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Etienne Zack, "Absorb," acrylic/oil on canvas, 60" x 66", 2008.
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Etienne Zack, "Insider," oil on canvas, 48" x 42", 2009.
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Etienne Zack, "Satisfactory," oil on canvas, 54" x 62", 2009.
ETIENNE ZACK, Autopia
March 3 - 31, 20
By Helena Wadsley
For his solo exhibition in Vancouver, running simultaneously with his exhibition at the Musee d’Art Contemporain in Montreal, Etienne Zack has painted a world of painting machines. Zack’s new paintings depict paintings making paintings of themselves. His recent move to Montreal from Vancouver, where he felt he was slowing down, seems to have propelled him into intense productivity where he paints himself as a machine. He is the automaton of his Autopia. What has changed from his past work is the absence of built structures as still-life props. He feels he no longer needs these visual references and his new works clearly show his imagination is very vivid without concrete visual references.
“I look at myself while I paint” he says, “sometimes it’s a funny thing…” He acknowledges that a painter must have an awareness of history and this is very evident in several of his works, including Insider, whose subject is light. It shows a box that resembles a camera lucida, a tool used by painters of the past. It is slashed open to reveal a single, suspended light bulb. The interior is painted in dark glazes reminiscent of Rembrandt, while the outside’s brightly-hued shapes evoking either a child’s plastic construction toy or the modernist’s brushstroke. The result is a collapsing of art history—closing the gap of time between polarized ideologies of painting, allowing them to co-exist in one work.
The rotating paint machine in Satisfactory resembles a tilted mandala, a symmetry with neither beginning nor end and meant to represent the cosmos. Green painters’ tape, beer-filled pint glasses and cigarettes butts support a rotating wheel of paint pails. The colours are straight from the art students’ colour wheel. Similar roulette-like wheels spin in the background. This reference to the act of painting could be read as the harmonious, cyclical cosmos of the mandala…or a tongue-in-cheek reference to the constant pressure to create (i.e. without the beer and cigarettes, the structure would collapse and so would his ability to create).
Name, medium, size, year is a painting of the sculpture of the same name made for Vancouver’s Cultural Olympiad, which occurred at the same time as Zack’s solo show. Executed from memory, it is like a large scale postcard of the original structure. The exterior is a cubic frame constructed of basic painter’s materials – stretcher bars and canvas, the interior is open and multi-tiered. A black leather couch positioned in front of two typewriters represents, for Zack, a certain class as well as connoting the essay writer. The typewriter stands in for the computer while archival magazines represent the internet. The artist addresses the fact that, while knowledge stays the same, the way we retrieve it has changed significantly over time. Surprisingly, he admits to not using the internet for research. He doesn’t need to - “I use my process as a medium.”
Zack is the clamp in the painting titled BCC, squeezing the tube of paint while the yellow Pinocchio head simultaneously manoeuvres a brush with the back of his head while dissecting a portrait painting with a knife held by his baseball bat nose. The character creates while he destroys. Zack though, is not a destroyer of history; rather, this is his way of acknowledging what it has given him and building on it. While all these allusions and references are dizzying to the outsider, the perpetual motion Zack’s work in Autopia, whose Latin roots mean “self” and “place”, is exactly where Zack wants to be.