There is nothing as quintessentially sublime as the night sky removed from the city lights. The sight of it fills us with awe, dread, and wonderment. It forces the mind to consider our position in the grand scheme of things while at the same time reflecting inward toward thoughts of our existential aloneness. Almost as equally sublime are the vast untouched expanses of nature, the forests, mountains and plains, that are ancient and seeded with an elemental power that seems beyond the spiritual grasp of a humanity mired in the digital and industrial culture of the present. These rustic locations of sublime nature are, as we know from Edmund Burke, filled with the marvel of terror. They themselves are static, dark and mute but they force the imagination and the senses into violent degrees of astonishment.
Zach Ziemann’s watercolor paintings and mixed media drawings depict bleakly sublime pastoral settings in subdued tones of blue and gray. His landscapes are murky, blurred and bled-out, as if seen through an intense fog or impenetrable night. Working from photographs, often depicting the wooded and mountainous landscape of upstate New York where he was born and raised, his process retranslates the already mediated images into something evocative of the highly subjective experience of a place. His paintings emphasizes the role light and perception play in experiencing the sublime by darkening the images to closely related degrees of charcoal gray and black or intensifying the whiteness of the atmospheric light. The already sublime core of these images is pushed into the extreme.
Occasionally mysterious glowing orbs or disk shaped blotches appear in the skies or emerge from inky shadows. These UFOs, as the artist considers them, offer another glimpse into the psychology of the sublime. The intruders manifest themselves in ambiguous forms and could easily be construed as ghosts or flares of light. Their unknowable character makes them more ominous, as though they were physical manifestations of the sublime itself. It begs the question: When we look up into the night sky and feel a dread in the pit of our stomach, what is it we really fear? What shape will the unfathomable essence take? The UFOs of Zeimann’s paintings are more like mandalas embodying this sublime mystery than extraterrestrial visitors.
There is also a note of longing for such sublime, overwhelming experiences in Zeimann’s work. It is as though the distance between the artist’s current home, in Brooklyn, and the considerably less urban site of his upbringing evokes what the German Romantics called Fernweh, the opposite of nostalgia, a longing to be far away. The immensity of the space is analogous to the immensity of the artist’s longing for movement. These drawings and paintings take a desolate road trip. Glimpses of buildings are occasionally caught out of the corner of one’s eye. Houses appear under the forest shade or on the edge of a black field. These locations are only transitional, however, and the road continues on forever into the void.
- Alessandro Keegan