Nick Van Zanten
Nick Van Zanten’s work aims to create opposition between appearance and reality and to complicate the relationship between form and content, deriving formal elements from the materials, and conversely choosing materials that refer, in unexpected and ironic ways, to formalist abstraction. Oriented strand board, or OSB, is a commonly used building material made by randomly pressing wood scraps together with liberal amounts of glue to panels. Visually, OSB is tacky, it is exciting, it is boring, it is organic, and it is artificial. It is ubiquitous and utterly banal. In his OSB paintings, Van Zanten emphasizes all these qualities and sets them against each other.
Many of Van Zanten’s paintings look almost exactly like the material on which they are painted, but this is achieved only through painstakingly repainting, in oil, the image of the panel over itself. For Van Zanten, the paint does not sit on top of or hide the support, but rather joins with and magnifies its presence. This process negates the paint, as every application is also a denial that any color has been applied and all gestures are dictated by the material toward the goal of leaving no trace of a gesture, reproducing the OSB that it hides. And there is an economic contradiction: Van Zanten’s work is very labor-intensive in its recreation of a careless, mechanical product, transforming a cheap material though the application of expensive paint into a luxury good that imitates its original form, impoverished but beautiful. One example, “OSB RTD SHTG EXP 1/24/16,” is a full 4x8’ sheet of OSB completely overpainted in oil to look untouched. The readymade chaos of OSB offers infinite possible compositions. Though resembling an Ab-Ex painting, the marks are not original to the artist but prescribed by the wood, making the piece the opposite of an action painting. Van Zanten has also created OSB by collaging together watercolors of wood-grain and by layering semi-transparent screenprints. Through intense labor and consideration, the work transforms a dull visual symbol of the cheap and careless environment that we have made for ourselves, into a beautiful art object.
Nick Van Zanten was born in Chicago in 1988. He received his BFA from Pratt Institute, graduating in 2011, and a post-baccalaureate certificate from MICA in 2013. Van Zanten has shown throughout the US, including in group shows at Fjord in Philadelphia and Martos Gallery in New York, and a solo show at Shoot the Lobster. He was a resident at VCCA, the Vermont Studio Center, and the Wassaic Project, where is he also currently showing as part of their annual exhibition. His work has been reviewed in the Hartford Courant and Art in America.