John Zinsser, "Screen Time," (2007). Alkyd enamel and oil on canvas. 66 × 72 in.
Image courtesy of JG Contemporary, New York.
John Zinsser has always found maximum expression in reductive abstract painting, simplifying his visual language to convey clarity of thought and sensory excitement. Despite their straightforwardness, Zinsser’s elegant compositions are never predictable and offer a strong sense of the transcendental.
In a recent interview with Cindi di Marzo, Zinsser mentioned that an early influence while a student at Yale was the present-tense-consciousness typified by James Joyce, Samuel Beckett, Albert Camus and Louis-Ferdinand Celine, and that he saw Abstract Expressionism as a continuation of these authors’ “open-eyed manner of describing experience.”
Through its distillation of influences, Zinsser’s work formulates its own witty dialogue with 20th-Century abstract painting. In his first New York solo exhibition since 2003 (this time with a new gallery) Zinsser explores the mechanical and the industrial in manifold ways with surprising range and nuance. His palette is always duo-chromatic, juxtaposing enamel and oil paints in two distinct layers, with one as background and the other articulating gesture as defined by thick brushstrokes applied in vertical and horizontal sweeps, or by thin, loosely dripped patterns. Zinsser prefers out-of-the tube oil colors, such as cadmium reds, yellows and oranges or cobalt blue for the surface layer, and commercial oil-based enamel in black, silver or white for the ground. We recognize these colors from our daily urban lives, and yet, their distinct artificiality makes them appear strangely aloof.
While Barnett Newman comes to mind in the strictly vertical color banners, a body of more recent works featuring a freely poured line suggests Jackson Pollock. However, it is a mere hint, and Zinsser establishes an underlying grid that restricts the free-flow to some extent.
In its immediacy, his work also shares a fascination with American cultural insignias with Ed Ruscha and, of course, Andy Warhol. It recalls the blunt billboards dotting much of the American landscape. There is something soothing about having a message delivered so directly and on the surface, and in Zinsser, surface is a big part of the story. In a time when speed, noise, and an information overload bombard us daily, Zinsser’s paintings are refreshingly detached.