Los Angeles

Michael Zwack

Thomas Soloman's Garage

Michael Zwack’s paintings, which originate in photographs, render the familiar uncanny. Zwack sometimes projects a slide onto canvas then rubs, wipes away, and builds up layers of paint to blur the outlines of the image and alter the colors so that the whole seems to have been culled from the depths of the imagination. Though the landscapes and buildings he depicts look as if they ought to be identifiable, they have a timeless, almost universal quality about them.

Part of a generation of artists in the early ’80s who appropriated mass media imagery, Zwack reconsiders the impact of the photographic on our way of seeing. He mines the photograph’s ability to capture the fugitive, to reveal the unexpected, and to create a reverberative depth, celebrating the slow metamorphic quality of the natural world and our apprehension of it. For him, the image is a cipher of the archetypal, a vessel that has the power to hold echoes of an ancestral voice. Echoing the floating, phenomenal worlds that characterize the Japanese painting tradition, Zwack’s work encourages a contemplative, almost trancelike relationship to the phenomenal world.

In Last View of the Temple (all works 1995), a photograph of the Acropolis, taken from a great distance is flipped so that it reads backwards and is thus transformed from a familiar view into an alien presence, one that evokes the spirit of this ruined building. In another painting entitled Heaven and Earth, a haunting landscape punctuated by a single tree branch is covered with letters drawn from a variety of languages that suggest a collision of cultures and sign systems.

His paintings are clearly the product of a long, meditative process. Their beauty emanates from the process through which Zwack achieves an altered vision of time and place. As the artist himself has remarked about his working method, “it reminds me of a trance-inducing chant, as if the act of mark-making were something like the restating of a mantra.” Products of solitude and silence in a world of teeming humanity and unremitting noise, Zvvack’s paintings take us on the kind of journey Pablo Neruda describes in his poem “Toward the Splendid City”: “We must pass/through solitude and/difficulty, isolation and silence/to find that enchanted place where/we can dance our clumsy dance and sing our/sorrowful song. But in that dance, and in/that song, the most ancient rites of our/conscience fulfill themselves/in the awareness of/being human.”

Rosetta Brooks