There is little doubt that Zach Bruder is seriously invested in space; both the tangible area delimited by the stretcher and the real and imagined places rendered on the canvas are of utmost importance to the Cleveland-born painter. The eight works included in Edening On, Bruder’s first solo exhibition at Magenta Plains in New York, flaunt the artist’s ability to render different spatial dimensions, finding a humorous irony and cohesive unity in their discordance.
The eponymous painting, Edening On (2017), for instance, consists of layers that are at once related and estranged. A festive wreath of woven ferns strewn with Christian four-point stars frames a solemn, blue monochrome depiction of a fortified abbey, itself contained within a dark blue ellipse. The shared religious undertone bridges two otherwise diametrically opposed imageries—the joyous excess of the evangelical holidays and the restrained austerity of monastic life, with Bruder pointing to the hilarity of their coexistence on the picture plane. Far from cynical, however, his work is not about denouncing hypocrisies but rather centered on capturing everyday paradoxes.
Nods to existing historicities and narratives abound in Bruder’s work, and art history is not spared. In a small canvas titled Fit For (2017), the silhouette of a soft-looking, lounging creature is painted in linear strokes unarguably evocative of Van Gogh’s dashed brushwork. The surface on which the animal rests, as well as the identical wall behind it, distinguishable only by a hint of a horizon line, bear the diamond pattern that recurred in Cezanne’s still lifes and harlequins.
Faced with one of Bruder’s canvases, the viewer takes an active role, deciphering the intertextuality between the multiple literary, historical, and folkloric references he often cites simultaneously. The large acrylic and Flashe on linen work “Faux Pas II” (2017) depicts an anthropomorphized fox extending a paw towards the trees towering above him, most likely illustrating Aesop’s fable of “The Fox and the Grapes.” Paradigmatic of Bruder’s sensitivity to language and subtle humor, a wordplay is hidden in the title—“faux” and “fox” are nearly homophones. A second reading is also possible: its masculine torso covered in rust-red fur and pointed ears, mouth, and nose suspiciously horn-like, the fox summons up the image of a demon such as the goat-headed Baphomet, bringing up another play on words: “faux,” “faust.” Bruder is revisiting this equivocal scene for the second time; the first work in the series, “Faux Pas I” (2017), features the same hybrid figure.
Bruder has an intuitive sense of color, achieving deeply pigmented surfaces tempered by strategic pauses of negative space. A miniature demon, shamrock green, walks on a cornfield yellow ground, his pastel-hued cloud of smoke breaking up a background of muddled bordeaux in the heavily ironic canvas “Who Is Minding The Shop?” (2017). Much like the eclectic protagonists of his paintings, these unlikely chromatic decisions somehow work. In Edening On, Bruder seems to draw from every source, his appetite for new stories and characters never fully satisfied. By culling together these diverse narratives, he brings the viewer’s attention to the natural condition of reality, one made up of pieces from different puzzles.
— V. Di Liscia
Zach Bruder at Magenta Plains [Exhibition Page]