The Golden Game
Julia Zanes’s recent paintings are imbued with gold, both literally and figuratively. Zanes says that fairy tales, psycholanalyst Carl Jung’s writings on art and alchemy, and board game designs influenced her in making these pictures. Added to her repertoire of images — stately, gowned figures; quilt-like landscapes; castles and tiny houses; decorative trees and flowers; rivers, apples, birds, and fish — gold is a thread that unites the many “puzzle pieces” of The Golden Game.
References to gold’s magical qualities go back at least to the Roman poet Virgil’s tale “The Golden Bough” in the epic Aeneid. With grievous consequences, gold tempts characters in the Greek legend of King Midas and in Aesop’s The Goose That Laid the Golden Egg. The notion that a simple substance, such as straw in the story Rumpelstiltskin, could be spun into gold is a metaphor for alchemy, the attempt to transmute base metals into gold. The “golden mean” or “golden ratio” has been used by artists since the Renaissance to create a visual balance implying perfection; Zanes herself uses it in The Perfect Geometry of Utopian Agriculture.
Citing narrative as her primary artistic impulse, Zanes comments: “The world of the fairy tale… has gripped me from the time I was very young, and seems a particularly good parallel to what I often explore in my painting. The images, figures, and spaces… tend to be somewhere between two poles: ‘things that seem to happen entirely by chance’ and the ‘ultimate feeling that nothing happens by chance, that everything is fated,’ to paraphrase Swiss folklorist Max Lüthi. Through color, collage, the interplay of deep and flattened space, pictorial devices associated with a figurative tradition, and more, I attempt to go into… moments between sense and non-sense.”
The Golden Game paintings depict interiors and landscapes that exhibit elements of board games: tessellated floors and symmetrical designs, winding paths, multicolored squares, and figures that suggest playing pieces. Houses appear inside rooms; rooms brim with elegant patterns that weave across walls and ceilings and out windows. Outsized flowers and trees dominate inside and outside spaces that flow freely into one another. Blue and orange dominate the series — complementary colors that contrast and glow in some areas, but when combined, create rich tones of greens and browns. Gold appears in every painting: bright sunshine slanting through an open window; golden apples hanging from branches; a lustrous dress; golden castles; and interspersed accents of gold leaf.
Zanes uses layering to enliven the surfaces of her paintings. She prepares square wood panels or joined hollow-core doors with gesso, then follows with thin swaths of plaster on selected areas to create texture. After lightly sketching the main structure of a painting, she lets the rest evolve intuitively with layers of translucent acrylic paint and collaged elements. Light seems to filter through layers of color and objects, mimicking stained glass when viewed from a distance.
More than one story is possible in each of these paintings. Zanes purposefully invites viewers to enter visually, and each viewer becomes part of the “game.” Without defined solutions, one might ask: Where is this place? Who are these characters? And just what is this game all about?
– Susan Calabria, Curator
Julia Zanes website