Norman Zammitt at Andrew Rafacz
Originally published on THE SEEN
Norman Zammitt’s acrylic paintings of gradated color, currently on display at Andrew Rafacz, were produced in the late ‘70s and early ‘80s, around the same time that home computers began gaining popularity. The works, much smaller in scale but similar in style to Zammitt’s Mural paintings, are composed of narrow bands of precisely calculated solid color on canvas board mounted to float about an inch away from the wall. A range of palettes, perfectly applied to smooth surfaces – Yellow Violet 43, Red to Green I – often evoke scenes in nature, such as sandstorms and sunrises, and create glowing window-like spaces in the gallery. Existing as objects of obsession, the paintings reveal Zammitt’s desire for transcendence through labor and technical precision, during a period of a monumental technological shift.
Frequently associated with the Light and Space movement, a loosely affiliated art trend based in California, Zammitt has been receiving some well-deserved posthumous attention lately, after his work was exhibited at the Getty Museum. According to Rafacz, the Director of the gallery, the works currently on display have never been exhibited in a professional setting before. “Some people see these works as experiments or studies,” he says, “but they are so meticulous that doesn’t seem believable.” An article in the LA weekly states that Zammitt worked with “physicist and mathematics to perfect his formula for blending acrylics” but the paintings themselves appear effortless, evading the intense labor put into them. From afar, the bands of color blend into each other and radiate as one soft light. Blue 13, especially, which begins with a dark shade of purple, slowly shifts upward into a sky blue expanse and recreates the experience of peering out of an airplane window and watching a dying sky.
Although the small paintings do not match the experiential power of works by artists such as Robert Irwin or James Turrell, they seem to have a close relationship with the digital. They float off the wall almost like flat screen televisions – and are even the size of tablet devices. The color wheel the paintings sample is also something that is ubiquitous in the digital world (Photoshop, Microsoft Word template themes, etc.) and the use of gradients is quite common in new digital art and graphic design practices. This brings the work into a contemporary realm while still emphasizing labor and human skill. The paintings function as a prophecy: they embody the precision of the digital, but are made without its help. Despite the near perfection of the canvas, just knowing the painstaking method through which they were conceived gives an insight into the artist’s method, and creates a narrative for the work. One can assume that Zammitt’s rigorous process involved a strong meditative aspect, one that is mirrored in the audience’s interaction with the work.
Shreya Sethi is a Chicago-based artist and writer currently contributing to THE SEEN and Newcity Magazine.