“Excavating Abstraction”: Zak Prekop at Harris Lieberman

The intense, ostensibly minimalist yet beguilingly layered and process-composed paintings by young Brooklyn-based Zak Prekop unveil themselves like a Jorge Luis Borges plot device. I spent a leisurely while in front of and angled toward his human-scale canvases filling Harris Lieberman Gallery, playing out different scenarios in my head as to just how he created them. Their plain titles give away few secrets, but their respective compositions and surface effects are irresistible to inquisitive eyes. - Brian Fee, Austin Contributor

Zak Prekop | Untitled Transparency, 2012, oil and paper on canvas, 72” x 48”
Courtesy of the artist and Harris Lieberman, New York.

The fun begins straight away with Untitled Transparency, an expanse of raw canvas seemingly dissolving into white palette-knife “holes”, revealing wide blue stripes as stretcher bars. Meanwhile, red diagonals seem to burrow beneath the canvas’ “skin”. This experience of front and behind flattened into one plane but retaining its three-dimensional essence encapsulates Prekop’s compositional ingenuity. The half-concealed red lines’ bas-relief effects actually come from paper collaged on the backside of the canvas, which was then restretched front-side. He then delicately painted in the red to mirror the papers’ thickness and proximity. The blue “stretcher bars” are actually white paint on midnight blue, achieved as a dusty cerulean whose framing stripe only just suggests its darker background. Bonkers, I realize.

Zak Prekop | Untitled (RM), 2012, oil and paper on canvas, 35” x 27”
Courtesy of the artist and Harris Lieberman, New York.

Prekop pulls this sort of painstakingly executed sleight-of-hand throughout the show. Solid black and white pinstripes interrupt an all-over crosshatch pattern in Untitled (Black and White). Grayish-white noise erupts behind splintering black paper in Untitled (RM). The eye-searing cobalt-neon within Untitled (Blue and Dark Blue) is actually the negative version of its somber neighbor Untitled (Black with Green/Blue), its effect achieved by tracing the latter’s organic forms on glassine and applying them to the former, alternatly thinning or layering the pigment for a full tonal brilliance.

Zak Prekop | Untitled (Black and Dark Blue), 2012, oil on canvas, 84” x 57”
Courtesy of the artist and Harris Lieberman, New York.

Zak Prekop | Untitled (Black with Green/Blue), 2012, oil on canvas, 84” x 57”
Courtesy of the artist and Harris Lieberman, New York.

Some of his most intriguing compositional investigations utilize brown paper bags. Prekop deftly collages them onto canvas, highlighting the former’s natural fiber and intrinsic texture against the canvas’ weave, plus he retains the bags’ manufactured, irregular edges. This adds a sawtooth patterning to the black lines of Collage with Grid, plus acts as a vintage-photo border to Collage with Dust. In this layered work, Prekop executed a gestural wash in black over the flattened bags, emulating the titular dust, then painted a dozen exactingly placed lavender diamonds on top. Collage with Grid’s diamonds are actually incised from the covering bag, revealing glimpses of the black-painted base.

Zak Prekop | Collage with Dust, 2012, oil, acrylic and paper bags on canvas, 19” x 26”
Courtesy of the artist and Harris Lieberman, New York.

I was initially drawn to Prekop’s meticulous geometric paintings during Greater New York at MoMA PS1 two years ago. The rareity of painting in that exhibition made his form of optical abstraction–like GNY peer Tauba Auerbach–that much more pronounced. His works do not reveal themselves as readily as Auberach’s “wrinkles”, but its in their minimalist beauty and quietly warped nature that they entice us to linger–and to return to the Borges reference, see “The Aleph” within their illusionistic planes.

Zak Prekop | Collage with Grid, 2012, oil, acrylic and paper bags on canvas, 19” x 12”
Courtesy of the artist and Harris Lieberman, New York.


Zak Prekop (b. 1979) received an MFA from the School of the Art Institute of Chicago in 2008 and currently lives and works in Brooklyn, New York. He will have his first solo museum show in Fall 2012 at the Contemporary Art Museum in Raleigh, North Carolina and has had solo exhibitions at Shane Campbell Gallery, Chicago and Galleria Marta Cervera, Madrid. His second solo exhibition at Harris Lieberman Gallery runs through March 17.

Brian Fee is an art punk currently based in Austin, TX. His culture blog Fee’s List covers his three loves (art, film and live music) occurring in his other three loves (the Lone Star State, the Big Apple, and Tokyo)

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