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Art Review: Robert Rahway Zakanitch at Samuel Freeman Gallery

June 4, 2010 |  1:25 pm
400.roccoco.zakanitch075 Robert Rahway Zakanitch’s latest paintings remind viewers just how glorious it is to be alive.

That’s as stale a cliché as can be, but in the New York painter’s talented hands it comes alive with so much vitality, vigor and sensitivity, not to mention frank, fresh fun, that it’s difficult to dismiss and even sadder to miss out on. And as is always the case with Zakanitch, whose best paintings marry animal simplicity and human sophistication — or lizard-brain decisiveness and conceptual refinement — these point-blank pictures of flowers, bugs and birds do wildly unexpected things.

Zakanitch, born in 1935, has filled the four exhibition spaces of Samuel Freeman Gallery with two dozen works from his ongoing series “From a Garden of Ordinary Miracles.” Six are gigantic gouaches on paper, all but one measuring 8 feet by 6 feet. No one else makes gouaches this big. The medium is more suited to sketchbook-size watercolors. And no one else makes them this gorgeous: joyous, free and delicate, just the right balance of crazy abandon and rigorous discipline.

Each is an explosion of color, a riotous firework display of eye-grabbing energy barely contained by its composition: an upward tumble of highly stylized flowers blasting out of elaborately patterned vases or showering downward like a cloudburst of loveliness.

400.zakanitch077 Aside from a little picture of a cockatoo, the rest of the paintings are 14-inch-square panels on which Zakanitch has mixed various acrylics and gel mediums to sculpt and paint three-dimensional renditions of all sorts of flowers. A blazing symphony of golden yellows, radiant oranges and meaty reds plays off of a similarly intense spectrum of gooey blues, blinding whites and inky violets.

To look closely at both the small and large paintings is to see that Zakanitch’s flowers are far from realistic. Most are abstract patterns, repeated arrays of zigzags, stripes and dots that our minds instantly organize into configurations that they recognize as flowers.

It’s heartening to know that humans are hard-wired to see flowers. And it’s even better to realize that the birds and the bees do something similar when real flowers draw them into their reproductive process.

It’s a pleasure to be treated like a bird or a bee by Zakanitch, whose fifth solo show in Los Angeles gets visitors to extend our sympathies — and consciousness — beyond their usual bounds.

-- David Pagel

Samuel Freeman Gallery, 2525 Michigan Ave., Bergamot Station, Santa Monica, (310) 449-1479, through June 19. Closed Sundays and Mondays.

Images: "Rococo Revisited" (2008) (top) and "June Burst" (2009-10). Courtesy of Samuel Freeman.