A letter from Zakanitch: Revisiting P&D

Robert Zakanitch in front of his "Big Bungalow Suite I," 1990-93, Acrylic on canvas, 11 x 30 ft.

On the occasion of the opening of the exhibition Pattern and Decoration: Ornament as Promise at the Ludwig Forum für Internationale Kunst in Aachen, Germany, Robert Zakanitch a founder of the movement revisits the period in a statement updating his thoughts and relating it to his current work in the studio.

The Pattern & Decoration Movement

a revisiting essay by Robert Zakantich

In 1975 the P&D Movement (the supposed, movement that never was) changed deeply, psychologically and physically the direction of Arts mainstream (if not, eliminating it). With it came real alternatives and new paths but most of all: it gave the ‘permission’ to take them because now it revealed that there was actually a real beyond, beyond the concept of Formalism. The Movement ended over 150 years of reductive painting and the idea of 'less is more' and the 20th century' march to the 'deconstruction of all of the arts.

The many years spent moving through my personal formalism, Greenbergian, huge paintings of colors (and yet looking for another third subject matter), my paintings were very subtly, but constantly changing. It has been of interest to me that once young artists are recognized with a particular style they are expected to continue to paint similar paintings of similar style With me, even early on I felt there was always more. I eventually realized that making Art is forever on going and it is always waiting and wanting more.... and every artist knows there is always more to know… so I never could understand the idea of how or why I was expected to repeatedly paint the same work over and over again.

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It was in my Pattern & Decoration works of the early 70s that I found the first steps of release from Formalism: but very grateful for it's insightful wisdom and a rich solid foundation, based on the beauty and purity of materials.

Up to that point in the history of Art we as artist had had only two choices of subject matter: Representational and then in the 20th Century, Abstraction. I for years was looking for a 3rd (which made me feel as if I was looking for a new, never before seen, color). Then, surprisingly, hiding at the very root of my P&D ideas was the discovery of this new third subject matter which ironically was rediscovered in the wonders of Ornamentation, a primal and exquisite subject matter that is always now somewhere at the core of my paintings. It had opened a profound 3rd door (or 3rd option) in the discussions of art making. All of this triggered the sensing of the beginning of a different kind of source from which art could be made, a source that was involved with feelings of compassion and empathy and inclusion no longer a separate thing removed from its audience. In this source, there is no need to feel apologetic for sumptuousness and sentimental sentiment.

My work now began to go far beyond Formalist mainstream concepts of 'painting about painting'. The rigid Mainstream parameters of the Modernist were exploded and became no longer the "mainstream" but a gushing river that simply swept away the restraints of 20th centuries Deconstructionism, Formalism, Minimalism and Conceptualism and the end to 'less is more', clearing the way to a boundless ‘beyond’ of glorious, 'more is more' and ending approximately 150 years of reductive art with things to feel and paint : delicate arbitrary patterns; an emphasis on design; designs from any culture in the world, folk art (subjects that were considered trivial and often referred to as low art.) . And of major importance was the re-embracing of the word, ‘Beauty’. A word, that had become taboo and disappeared from the art world in the late 19th Century and three/fourths of the 20th.

I began to feel a kind of ephemeral clarity of where I wanted to go. I had discovered and became aware of the enormity of what had been opened and felt the shift of priorities and the giddiness in the making of a fresh piece of Art. It could now be shockingly, soft and tender, sweet and romantic and often looked on as being too sentimental (like that’s a bad thing?!). Sentimentality beautifully exposes our humaneness. How amazing is that... and isn’t it wonderful, considering that that word, in these paintings, emit sentiments of comfort and caring and even joy, which are basic needs and feeders of hope and humaneness. It is wonderful to know that our species is, at its core, capable of exuding this tremendous force of a collective compassionate embrace).

A seemingly endless source of imagery became accessible to me - imagery that I loved and grew up with and lived with, slowly all this extraordinary imagery of great beauty that surrounded me was now becoming available for me -- patterns and designs of all countries, jewelry, old wall paper and 40s Armstrong linoleum (our Aubusson's). Rag rugs, lace and knitted and crocheted objects, rug stores, domestic objects used as charms and adornments found in junk stores, flea markets, yard sales, that now became my museums and galleries (of which I had stopped going to for a few years). The stifling limitation on what Art was supposed to look like and be, had finally lifted and I felt the parameters of painting expanding. I now was creating bigger boundaries and different limitations that offered more flexibility.

