Starlight Gallery

April 29 - May 23, 2014

Sara Zak states: “The concept and execution of these paintings is realism with abstraction woven into its fabric; or alternatively, it is the memory of a reality that is constantly altered by newly formed thoughts and experiences – an abstraction of reality necessitated by the condition of living in a forward motion.“

Ever since action painters of the post-WWII years rejected representation in favor of non-objective art, others have insisted upon both. While some view the abstract canvas as a residue of an active painting process, others use the gestures of mark and drip to stretch the known language of art history to express new personal narratives. Zak takes inspiration from painters Richard Diebenkorn and Philip Guston, who both turned away from pure abstraction to invite figuration and representation into their work during the 1960s.

A leader in the local arts community as a frequent contributor to group shows, an organizer of exhibitions and events, and a founding member of the Painting for Preservation group, she is known for proficient works of post-industrial urban environments. An instructor of oil painting and portraiture at Buffalo Arts Studio, the artist features here her evolving works of figurative abstraction in oil paintings on canvas and framed mixed media works on paper.

Even Jackson Pollock argued against descriptions of his work as non-figurative and claimed that all his marks are figures. Whenever modern art has taken a turn away from representation, artists seem to gravitate back there. We find meaning through the forms of our phenomenal world. After a period during the 1970s when much of the contemporary art scene had been focused on minimalism, performance, and conceptual art, New Image painting emerged as primitive figures began turning up in the work of Neo-Expressionist artists.

Post-modern contemporary artists draw upon all the earlier traditions and add ingredients as they wish into the alchemy of their art practice. Zak works with medium, motion, and image in painterly canvases of creamy fields of subdued color and line–shadowy areas that are never dark or muddy. The process of discovery is apparent, as if arriving at these destinations by surprise.

Life can only be understood backwards; but it must be lived forwards,” wrote 19th Century philosopher Soren Kierkegaard. Sometimes the speed of that forward motion keeps understanding away—first we must stop. The Futurism art movement of the early 20th Century was marked by an effort to give formal expression to motion. This is exemplified in “Dynamism of a Dog on a Leash,” an interpretation of the walking motion of a dog on a leash, a painting by Giacomo Balla that is frequently on view at the Albright Knox Art Gallery. Similar suggestions of moving figures are seen in Zak’s suspended motion works. Some depict children engaged within uncertain environments. The provocative and poetic titles direct the viewer toward a way of seeing, such as “a circle is not absurd” or “the world was waiting.”


The largest canvases are dreamy industrial views. “This is the time, laid bare, coming into existence” presents an ominous blue and brown industrial interior of massive columns, deep hallway, and reflective watery floor.


The mixed media series “Buffalo Roma I-IX” are bright bold works that seem to promise more. The artist departs from literal figuration in these primordial expressions of energetic moments. They are easy to imagine on a large scale—possibly pointing to the direction of future Sara Zak canvases.


April 2014

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