By John Austin
Occasionally you will run into that rare artist who both captivates the mind and heart with his or her work. That artist is surely Ellen Sherman Zinn. In all of her artistic endeavors what is made crystal-clear is that this artist is producing art which, while drawn out of private experience, reaches out in universal terms to touch everyone on different levels. Perhaps the most impressive quality that emerges out of each work is its lyrical drive which forms a visual choreography of parts related to wholes as well as voids as well as of subtle, nuanced coloristic tonalities connected in vitalistic ways to compositional shapes. The compelling drama of energized suspension pervades all of Sherman Zinn’s work.
Whether it is in the form of collage, encaustic or acrylic painting, this measured sense of anticipation seems to arise spontaneously and naturally out of working process. this working style, so geared to the flows and ebbs of creative energies has been honed over time in order to exploit certain factors and conditions. Sherman Zinn’s methodology favors the random, the elusive and chance occurrence working hand-in-hand with conscious deliberation.
Much of the artist’s process-oriented work has a constructed look but it is a construction that seems tentative, filled with contingency. This process gracefully brings home the point that the universe, while seemingly stilled is yet unpredictable at its core, ready to change and alter its state of being from one moment to the next. In effect, the artist is deeply immersed in delineating for us, the viewers, what she perceives as an elemental condition of life, which finds its equilibrium through an interior force of counter-harmonies. The delicate compositional balance that pervades each piece suggests, then, a momentary state of quiet and stillness within flux. This suggestion of a temporary surcease from the strains of life while poetically filled with intimations of voids and silenced energies allows the artist, nevertheless, to communicate a flurry of tensions and of struggle in her work.
Lingering in its position it offers us a visual analogy of being psychically suspended between heaven and earth, hovering between oppositions and between differences, and thrust into what Martin Heidegger the “pure serenification” of the mystery of creation. In one passage, the philosopher Konrad Fiedler wrote: “The painter is not a person who sees in a more naturalistic, more poetic or more ecstatic more than other people. He is rather a person who also sees further with the hand, there where the eye gives out.”
In looking closely at Sherman Zinn’s work we are indeed swayed by the mysterious rightness of her coloration which animates her planes, as in Loose Footing, Bird in Hand and Yellow Sail. But what gives us pause, what stops the eye and makes it marvel at the hand of Ellen Sherman Zinn is her capacity to find the Archimedian point, acting as perceptual lever, which upends visual expectations. This transformative effect, where materials assume another life beyond the prosaic is the hallmark of a great artist. It is artmaking’s ultimate prize: to recognize limits only to transcend them through the imaginative capacity.
Ellen Sherman Zinn’s art might profitably considered a set of mirrors (imagination and reality) facing each other, which in-between themselves make a habitable world out of their blending reflections. The artist speaks eloquently and passionately through her bold nuances of the self’s journeys undertaken to arrive at a condition of centeredness. Her synthesis of oppositions lies at the core of her revelatory artistic practice.
John Austin is an art writer living and working in Manhattan.