A View Through a Glass, Darkly
Local artist Paul Zacharias draws from Southern Gothic motifs and Biblical mythology in a new exibition of paintings titled View from the Bunker.
Although you may not have thought so, some people have long held the view
that Winnipeg has a certain affinity for all things gothic. The idea has been
explored before, but it's found a new and particular expression in an exhibition
of paintings by local artist Paul Zacharias. In View from the Bunker,
a vague story marked by the grotesque unfolds. There's a flawed hero, a struggle
and religious allusions, all in narrative scenes that sample equally from
Southern Gothic motifs, surrealist literature, Romanticism and Biblical mythology.
In his art, Zacharias, a U of M art-school grad who made the much talked-about
Winnipeg-Montreal-Winnipeg trek over recent years, plays with the idea of
the American hero. In these paintings from 2006 to 2009, that theme continues,
but with a decidedly personal bent: most of the male figures in his recent
work are actually self-portraits. This is a project of turning life into fiction
- into a world of great danger but also mystery.
"I like art that's being evil in a sense. You're playing God in a lot of
ways, constructing your own narrative about the way things happened," Zacharias
says about the role of artists. "That can be dangerous; it can be really like
doing some historical revisionism."
So, quite deliberately, many of these paintings do depict wildly paradoxical
scenes. Zacharias uses acrylics on wood to make tempestuous backdrops and
crisply drawn details. Exaggerated perspectives and his eye for framing give
everything a sense of isolation, like flotsam on a hostile sea.
But there's also an element of self-deprecatory humour here. A blue-hued
painting called The Witness inspired the show's title. A man (another
self-portrait) sits in a dark basement facing a bottle of booze and reading
from a script into a broadcast mic. About what and to whom isn't clear, but
we can take it as a wry disclaimer on the rest of the show. Indeed, Zacharias
says that, for him, painting is all about alternating between striking serious
notes and satirical ones, and between them, regular folks and some folk heroes
(see And Now He Wears a Rainbow Everyday) become contemporary saints
and sinners, and objects seem to take on talismanic weight. Lyrical and chimeric
titles invoke scenes from Genesis and Revelations.
In They Ate, They Drank, They Bought, They Sold, They Planted, They Built,
a couple in 19th-century Americana garb stand in the foreground of a vast
empty plain while a coil of snakes lies suggestively nearby and a sky of bubbling
red paint threatens overhead. It's about moving back to the Prairies.
"It was six years of a lot of hard work and I came over here to start all
over again," Zacharias says.
Similarly, the 1001 Nights-like With Naught But a Quiver of Arrows
is about leaving Quebec. A man takes flight from lethal danger, darting out
the back of a tent on the desert while a group of sword- and bow-armed bandits
close in on the entrance. Entrapment and desire are sincerely evoked and the
pain they cause is evident.
It's a view through a glass darkly, one that's compelling and sometimes familiar.
While Zacharias is our artful guide, perhaps Winnipeg is the bunker.
Whitney Light - Uptown Magazine, May 2009
Picture This... Paul Zacharias is an ex-Montrealer, now-Winnipegger artist
whose work sizzles with that kind of quiet heat that makes you keep coming
back, like wasabi dried peas. The analogy is mildly obscure, granted, but
what goes better with a summertime cocktail, I ask you, than the delicate
drawings of an observant soul with a penchant for the weird? See Revelations
According to Zacharias and enjoy a drinkipoo too this Saturday, Aug. 5, as
his first solo at HQ opens at 7 p.m. The heads roll wonders live at 1649 Amherst.
“Hour.ca” online version of weekly paper, August, 2006, Montreal, QC
Paul Zacharias’ latest solo art exhibit feels like a collection of snapshots taken from the photo album of his life, or a night out with his old drinking buddies.
But before one gets too cozy, it’s important to consider his A List of Things You Didn’t Know About Me. This Lilliputian replica of the show features a half-dozen tiny framed and canvassed works, identical to those in the room – except the canvasses are blank. This is the crux of the exhibit, dubbed Another One Hits the Fan .Zacharias could be revealing everything, or nothing at all. When asked about A Thousand Miles of This – which depicts an endless tree line from a ground-level perspective – he shrugs and replies, “It’s just the woods.” His casual approach, far from undermining his skill, is direct, honest, and refreshing.
Born and bred in Winkler, Manitoba, a conservative, “95-percent Mennonite,” town, Zacharias left at age 18, having never been on a plane, seen a mountain, or swam in the ocean. He caught a direct flight to the Caribbean and set up shop on the streets of Dominica, selling hand-drawn portraits which showcased early nineties supermodels –Kate Moss, Claudia Schiffer and Naomi Campbell– to attract tourists’ attention. In Antigua, he was commissioned to create a portrait of dynastic politician Lester Bird, who disliked Zacharias’ final work because he “thought he looked too fat.” However as the artist notes, “he still paid.”
