Peter Blum Gallery is pleased to present an exhibition of new paintings by John Zurier entitled On the Back of a Mirror. This is the artist’s seventh solo exhibition with the gallery. The exhibition will be on view from Tuesday, September 5th through Saturday, November 4th, with an opening reception at 176 Grand Street, New York on Wednesday, September 27 from 6-8pm.
John Zurier's abstract and nearly monochromatic paintings articulate an intimate dialogue between color, light, and air. His works aim to cultivate an immediate, yet unhurried mood, resonating with a sense of naturalness and intuition while avoiding explicit references to landscapes. Each work, with its subtle inconsistencies in lines, marks, hues, and margins invites viewers into a shared reverie of contemplation and tranquility.
On the Back of a Mirror takes its name from the final line of a haiku by the Japanese poet Matsuo Bashō, which reads in translation: “spring that people / do not notice—plum blossoms / on the back of a mirror”. Like Bashō, who was renowned for his ability to capture the deep feeling of a particular moment with only a few simple elements, Zurier, through deliberate brushwork and diluted tones, captures a sense of openness, calmness, and quietude, distilling painting to its essence while embedding sensory richness in the austerity of his pieces.
spring that people
do not notice––plum blossoms
on the back of a mirror
"Matsuo Bashō (1644-1694) wrote that 'my poetry is like a stove in summer or a fan in winter...of no practical use.' The same can be said for painting. It is like the moon hanging in the daylight sky where no one expects it.
In 17th century Japan, the backs of mirrors were often cast or carved with flower designs. One interpreter suggests Bashō felt both sympathy and envy for the mirror he describes. Another believed he was moved to write this haiku when he smelled the fragrance of plum blossoms outside his small hut. Either way, Bashō expresses sympathy for the beauty of things that go unnoticed.
On the Back of a Mirror - the title for this exhibition and also a painting - is as much an aura as anything else. A scent of spring. Old wood, dust, rain, scattered leaves, wet grass, stones."
"Mapping out the surface of canvases, whether relatively large or relatively small, with the same concentration, making few moves during any given working session, marking intervals with steady or stuttering strokes, filling the voids with sweeping, seemingly effortless gestures--Zurier takes the measure of the space he has chosen and establishes his coordinates with the same respect for the doctrine of 'Less is more' that the old-school modernists who clarified American aesthetics in the 1940s and 1950s professed, but with an unhurried, unargumentative devotion to the task at hand characteristic of the monks who have for centuries raked the gravel gardens of the Ryoan-ji temple in Kyoto."
— Robert Storr. "John Zurier: Painting Between Autumn and Spring"
"A Langspil is an Icelandic zither with three strings that produces a drone when played with a bow. (Echo) is a reference to Ferdinand Hodler’s painting Eiger, Mönch and Jungfrau in Moonlight."
— John Zurier
"Level Distance is a term from classical Chinese painting. It is one of three distances named by the painter Guo Xi in the 11th century. In literati painting it is often used as a title for spare paintings of farewell depicting retirement, banishment or voluntary political exile."
— John Zurier
"This painting––like others I have made with the titles After C.F. Hill (2006/2008), After Carl Fredrik Hill (2013), Road to Seydisfjördur (2016), Hill (2019), and Route to Paris (2019)––was inspired by a painting by Carl Fredrik Hill in the Thielska Galleriet, Stockholm. I’m interested in his combination of a raw and worked surface with subtle atmospheric effects."
— John Zurier
“And it’s precisely there, in what I am not, in that which is turned toward you, it’s precisely there, in that which maybe isn’t there, in what is just a turning, a movement, it’s precisely there that I’m in everything I paint and see.”
—Jon Fosse, from Melancholy I – II, translated by Damion Searls and Grethe Kvernes, Fitzcarraldo Editions, 2023, London
“Tíu Dropar is Icelandic for “Ten Drops” and the painting relates in both the material and composition to two earlier paintings of mine, Icelandic Painting (12 Drops) (2012) and Where Time Sleeps (2014). Also, "Tíu dropar” or “bara tíu dropper”––only ten drops––is an oldfashioned Icelandic idiom used to imply you only want a little bit of coffee. Now it’s often shortened to “bara tíu." It’s the meaning of refusal, restraint and economy that I like.
"Upptyppingar is the name of a mountain in the highlands of Northern Iceland in the Ódáðahraun lava field between the mountain Herðubreið and the volcano Askja."
"It is the light abstracted in these distinctive colours, more than his experience of the physical landscape. So Zurier demonstrates that his painting is equally subtle meta-painting, which displays the painterly devices that give the transient quality its distinctive weight and materiality, colour balance, and which contains the painting's own existential pursuit. A landscape painting without landscape; it is ambiguity’s enigma."
—Trond Borgen, "Color as Optical Sponge", "Stavanger Aftenblad", 18 April, 2017.
John Zurier was born in Santa Monica, CA in 1956, and lives in Berkeley, CA and Reykjavík, Iceland. He received his MFA in painting from the University of California, Berkeley (1984). Selected museum exhibitions include: Moderna Museet Malmö, Sweden (2021); UC Berkeley Art Museum, Berkeley, CA (2018 and 2014); San Francisco Museum of Modern Art (2017); New Mexico Museum of Art, Santa Fe, NM (2016); Colby Museum of Art, Waterville, ME (2015). He has also exhibited at the 30th São Paulo Biennial, Brazil (2012); California Biennial, Orange County Museum of Art, CA (2010); 7th Gwangju Biennale, South Korea (2008); Kettle’s Yard, Cambridge, England (2003); and the Whitney Biennial, NY (2002). In 2010 he was awarded the prestigious John Simon Guggenheim Fellowship.
Photos by Lee Fatherree