The paintings in Kevin Zucker's exhibition Black & White Sunsets, Screen Block Walls offer multiple connected views of the walls of a courtyard. These walls are built from the decorative patterned cinderblocks (called claustra or screen blocks) ubiquitous in budget versions of international style modernist architecture, particularly in tropical climates. This building material either frames or obstructs the surrounding landscape depending on the angle of the viewer's position, creating a condition between interior and exterior, public and private.
Among the most common decorative patterns in screen blocks is a generalized floral motif, as is the case in the walls depicted here. Bushes and weeds assert themselves in places throughout the paintings, sometimes obscuring the structures and sometimes receding into or behind them, creating ambiguity as to whether the images we are seeing are of nature or of its graphic representation. In fact, the paintings are begun in architectural modeling software, and they depict spaces that exist, and could exist, only within the imaginative space of the computer. After being articulated in strict two-point perspective, these digital models are systematically reduced into lines of pixels until the same interference that obscures the view of the landscape also produces it: walls, weeds, and bushes are all made from static streaks that double as an atmospheric, rainy haze.
In the process of making a painting from this digital information, the image changes as material, scale, texture, and surface incident come into the equation. This process, interference, and the palette are all calibrated to create an unstable optical experience, continually moving the eye around a picture that only ever resolves momentarily before dissolving again, eroding the distinction between an abstract pattern painting and a picture of a wall made from patterned blocks.
All of the paintings have the same 1:1 scale and the same horizon line, fixed near eye level in both the space described by the paintings and in the actual space of the gallery. This cohesion between paintings implies the possibility of a seamless fiction, and any two paintings using the same palette are seen from the same perspective, locating us in a consistent relationship to the depicted space. The cropping of the paintings fragments this illusion, however, and the fragments are then reshuffled in the installation, challenging our ability to situate ourselves for more than a fleeting instant. Both this dislocation and the obvious artifice of the perspectival system reinforce the physical sense that this is not a place that could quite exist in the real world, nor one that could be created through any photographic process.
The tension between image and abstraction, as well that between looking at, into, or through, raises questions about the subject: are we on the inside or outside of the depicted walls? What is on the other side? A beach, a jungle, a garden, a parking lot, luxury apartments, slums, a resort, an embassy? Has the place been overrun, overgrown, abandoned, or is it still in use? What role do we viewers play as the figures in this landscape? Are we seeing (or seeing from) a space of privilege or of detention?
Are we included or excluded, shut in or shut out? Is all this rendered in the static of closed-circuit security footage, a low-resolution image scaled up, or a tropical downpour? The paintings collapse and embrace all of these possible fictions and others, even as they insist on their non-fiction status as objects and abstractions.
Also hovering between landscape and abstraction, analog photographs of sunsets taken with color Polaroid film are interspersed throughout the paintings. While the paintings are physical objects created from a completely imaginary digital space, each photograph is at once both documentation of an instant from a real-world event and a handmade special effect (produced by shooting through translucent gray sheets of plastic) intended to convince us of an impossible reality: a color Polaroid of a black and white sunset.
The choice of Polaroid emphasizes that each photograph is a unique object, but the repetition of the sunset (a subject so familiar it passes through a dialogue with kitsch, stock photography, and appropriation before again becoming available for experimentation) keeps us wondering: is this the sublime or the picturesque, nostalgia or forecast, romanticism or dark ecology? Here as in the paintings, we are left with ‘all of the above’ as the only possible answer to these questions.
Kevin Zucker (b.1976) is a New York based artist who has had solo shows at Eleven Rivington, Greenberg Van Doren, Mary Boone Gallery and LFL Gallery in New York; Linn Lühn and Jablonka Lühn in Cologne; Paolo Curti & Co. in Milan, and Arario Gallery in Beijing. He has been featured in group exhibitions at the New Museum of Contemporary Art, the Brooklyn Museum, and PS1/MoMA amongst others. Zucker has published his writing, curated exhibitions, and is currently a professor and director of the graduate program in painting at the Rhode Island School of Design. His work has been written about in numerous publications including Artforum, Flash Art, Art in America, Modern Painters, the New York Times, the New Yorker, the Village Voice and the Brooklyn Rail and is represented in public and private collections worldwide, including the Albright-Knox Art Gallery, the Mildred Lane Kemper Art Museum, the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, the Progressive Corporation Collection and the Whitney Museum of American Art.