I see a lot of exhibitions each week. My main criteria for choosing something to write about is the exhibit’s ability to leave a lasting impression (along with a strong first impression). This often stems from the artist’s ability to create something more than what comes solely from technique. When this happens, a powerful atmosphere sets in, and I’m drawn into it.
This is exactly what happened when I encountered Eric Zener’s latest show at Gallery Henoch. Walking into this gallery was like walking into a space engulfed by water. Hyper-realist elements of water’s motion seemed to jump off of the canvasses. This motif provided a springboard for the transformational theme. There is a sense of life in these works.
“My work reflects our collective desire for transformation,” Zener states in the press release. “In my paintings I aim to create a sense of sanctuary using the metaphor of water, sleep or sky. I believe that even in their ephemeral state these places lift us, freeing us from the weight of our world and allowing us to dream.” He also discusses how, in our youth, the whole idea of “going swimming” and how intense the water felt; it remains etched in our minds, reminding us of those carefree days.
Throughout this show, filled with gorgeous paintings, there was a sense of calm in the air. At the same time, there was also a contrasting element of risk. Some works dealt with divers, in which Zener captured the determination, fear and concentration—all at once.
“My work is about psychological turning points and transformations and risk, taking that proverbial leap of faith, balanced with that quest for finding refuge, finding quietness and stillness and escapism,” Zener explains. “Some [paintings] are very, very introspective escapism. Some are just the joy, the pool full of people in this temporary oasis…” He also spoke of how the beach equalizes everybody, since everybody is stripped of their uniforms.
Zener is a master of light. Bubbles are glaringly white, casted against varying levels of brightness: the motion affecting the waves, the sun kissing the surface of the water (and beyond). In the beach paintings, Zener’s keen sense and intuition of the sun’s rays can make one feel like it’s 90 degrees. The soft sand, with its subtle shadings and the shadows on the towels, convey much more than meets the eye.
To build his paintings, Zener employed a technique for this series in which he had an underwater camera take photos. Actually, the word “build” could be a little deceptive in this case, since Zener utilizes a reductive method where he takes away paint and allows a blending (and disregarding) of previous layers.
It completely astonished me to learn that Eric Zener is self-trained. He started painting at a very early age, and his grandmother was a painter. There were art books surrounding him in his youth, and he learned the history from that. It just proves that schooled training only means so much. A transformational artist like Zener transcends matters like this.
Eric Zener exhibit continues through May 9 at Gallery Henoch, 555 W. 25th St. (betw. 10th & 11th Aves.), 917-305-0003.