Art Orbiter asked Mark Zimmermann about his recent exhibition “Atlas Trilogy and other paintings” at Narthex Gallery.
What does having a solo show like this mean to you?
“This show meant quite a bit to me for a number of reasons. Dealing with the amazing architecture and putting together a coherent installation for the space was a challenge but a true delight. The challenge of course, was to create work that had a scale to match the space- you can’t really come in here and hang anything that doesn’t have some mass to it… And there is such a fantastic history here and such a strong, organic life to the space– the music, “The Chapel of The Good Shepard”, by Louise Nevelson… it’s just a great curatorial and cultural program.”
What do you most enjoy about it?
“I think what I enjoyed most was the chance to (and have the time to) create for a specific environment… As I mentioned earlier, creating work that fit the space as well as having a certain coherence as installation was a challenge, but a very exciting opportunity. I approached this show as I’ve approached some large scale commissions I’ve done, most notably a 4 painting suite at the Palazzo Tower in Las Vegas…”
How did you come to be showing in this venue?
“A dear friend introduced me to the former Director of the selection committee and I took it from there– submitting images of work, resume, etc. It was roughly a 3 year turn around from approval to the opening of the show, but that was a real positive, as it allowed me to really sort through ideas and formats for the paintings…”
Did you see the 3 year wait (after being selected) as a positive? How did the show change in your mind and in the studio over that time period?
“After the initial elation of having been selected, I actually was rather bummed about the length of time, but I later saw it as a real positive — just having the license and time to work towards this singular goal and really trying to make a statement with the work…
As for change- looking back, it’s tough to pinpoint all the shifts and turns over that time period, but there was a lot of indecision in the first year of work- a lot of false starts… I feel like the work I installed in the space really started to come together about 2 years ago. There was still quite a bit of guess work being done and some experimental periods that didn’t amount to much in the end, but the work was becoming coherent and each piece began relating to the whole somehow… The real challenge came when I switched out 2 of the original pieces intended for the show and began to re-work 2 other earlier works in progress. That happened sometime around late July, so there were some stressful hours and late nights in the studio before I felt good about what was happening…”
What are you currently working on in the studio
“I’m currently working on new paintings for upcoming exhibitions at Lyons Wier Gallery. But, as far as my studio practice goes, there are always drawings and various collage works, as well as some recent forays into sculpture. I’m very interested in translating my work into the 3 dimensional, It’s just not a language that I’ve really come to terms with as yet… I have some fairly large sculptural work at my Southern California studio, in Encino, but I’m still wrestling with the reality of it all… That said, there is something really sexy about working with a chain saw on large timber… Who knows what that means…”
What is your background/education? How did you get to where you are in these paintings?
“My background and/education is pretty much self-taught. Academia and I had a mutual agreement that we wouldn’t spend much time together. After a few years studying journalism and history, I was more or less kicked out of the University of Kentucky… When I showed up in New York I was customizing tennis racquets for professional players and teaching on the side. Around that time I started to pursue a literary career, submitting poems and short stories to university journals and small magazines. Once I started to publish my work I got more ambitious and started the first of 2 large novels and started spending more time in the museums, not really sure of what was going on… And, of course I began painting.
The first painting I did was on a small canvas on the grounds of Castelo di Rivara, near Torino, Italy. I had traveled to Italy from Vienna and by connection ended up spending a weekend in this amazing castle, owned by the Paludetto family, on a plateau overlooking this small village… The Paludetto family had an incredible collection and aside from the Museums, this was my first real exposure to contemporary art. The bedroom I slept in had 2 massive Hermann Nitsche blood paintings in it…
When I returned to New York, I was living in a small 2 bedroom in Harlem and below me was the studio of the photographer, Gary Fabiano,who, at the time, was an abstract painter. We met and talked one evening and the next morning he was at my door with a box of oil paint… It was a really beautiful- writing and trying to paint… Gary also introduced me to the gallery scene, at the time still very much in SoHo… And around this time, I began to do some journalism related to art, most notably work for PAJ: A Journal of Performance and Art (formerly Performing Arts Journal) and for the LA publication, ArtUS…As I was still writing, more or less full time, I was also fortunate enough to be in the position to really put a lot of time into trying to become a painter- and fortunate enough to have more experienced, powerful artists offer their friendship and guidance- Robert Kingston and James Little immediately come to mind… I had a large studio in the same Long Island City building as Robert for a number of years and our daily studio visits meant so much to me in terms of my development… but most of all, it was marathon sessions in the studio for years at a time. Since becoming a father, I’ve gotten to a place in my studio practice where sometimes, a 4 hour session can be more than enough. But I only got there after years of 10-18 hour sessions…”
What Painting in the show gave you the hardest time and which came easy? Tell me about your process.
“It’s fair to say that none of them came easy. Each of the 3 canvases that make up “Atlas Trilogy” were started in 2001, so there was a ton of give and take and setting aside over the years… If a painting hasn’t sold and it’s in my studio it’s fair game as far as I’m concerned. Granted, there are paintings that are just “done”, in the strict sense of the word and I’m not going to just hang them up and go to town, making another painting. But most of my paintings take at least a year or maybe 2-3 years to complete and these were paintings that just were not coming together. I’d set them aside, maybe 2 or 3 times somewhat satisfied with them, but over the course of 14 years, you start looking at the world in a different way and that obviously effects the way you view your work…
The huge development for me and my practice was a recent obsession with landscape. Any painter is going to be sensitive to landscape, but around the time my Wife and I started a family, I reached a point where I wanted to really give myself over to the landscapes I was encountering, most notably the Hudson Valley, Montauk and Southern California…
My goal in the studio became the creation of metaphors for these landscapes…
In terms of my process, I’m constantly drawing in my notebooks and taking notes- making annotations about my work or small details that catch my eye, so ideas arise out of that, but for the most part the paintings are worked on and realized independent of drawings or studies… I start just working to create an interesting, engaging ground– layers and layers of paint and gel medium and then begin to tape off the space of the grid. Once the grid is down, it’s a matter of sorting through the possibilities of color and the relationships within the grid…
I think that the danger of working within a geometric composition is (perhaps) a tendancy to tighten down too much on the issues at hand. I feel I’m most successful when I’m letting the paint and the process dictate what is happening. It feels really good when there’s some painterly chaos, but a chaos somewhat held together by intent… I get that same feel with the martial arts- and that can’t be a bad thing…”