Remy Zaugg

Ronny Van de Velde

Situated between an analysis of perception and painting, Rémy Zaugg’s series, A Sheet of Paper I & II, 1973–90, may be seen as an endless permutation of works, wherein each painting, each view, implies another.

Zaugg refers to his five-year journal, Constitution of a Painting, 1963–66, as a “student work,” which took a reproduction of Paul Cézanne’s La maison du pendu (House of the hanged man, 1873), as a starting point. In this exhibition, we follow his progress as a painter, after he has assimilated the knowledge of Cézanne’s concept of figuration. Thus, we find a series of approaches to painting, grounded in an intricate mix of color, scale, and language. This is a work, perhaps a lifework, about the possibilities of realizing the myriad number of ramifications that may affect the relationship between artist, work, and public. Zaugg’s comment on the use of text in Constitution, comparing it to “a trail of mucous left behind by a snail,” may apply to the entire body of work. It is the trace, the evidence of work, that distinguishes it.

Here one was able to follow a trajectory in Zaugg’s work, beginning with the application of brown paint on the paper and ending with an overloaded encrustation of the painted surface with words. Throughout the narrativelike path that distinguishes the installation of these works over three floors, the viewer undertakes the process of chronologizing each step of the artist’s path. From the early works that commence in the entry hall to the most recent on the top floor, Zaugg’s assignment of place for the paintings reinforces their additive quality, always tied to the realization of process.

At the same time, the use of color as both subject and base of the paintings utilizes repetition in order to illuminate the same notion of process. At a certain point, the spectator’s experience becomes almost hallucinatory, and the individual works become part of a cumulative experience. This “hallucination” also acts as a means of marking the experience of painting, of looking at single works. Zaugg’s use of the phrase “the blind painter,” in a number of works, is a pointed reference to the condition of seeing and not seeing. Painting is done with the eyes both open and closed.

At the center of Zaugg’s work is the gradual replacement of color and line with the word. Both, of course, represent a means of constructing an image. Yet the more traditional means of figuration seem to be more restrictive, less conditional than the words Zaugg employs. He deconstructs the relationship between image and description by effacing the former and by using text as an approximating device that points to the difficulty in circumscribing, in fully describing, the visual experience.

Zaugg’s project both reinforces and contradicts the notion of difference. In seeing those works exhibited together, one is struck by the characteristics they have in common: materials, color, and size. Yet, it is the multiplication of these elements that produces the ultimate division: on closer inspection, we realize that the differences are enormous. Like the simplicity that is implied in the title, A Sheet of Paper, this exhibition renders illusory the concept of seeing. Utilizing both painterly and literary strategies, Zaugg’s implication of a basic starting point is the ultimate illusion.

Michael Tarantino