The Good Luck Paintings

The Suburban

Chicago, IL


2014, Jan 26 - Feb 28


Michael Zwack


Michael Zwack’s (b. 1949 Buffalo, NY) work consists of sculptures, drawings, paintings and photographs and has exhibited his art internationally over four decades. In 1974, along with Robert Longo, Cindy Sherman, Charles Clough, Nancy Dwyer, and others, he co-founded Hallwalls, one of the first nonprofit contemporary art spaces in the United States. After receiving a C.A.P.S. grant in 1976, he moved to NYC, where he has resided since. 

In the 1980’s he created large-scale portraits and landscapes by drawing on paper with his fingers and applying washes of linseed oil, creating mysterious and luxurious surfaces. In the 1990’s he began adding designs and languages from all cultures to the landscapes. From the 1980’s to the present, these paintings and drawings have carried an umbrella title: The History of the World. From the very beginning, these works were concerned with the creation of a contemporary, multicultural world art. Calligraphies, patterns, and designs became a new language within the paintings and eventually took over, in parallel with the progress of his deep study of the visual language of Haitian vodou.

Since 2011, Zwack's work has taken a major shift from landscape and figuration towards total autonomous abstraction. His slowly measured and methodical painting technique has been replaced by a reactive and often uncontrolled outburst of the hand on paper or canvas. Although the markmaking could be related to abstract pictorial signs or asemics, the drawing and paintings are made from a form of language that comes from both Zwack's longterm immersion into cultural semiotics, but also from the sort of inevitable osmosis experienced from living in downtown Manhattan for nearly forty years.

It is not only his studies of vodou that have introduced an array of symbology into his already developed international, intercultural and translinguistic vocabulary, but the tattoo-like skin of New York’s urban landscape: living downtown and on the edge of Chinatown, Zwack lives within a conglomeration of signatures and signs, graffitis and advertisements, both personal and commercial, which ultimately are unconsciously processed and reformulated onto the paper or canvas. It is in this body of work that the language of the universe is filtered through Zwack’s hand. The artist plays the role of communicator, guide, shaman. The symbology and/or language(s) used is both abstract and familiar, highly personal and universally understood.

Zwack’s work has recently appeared in The Pictures Generation 1974-1984 at The Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York and Wish You Were Here: The Buffalo Avant-garde in the 1970s at the Albright Knox Art Gallery in Buffalo, and is in various museum and private collections. He has received grants from the Pollock-Krasner Foundation, the National Endowment for the Arts, and the Adolph and Esther Gottlieb Foundation. He has been Artist in Residence at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro, the Studio Museum School of Fine Arts in Boston, the Syracuse University Graduate Program, and has taught at NYU.

Image: Installation view (with Michael Mahalchick, Brook Hsu, Sarah Kurten, Sofi Brazzeal, Michel Auder, Nicolas Guagnini, and Dawn Kasper) of The Split, GRIN, Providence, RI, 2017