Models of Light: Brian Zink’s Chromatic Structures

by Jeff Perrott

Chromatic Structures, Brian Zink’s 4th one-person exhibition at Boston’s Howard Yezerski Gallery, finds the artist transfiguring his hard-edged, colored Plexiglas assemblages from the inside out.  Where recent iterations of this project have complicated and problematized the artist’s language of abstraction by introducing clear figure-ground spatial relations, Chromatic Structures exposes these figures to the action of light, transforming them from solid bodies in space into ethereal bodies of light—all while hewing closely to the compositional and conceptual rigor that has marked his work for over 20 years.

Brian Zink, Composition in 2793 Red, 2240 Maroon, 2287 Purple, and 7508M White, 2021, Plexiglas mounted on panel, 45 x 45 inches

Zink’s work always begins with and returns to its formal particulars—its flatness, scale, and proportion.  The artist’s original compositional method operationalizes a set of rules governing possible choices in how each square support gets divided symmetrically by diagonals—and then divided again, and again. By varying the initial conditions of the game, and applying parameters for reduction, lines become interconnected geometric shapes, and then shapes get color—prefab Plexiglas colors, another constraint whose limits push the game in a new dimension: the interaction of color that alternately signals flatness and illusory space.  So, simple rules gain complexity and diversity, a hermetic plastic language producing seemingly endless permutations.

Zink, however, is not interested in formal permutations, but in linguistic expansion: the steady evolution of the parts, and the whole they make, into new expressive formations. If we assume the works’ adherence to simple planar rules as the fulfillment of Clement Greenberg’s ideal of flatness, then we miss how—as in Arnold Schoenberg’s twelve tone inquiry—Zink’s restrictions never end merely in themselves, but always in surprising transformations.  But, in turn, if we limit our view to the results of a purely aleatoric process, we miss the artist’s deeper goal: method as model, in the sense the critic Yve-Alain Bois ascribes to Piet Mondrian:

“Painting was for [Mondrian] a theoretical model that provided concepts and invented procedures that dealt with reality: it is not merely an interpretation of the world, but the plastic manifestation of a certain logic that he found at the root of the phenomena of all life.”

“The function of plastic art is not descriptive…” Bois continues, quoting Mondrian, “…but it can evoke in us the conviction of existent truth.” 

Brian Zink, Composition in 2014 Yellow, 2119 Orange, 2662 Red, and 7508M White, 2021. Plexiglas mounted on panel. 37.5 x 37.5 inches.

If Zink has never wavered from his certain logic, the basic principles and parameters of his method—his model, it is not because of an aesthetic preoccupation with the shapes and forms it produces, but because of his allegiance to the reality this logical model asymptotically approaches. Over time, the evolution of this model has turned flat, adjacent colored planes which point to an idealized flat ontology into subtle shifts in hue and value which model figuration, grounded in the here and now. As Mondrian’s words suggest, Zink’s modeling never offers mimetic descriptions, but rather evocations of life itself, or, in recent iterations, what it’s like to be a figure in space, today: the pressure of the strict planar edges in struggle with the movement of the strident diagonals, all pushed by the apparent fall of light from plane to plane, into illusionary space and back again to flatness.  A dance restricted by the stage of strict material conditions, pushed to invent new modes of occupying that space.

In Chromatic Structures, Zink infuses this model of figuration with one of refiguration or, more accurately, transfiguration: ground and figure get fused by light to push the appearance of figure-in-ground to figure-as-light.  By opening the center of the figures to this infusion of pure white light, they gain transparency, and their planar parts becomes mixtures of colored light, instead of surfaces illuminated by the fall of light. Subsumed by the action of light, the parts lose their autonomy in mutual recognition of and appeal to that source.   In addition, instead of this new model of light-as-constituting-agent replacing the old model of form-in-space, the new model acts as what Bois calls a ‘symbolic model’—one symbolic structure infused into another, not to destroy or contradict the first, but to, as Bois writes, effect a “…taxonomic collapse, [an] overturning of opposites—especially between representation and action...” 

Representation—description, body—and action—the fugitive escape of the body into time—fused into changeable, ethereal bodies of light, visible here in the works as they seemingly continue to unfold themselves in light, as light. What’s modeled is not transfigured bodies, but transfiguration itself, the continued and sustained infusion and action of light on the body, as the body.

Brian Zink, Composition in 2037 Yellow, 5700YT Aqua, 2308 Turquoise, and 7508M White, 2021, Plexiglas mounted on panel, 37.5 x 37.5 inches.

1 Yve-Alain Bois, “Painting: The Task of Mourning”, in Painting as Model, MIT Press: 1993, p 240.

2 Ibid.

3 Yve-Alain Bois, “Painting as Model”, in Painting as Model, MIT Press: 1993, p 254.

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