Installation view

John Zurier »East«

Berlin, March 12, 2016 - April 23, 2016

Galerie Nordenhake is pleased to present a solo exhibition of recent works by John Zurier.

Zurier's 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.

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The title of the exhibition “East”, for example, refers to the eastern part of Iceland –Zurier has spent a great deal of time in Iceland over the past years– and is the point of reference for the group of four paintings titled Borgarfjörður Eystri – a town in the east of Iceland. The particular yellow in Late Summer suggests the colour of the nature in Iceland at that time of the year. Other paintings find their points of origin in locations such as Italy, like the painting Dust (La Verna). The title is a reference to the cloister of St. Francis’s at La Verna in Italy. 

Despite the landscape references in the work, Zurier does not rely on descriptive elements, and the images remain rigorously abstract. It seems that the titles of all of Zurier’s paintings are a suggestion to an interpretation rather than an explanation in itself. Rather, he constructs the “meaning” of the painting from its very material; the associations to a certain memory or a place come later. All the practical aspects of preparation entail a conscious delay in the actual painting, allowing time for memory to surface.

Whereas almost all the paintings in the show are titled after a location or a certain moment in time, they were actually painted in Zurier’s studio in Berkeley, California.

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 ethereal resonance. Others reveal a vigorous brushwork in intense broken fields of pigment. Zurier frequently uses narrow bands appearing near the edges of the canvas, subtle pencil lines, and incisions in the paint or short lines of paint highlighting the weave of the canvas. Such marks have the effect of gently coaxing the viewer away from a pastoral reverie toward a more empirical meditation on painting itself—its phenomenological attributes in terms of color, form, texture and unfathomable space.

Zurier's approach is characterised by a stripping down of both the physical painting itself–its objectness, but even more its content. With an economy of means he achieves an impressive range of spatial and emotional depth in each work. John Zurier believes “that the less material there is, the less there is to grasp, the finer art becomes and the more painting is directed to the mind.” 


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 shown 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 Museet, 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 catalogue surveying his work from 1981 to 2014 with an essay by Robert Storr was published in 2015.

Installation view

Road to Seydisfjörður, 2016, oil on linen, 58.4 x 43.2 cm

Installation view

Shore, 2015, oil on linen, 90 x 65 cm

Borgarfjörður Eystri 1, 2015, Distemper on linen, 228.5 x 132 cm

Installation view

Borgarfjörður Eystri 4, 2016, oil on linen, 228.5 x 132 cm

Installation view

Dust (La Verna), 2014,glue-size tempera and oil on linen, 183 x 112 cm

Seydisfjörður, 2016, distemper on linen, 65 x 70 cm

Installation view

Borgarfjörður Eystri 3, 2016, distemper on linen, 198 x 132 cm

Borgarfjörður Eystri 3, detail

Lýsuhóll 2 (Late Spring), 2015, distemper on linen, 198 x 122 cm