the violence is perceived it carries a strong bite, especially in the last three paintings. In a sense, Zucker tricks us into removing ourselves from the violence of the match in the first 12 paintings. The boxers are faceless until the end; only their gloves and arms bob and float. We might as well be witnessing the progression of a dance. But the final paintings won’t allow such illusions—the battered black face of one fighter (black and white arms appear throughout the paintings) is shown in close-up.

A lot has been written lately about the distanced, and therefore stylized, expressionism of neo-Expressionist painters like Rainer Fetting. In this series, Zucker uses style to distance himself completely from his subject. In doing this, however, he recharges an old theme, creating a very powerful and original image of violence hidden in the pattern.

Joan Casademont