This ageless subject matter of ornamentation with its new fresh voice, including now all classes and away from the exclusivity of the world of Academia, and its stifling intellectualization that was never able to realize that making Art was not about how intellectual you were but rather about how to make your deepest feelings visual...

This recalls an incident with my grandmother and grandfather: One spring they decided it was time to re repaint the kitchen again, as they did every three years. They divided the walls horizontally into two colors. The bottom, 4ft high, or so, was a dark glossy brown and the top was a glossy cream. On the dividing line of the colors they applied a decorative stencil running completely around the kitchen. When I asked her why she did that her simple reply (in Slovak) was "because it’s beautiful". To this day I feel that her answer is still at the very center of all of Art making.

Also, not to be forgotten, our technology has advanced so rapidly, much faster than our emotional growth (which is a bit scary) also contributed to so much change. It has changed the role of the artist in society. We no longer have to be a reflector of society and all of its madness on this war planet because this technology does it so much better and faster. We now, almost instantly, know of any event that happens anywhere in the world within minutes It has shrunken the world to what Marshall McLuhan in the 60s called a ‘global village’. Now having been further released of the role of a reflector we can take on the role of a much needed director’ (which actually happened once before by the after the horrors of the first World War with the Dada Movement - artist turned their backs on the bestiality of man and made all things. that that generation took seriously into a joke and made mockery of).

As my fresh role as director I direct my work to assist in change, to heal, to-infer joy and empathy... and to evolve. Evolving away from our primal destructive instincts. Art is not passive. It plants seeds of optimism and compassion deeply into the human psyche .

So all that happened in the 70's to me...Oops, neglected to mention the big one, 'Meditation.' with its life changing awesome ability to create internal balance and an extraordinary sense of well-being. And finally here is now what is in the ether around us, that we live and breathe and create and participate in everyday and night:

The source that I work from now is so much broader and generous. It is no longer necessary to apologize for sumptuousness and sentimental sentiment but rather to embrace it; It is one that does not any longer speak of art speaking about itself, as a separate entity from its environment; It is a source that speaks of, Human things here and now’; It speaks of you and me and us and of our interconnectedness to each other and to all other things big and small; It speaks of new awarenesses made possible by quantum physics that speaks of the fact that in each of our cells is contained the entire history of the universe,'; it speaks of the binding concept of ‘string theory’ and 11 dimensions. It speaks of ‘life force’ and the exquisiteness of each of us, all with the capability not only to destroy but to heal; It speaks of the diagramming and mapping of the Genome; It speaks of vulnerabilities and civility; it speaks of humaneness; It speaks of balance and mending the firmament that is constantly being torn; It speaks of the extraordinary technologies that have reduced the planet to an encyclopedia of visuals and changed the lives of every being; It speaks of evolution and the possibility to evolve away from our war planet mentality; It speaks of the universe (and now universes?); It speaks of you and us and we and this universe as one living and breathing organism; It speaks of us and everything being made of the same organic material. It embraces everything in the All in which we live.

This is in the ether now (that began in the 70's – very different from what was gestating in the 50’s- 60’s.

-Robert Zakanitch, Yonkers, 2018

Robert Zakanitch, "Big Comet (Celestial Series), 2018, Gouache and white pencil on paper, 48 x 60 in. (121.9 x 152.4 cm), Collection of the artist

Robert Zakanitch, "Big Comet (Celestial Series), 2018, Gouache and white pencil on paper, 48 x 60 in. (121.9 x 152.4 cm), Collection of the artist

Studio notes: The Celestial Series

In the studio of Robert Zakanitch: The Celestial Series (in progress), December 28, 2017. Photo: Jason Andrew

In the studio of Robert Zakanitch: The Celestial Series (in progress), December 28, 2017. Photo: Jason Andrew

The Celestial Series

by Robert Zakanitch, Yonkers, 2018

View the series in its entirety here.