Zacharias spent the next nine years in Canada, where he tree-planted in B.C. and Manitoba, took frequent road trips to California, and earned a degree in Fine Arts from the University of Manitoba. A Montrealer since 2000, his current day job is to “make plastic trees look like real trees” as a scenic film painter. Again recreating the natural through the artistic, the works in Another One Hits the Fan are predominantly paintings and drawings of photographs taken by Zacharias and his friends.
Zacharias’ canvas is water-resistant drywall, which closely resembles chalkboard, and he uses a variety of mediums – paint, pencil, mack-tack and, conte. The photographic element adds spontaneity and is captured right down to the illuminating cloud of the photographer’s flash. Punctuated by their unusual background, most works appear to emit an incandescent, chalky white light. The pieces, executed with skill and precision, range from a delicate image of a woman’s backside in bed (Before the Rain) to a man, on fire, running open-armed toward a barn, sky ablaze (And I Shall Give Him the Morning Star). Into the night depicts two party girls, in profile, spilling out of a bar, arms flung around each other and keys in hand. It possesses an immediacy common to Zacharias’ works, as though they’ve just brushed past you, arm in arm, and continue to stumble down the street.
The show’s title, Another One Hits the Fan, was Zacharias’ girlfriend’s stricken Franglais observation when she learned of a friend’s suicide. Zacharias casually considers the angles of the title – shit hitting the fan, another one bites the dust, adoring masses of fans – chosen because “it was cute enough and had enough directions.” His approach, at once multi-layered and simple, demonstrates a dimensionality as deep and wide as his works.
Allison Devar – “McGill Daily” weekly paper, October 2004, Montreal, QC
The work of Paul Zacharias complements Marth’s. In his piece Information, paint has been applied using graffiti-style stencil patterns, and we see a bright window in a shadowy room, with a phone cord stretching towards the viewer and running off the canvas. There is a sense of the viewer holding the phone to their own ear, as though whatever information is being conveyed is intended for them directly.
Lorne Roberts – “Canadian Art” magazine, Winter 2004
Local painter Paul Zacharias is part of a generation of university-educated young people that has experienced a rougher side of life through bush camps and the often brutal physical labour of tree planting. His urban influenced work uses a simple aesthetic with minimal colours and empty space drawing attention to promininet features. In the two-tone piece Information, a telephone cord stretches off the canvas, so that the person talking on the phone is invisible. A bright window contrasts with a dark room, suggesting that there’s more joy outside than in, and that whatever information the phone conveys is not good.
Lorne Roberts – “Winnipeg Free Press” daily paper, April 2004, Winnipeg, MB
De Paul Zacharias, je retiendrais surtout la pièce “I’m
Afraid of the Dark without You Close to Me” qui est la meilleure des
peintures des trios qu’il expose. Plus épurée que les
autres, elle montre un talent certain.
David Alexander – “Voir” weekly paper, October 2002, Montreal, QC
Paul Zacharias pont des tableaux d’une telle blancheur qu’ils
se confendent qesque avec les cimaises qui les supportent. Discrète
et subtile, sa peinture parvient à s’imposer par la retenue de
ses themes et l’economae de ses signese un buste pensif qui broie des
etoues (Sorting Rotor), un évier liquide et flasque perdu dans l’espace
de la toile (I’m Afraid of the Dark Without You Close to Me), ou encore,
et c’est sans doute le plus beau de ses tableaux, un pàle tube
digestif aboute à un goulot de bouteille à peine es quissée
(Swallowing Tube, etc, etc).
Jerome Delgado – “Manifeste La Presse” daily paper, October 2002, Montreal, QC
Multiple-step processes are also par of Zacharias’s recent works, which
start off as construction paper collages which are then photographed in Polaroid,
the results of which are scanned, slightly blown up and printed onto photographic
paper on a home printer. The final works are impressionistic, dreamlike quasi-representational
snippets of a place and time that exist autonomously of reality by way of
their candy coloured small preciousness.
Isa Tousignant – “Hour” weekly paper, March 2002, Montreal, QC
Mark-making and identity are also at the centre of Paul Zacharias’
work, where he’s happiest in the gestural figuration of contemporary
painters like Francis Bacon, David Hockney and Larry Rivers. Zacharias has
been working on a series of paintings on the myth of the American hero. The
inescapable violence in the series was of the comic-book kind, but the paintings
that delivered it was of a decidedly serious kind. “I used to do two
types of paintings when I was in school. You’d have handsome cowboys
and damsels in distress and then these ugly Bacon-inspired characters to get
rid of the beauty that I was showering all of the other characters with.”
In this work, beauty made the beast. It’s a relationship that he maintains
in his newest paintings, even as they move from Pop culture mythologizing
to the mythology of self.
Robert Enright – “Border Crossing” magazine , August 2000, Winnipeg, MB