NEVER A STRAIGHT LINE: Paintings by Luke Zimmerman
August 29 – December 17, 2016
Roger W. Rogers Gallery
In “Never a Straight Line”, we see the trajectory of Luke Zimmerman’s work over the last ten years (installed chronologically in the gallery from right to left). While Zimmerman has been very consistent in his focus on observation and perception, the work in this exhibition does describe an arc from narrative realism to a much more painterly meditation on the nature of seeing. In the earlier work perception and the resulting image-making are harnessed to the goal of attaining an accurate level of representation. It aims to achieve an image that is refined, precise and meaningful in terms of its communication of narrative and symbolism. In the later works we are given a window into the process of a painter who has become so interested in the process of perception that both visual precision and narrative becomes less important.
In his paintings that employ a specific narrative, Zimmerman is very wary of making didactic art. Instead of spelling out literal meaning, he prefers to ask questions rather than make statements. The result is a very productive kind of visual economy that is enigmatic and open to viewer interpretation. This approach is exemplified by “Untitled” of 2011. In this painting a young man, with his eyes closed, and one of them blackened from an accident or altercation, cups his hands to catch a small, golden egg. He stands in a loosely painted landscape with a nebulous cloud behind his head. The red bird tattooed on his arm seems to be lunging to catch the egg, its agitation in stark contrast with the young man’s calm, almost somnolent facial expression (but possibly a refection of his more turbulent inner thoughts. It’s as if the young man is closing his eyes to visualize the potential that he has yet to achieve, through the obstacles and distractions of reckless and stormy youth. The egg symbolizes potential, and it is fiercely guarded by the bird, possibly an oblique reference to parental nurturing or protection.
“Man” from 2016 represents Zimmerman’s more recent, and more painterly work. This portrait seems to dissolve before the viewer’s eyes into a floating vapor of brushstrokes. While still representational, it appears to be shifting and fugitive in nature. Zimmerman explains that he became increasingly interested in the process of perception that gives birth to image making. This led him to realize that, paradoxically, the specificity that he had for years aimed to attain in his work is antithetical to the real experience of seeing, which is about calling into question over and over the marks that you’ve made, as well as the sustained observation those marks were based upon. You arrive at a kind of certainty through doubt. Zimmerman says the following about this process, ”What I’m doing is not recording, but rather its own thing, and I have to respect it.” In becoming hyper-aware of the process of seeing, he realized that he had to be willing to embrace the absence of certainty. When we stare at something for hours and hours, our eyes become fatigued, and we see things that are not there. In a strange way the image is humanized and ennobled by including the imperfections of perception. This ties in with Zimmerman’s assertion that what makes something beautiful is not the thing itself, but the way in which it is observed. The end result is work that is quiet, reserved, and consistent in terms of its dedication to the craft of painting, the discipline of observation and the chimeric quirks of perception.
Luke Zimmerman received an MFA in Collaborative Design from The Pacific Northwest College of Art and Design. He teaches Art George Fox University.
Curator, Roger W. Rogers Gallery