John Zurier’s first exhibition at Galerie Nordenhake Stockholm constitutes his first in Scandinavia, though his relationship with the region spans decades. The exhibition takes its title from Finnish-Swede Edith Södergran’s poem Strong hyacinths (1916). Södergran described her poems as “careless sketches” and “nothing but an intimate scribble,” an attitude akin to Zurier’s of his own work.
Over the years Zurier has visited Iceland, Finland and Sweden regularly and these days keeps a summer studio in the countryside outside Reykjavik. During the trips to Sweden he has made pilgrimages to churches adorned with the wallpaintings of Albertus Pictor, visited Ingmar Bergman’s island retreat of Fårö, and painted homages to artists of the Swedish cannon such as Torsten Andersson and Carl Fredrik Hill. But his travels and muses are not constrained to the North. Paintings find their points of origin in locations as far afield as Kyoto and Venice, or in the pink hues of the Countess of Howe’s robe in a Gainsborough painting and the intense lapis lazuli of Stefan Lochner’s Madonna of the Rose Bower, to name a few.
Zurier's own paintings often evoke a strong atmospheric character, suggesting phenomena from the natural world - the memory of a particular quality of light and colour from a specific location and moment. In Iceland, for instance, the harsh weather strips everything away. The fragile fugitive quality of the light, and the volatility of the weather bear an austerity, simplicity, and impermanence that Zurier seeks to convey in his practice. However for him the act of painting is temporal rather than spatial in nature. All the practical aspects of preparation entail a delay in the actual painting, allowing time for memory to surface.
The semblance of a landscape and boundless depth create rich and sensual “spaces” on the pictorial plane which is combined with formal strategies such as painted marks meting the length of the painting, vertical strips of colour or unpainted canvas on the sides, or a centred cross motif, which function to bring the eye back to the surface. The paintings interplay between depth and surface, the ephemeral and the concrete, the signified and the signifier.
The canvases are often painted with a fine distemper, a mix of rabbit skin glue, dry pigments and occasionally ground oyster shells, endowing the surface with a sensual glittering aspect. Many supports are distressed, through repeated washing and scraping, before final stretching on the frame, creating an additional element of depth and texture. Some paintings are covered with light washes in subtle hues and tones imbuing them with an etherial resonance. Others reveal a vigorous brushwork in intense broken fields of pigment. Zurier's approach is characterised by a stripping down of both the physical painting itself - its objectness, but even more its content.
John Zurier was born in 1956 in Santa Monica, California and lives and works in Berkeley, California. A solo exhibition of Zurier’s work was recently held at UC Berkeley Art Museum (2014). His work has been exhibited at the 30th São Paulo Biennial in São Paulo, Brazil (2012); California Biennial at the Orange County Museum of Art, Newport Beach, CA (2010-2011); UC Berkeley Art Museum, CA (2009); 7th Gwangju Biennial, South Korea (2008); Oakland Museum of California (2007); Kettle’s Yard, University of Cambridge, UK (2003) and the Whitney Biennial (2002) amongst others. His work can be found in numerous public collections including Moderna Mouseet, Stockholm, the Berkeley Art Museum, University of California, CA; San Francisco Museum of Modern Art and the Colby College Museum of Art, Waterville, ME.
A new monograph was recently published with an in depth text by Robert Storr. In 2011 he published the book Repeat after me together with the poet Bill Berkson for which he made watercolours on Japanese notebook paper. He is Professor of Painting and Drawing as well as for Fine Arts at the California College of the Arts.
In the framework of a past summer, 2015, Distemper on linen, 90 x 65 cm
Härkeberga, 2015, Distemper on linen, 198 x 122 cm,
The Hours, 2013–2015, Oil and distemper on linen, 46 x 56 cm
December, 2014, Oil on linen, 79 x 58.5 cm
Ariel, 2015, Oil on linen, 198 x 132 cm
Before Leaving, 2014, Acrylic on linen, 45 x 65 cm
Héraðsdalur 9 (Hross), 2014, Oil on jute, 70.5 x 51 cm
Delft, 2015, Distemper on linen, 198 x 122 cm
Delft, 2015, Distemper on linen, 198 x 122 cm
In Autumn, 2015, Oil on linen, 85 x 60.5 cm
Autumn Aconite, 2015, Distemper on linen, 79 x 96.5 cm