John Zurier’s paintings reflect both a deep interest in the process of painting and a sensitivity to the colors, atmospheres, and sensations of daily life. His works are built up layer by layer with various colors of alternately opaque and translucent oil paint. The final appearance of a picture depends on the pigments’ unique tones and transparencies; a seemingly light image may overlay and contain resonances of many deeper hues. In addition, Zurier’s brush-handling endows each work with a kind of dynamic architecture or directional flow. Rarely purely abstract, however, Zurier’s canvases are inspired by conditions of light and color that he encounters during the course of his daily routine. However, as Zurier observes, there is usually a lapse of time between perception of the world and its appearance in a painting. “It has to do with the way color is out in the world and the way color operates in a painting,” he adds. “They’re very different things!” The ethereal recollections are balanced by Zurier’s interest in the raw physicality of the canvases and their supports. Recently, he has utilized a particular brand of Russian-made canvas, called Oblaka (which means “cloud” in Russian), which is made in a rather crude fashion and functions for the artist as a kind of sculptural, found-object element.
After nearly four years of working almost exclusively on small-scale paintings, Zurier recently returned to large-format canvases. In MAZ 1 he captures extraordinary nuances of color, light, and space. Like an impenetrable fog bank, the work seems to recede into limitless depth while simultaneously maintaining a melancholy and tantalizing reserve.
(from the press release for John Zurier – Oblaka, Peer, London, 2003)
John Zurier's continuing series of abstract paintings Oblaka are painted on handmade canvases imported from Russia. Zurier encourages their imperfect objecthood, enhancing the varying roughness and inconsistencies with architectonic applications of paint. Not so much a field as a scrubland of colour, each painting contributes to a vocabulary of brushstrokes - from multi-layered to spectrally thin. Each surface maps the history of its own making, at times reworking earlier versions almost to the point of obliteration.
Oblaka means cloud in Russian, but Zurier's interest is in the palpable weight of the word rather than the imagery it suggests. The pre-stretched canvases are proportioned for the ideal domestic landscape or portrait, so that their intimate size and predetermined sculptural presence provides the ground for Zurier's exploration of the physical qualities of paint. -- Sally O’Reilly
(from the brochure for John Zurier: Paintings, Peter Blum Gallery, March 2007)
John Zurier’s paintings say little if anything about him; they are not an expression of his internal states. Nor are they—like so many abstract paintings these days—comprised merely of art historical quotations. Rather, Zurier paints deliberately and instrumentally, tuning and re-tuning his colors, marks, and forms in order to arrive at works that perform with grace and precision in the viewers’ perception. His concentration on the material aspect of painting may seem strange for a practice that is, finally, addressed so completely to the viewers’ mind. Yet, as insistent objects, these works announce their visceral connection to the eye, stripping bare the experience of seeing and revealing it as something difficult and raw. Beauty—when it occurs in his work—is incidental to this more profound aim.
-- Lawrence Rinder
(excerpt from the catalog Annual Report: A Year in Exhibitions, The 7th Gwangju Biennale)
The work of John Zurier, a California-based painter, consists almost entirely of monochromatic canvasses exhibited in discrete, thematic series. His paintings marry a meticulous investigation of the fundamentals of the painterly process and an emphatic insistence on the materiality of both canvas and paint, with deeply resonant explorations of the affective qualities of color and hue. The sumptuous, hyper-saturated canvases in the series Night Paintings form no exception. Their measured formal language, sparseness of means, and evocative palettes invite the viewer into an intimate, immersive experience, underscored by the unassuming size of Zurier’s works and his preference for hanging them lower than usual, at eye level, allowing for and easy communication with the viewer’s body. Though monochrome, these canvases are given over to a subtle play of hue and texture. Intricate layering of paint combines with the serendipities of weave and support to produce highly modulated surfaces that offset dense, opaque backgrounds and sections where Zurier’s brush marks allow milky streaks of canvas to radiate through. The resulting effect is one pregnant with signification, evoking night blindness and the heightening of awareness and affect that accompanies sensory deprivation.--Yasmine Van Pee