My new series is an extension of the In the Garden of the Moon paintings in that the subject matter now goes far beyond our galaxy into the vastness of the glorious visuals of the universe, as if floating quietly from one galaxy or nebula to another. I call it The Celestial Series and also too, like the previous series, are painted in the magical properties created by gouache on paper.

I think of the universe as one continuously moving pulsating life forces creating an endless, organic, breathing, whole. I think of the universe as our familiar place where we all live and contribute constantly to this organism, just by our being here exuding our own powerful individual life energies. Our planet and galaxy’s force contributes equally to the universes endless existence as any the other. It is the destined place in which we each all share our own physical life experience... that permanently etches our mark on the face of infinity simply because we are.

Works in The Celestial Series are paintings of these exquisite energies where all of this occurs. They are each paintings of sacred places of our many unseen life forces, sharing the DNA that we are all made of and intricately all interconnected by.

I feel it is this spectacular immensity with its exquisite beauty, now being observed, on and ,far beyond our gleaming whirling sapphire globe, elegantly and harmoniously working smoothly together, complimenting and causing each others movement, all the while, creating spectacular feasts of visuals like shining jewels of the night: shooting stars, lightening, comets, stars, moons, sun sets, sun rises, moon light, fire flies, fog, rain...

In other words they are paintings of, lives.

Robert Zakanitch, "Big Comet (Celestial Series)," 2018, Gouache and white pencil on paper, 48 x 60 in. (121.9 x 152.4 cm) Collection of the artist

In Focus: Zakanitch at Tyler Graphices (1979)


Originally published on www.kennethtylercollection.net on June 2, 2015

Robert Zakanitch – a key exponent of the 1970s Pattern and Decoration movement – arrived at Tyler Graphics in 1979 with little printmaking experience. Despite this, by 1981 he had produced six editions and two large series of unique paper pulp works featuring floral motifs and curvilinear forms in vibrant colours. The works continued Zakanitch’s exploration of ornamentation as a new subject matter, a framework he developed in opposition to the restrictive formal and conceptual concerns of contemporary painting. In excerpts from an interview with Curatorial Assistant Julia Greenstreet, Zakanitch reflects on his embrace of ornamentation in the 1970s and his experiences of working at Tyler Graphics Limited.

On ornamentation as subject matter…

I was rebelling against formalism. Ornamentation to me meant sensations, and rhythms and movements, and it was an extraordinary world to go into. I always thought there were only two doors to painting up to that point, and that was representationalism and in the 20th century, abstraction. They were the two basic things that all painting came out of.  I was looking for a third alternative or a third subject matter. I was going crazy at the time because [trying to find an alternative] was like trying to find another colour, it just didn’t exist. But I stumbled on it [ornamentation] and it became a very natural thing, to start thinking about ornamentation as a complete entity and a third door. Once that hit, all kinds of imagery started coming into the work. I stopped going to galleries and museums and instead visited flea markets and paint stores, wallpaper stores and linoleum stores, garage sales.


On working with paper pulp…

Paper pulp took away the precision of printmaking; you can do whatever you want, there are no mistakes. The idea of painting with your hands was so immediate. Once I started it felt very much like painting, you could smear it, throw one colour onto another, move it around. It was very flexible, which was important. I never planned those works [Double peacock series and Paper pulp series], that’s what I really loved. I wanted to extend the parameters of what to make and still make them beautiful. I wanted to be true to the fact that it was paper pulp and not a painting, not fool anyone. The works had holes and raw edges so you could see the process…I didn’t want a square piece of paper.


Memories of Ken Tyler…

Tyler was so great to work with because everything was at your fingertips; you never had to think about any kind of mixing, ‘where do I get paint’ etc. You could be totally focused on the image and the end result, it made it so simple.

I’m sorry that I never got back to work with Tyler again, it was such an awakening. I was scratching the surface with him. I didn’t know who Ken Tyler was [before working at TGL], I was so naïve. But I quickly got to know who he was. He’s brilliant. When you went to Tyler, you were it; he made you feel that everything was there for you. It was an extraordinary atmosphere that he created; I understand why everyone wanted to go there.

Kenneth Tyler with artist Robert Zakanitch. Courtesy Tyler Graphics

Kenneth Tyler with artist Robert Zakanitch. Courtesy Tyler Graphics