Brian Zink: Figure/Ground


Brian Zink is unapologetic.  Without a trace of irony or the unnecessary bracketing of abstraction that has served as a refuge for many abstract painters since the figurative/narrative-centric oughts (’00s), Zink has, for over 20 years, maintained a steadfast commitment to abstraction and its promises of openness, freedom and the rigor and depth afforded by simply and gracefully working at and through its problemsZink wrings the familiar tropes of modern abstraction through a rigorous process that joins the limitations and possibilities of a single, industrial material with an exploration of basic geometric form.  In his current show at Miller/Yezerski Gallery (460 Harrison Ave, Boston, through February 10), Zink pushes and complicates this project significantly, challenging and, ultimately, transforming the Modernist foundation of his practice.

The artist’s body of two-dimensional colored Plexiglas constructions at Miller/Yezerski continues a longstanding investigation of interlocking geometric planes of color set in modestly-scaled rectangles and squares. Since 2010, Zink’s clean, clear formal arrangements – generated simply by the parameters of the picture plane – have focused primarily on interlaced diagonals. The resulting pictures seem at once to honor and challenge the formal language and established tropes of Modernism – from Constructivism to Donald Judd – as they move the eye uneasily along a restless gamut of sightlines.

Zink’s work in the current exhibition – aptly-named Figure/Ground – ups the ante in transforming that legacy, as it takes on Modernism’s twin sacred cows: flatness and materiality. Using titles such as Composition in 2051 Blue, 2114 Blue, and 3015 White (the numbers referring straightfaced to the the particular Plexiglas colors employed), and with his trademark cool, crisp, tight arrangement and manufacture of the work, Zink seems to traffic in early hard-edged abstraction’s wish to purge pictures of all but the thing itself.

But our initial, comfortable sense of that thingness quickly gives way to a deeper intent. By combining his diagonals, set against simple bisecting horizontals, with close, quasi-monochrome color arrangements set against clean, bright white grounds, Zink employs the very elements of utopian Modernist discourse to birth its opposite: a reanimation of figure and space.


And here the artist doesn’t present a Modernist version of the abstracted (human) figure occupying deep space – or flat figures occupying spatial grounds – but instead evokes the figure of painting, a spatial figure occupying flat ground: folded in upon and projected out from the stark flat white plane of their grounds, Zink’s figures tease the eye as they play among their flat elements, the three-dimensional pseudo-architectural spaces they suggest, and the movement they explore through their surprisingly dynamic symmetries. In our developing experience of them, their figuration announces itself in stark opposition to the Modernist wish for a material facticity devoid of emotion and content. Zink effectively reanimates hard-edged abstraction with an inner aliveness and drama that – the work points out – it has always, already possessed.

Essential to Zink‘s achievement is his modesty, simplicity of process, and restraint of choice, which offers viewers a refreshing generosity and openness in their exploration of his works. In a Postmodern glut of more, his is a patient, deliberate, and reductive practice that employs less to render a more that impacts us deeply, rewarding our view with a subtle and sustained transformation.

Brian Zink: Figure/Ground is on view at Miller/Yezerski Gallery at 460 Harrison Ave in Boston from January 9, 2015 through February 10, 2015. Accompanying the exhibition is a full-color catalogue, featuring an essay by Bill Arning, Director of the Contemporary Arts Museum Houston.

Above photo: Installation view, Miller/Yezerski Gallery, photo by James Hull

About jeffperrott

Artist and writer on art
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1 Response to Brian Zink: Figure/Ground

  1. Hannah Cole says:

    Beautifully conceived and written, Jeff. As a former studio mate of Brian, I can attest to his care.

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