Lisa Zilker Brings Work of Intelligence and Verve to Synagogue for the Arts

Lisa Zilker with her paintings at the Synagogue for the Arts. Photo: Carl Glassman/Tribeca Trib

Jun. 30, 2014

Jewish houses of worship are not known for their inclusion of contemporary art, but the Synagogue for the Arts has done a terrific job of bringing in the paintings of Lisa Zilker, who works with colorful, often primary-hued abstract passages in her pictures. Interestingly, she is a hard-edge, non-representational painter, whose tones and forms belong to the Color Field school, which emphasizes applications of simple shapes on a two-dimensional surface.

Zilker, who specializes in sharply outlined but never overly simple compositions, presents her pictures with genuine aplomb in this synagogue space at 49 White St., through July 23. There she addresses spirituality and formal exploration rather than devotion.

Pluralism has been a mainstream art condition since the 1970s; Zilker’s art belongs to a tradition that is by now a few generations old. It gives her a context from which to work, as well as providing her audience with a historical awareness that allows the viewer to appreciate her new efforts.

Zilker’s work, at a distance, appears hard-edged, but closer up becomes more painterly; the tension between geometric form and abstract expressiveness is one of the best things about her work. Rounded shapes lock in like a puzzle, and the colors, often red and blue, complement each other to construct a composition of genuine elegance.

These combinations of shape and hue are particularly evident in “Interior Fault,” a remarkably sophisticated and eloquent abstraction. Zilker has painted a jagged white form, much like a heraldry emblem, over a set of red and white triangles that are arranged in a rational order. The contrast between organic and geometric forms results in a dialogue that is both enjoyable to see and intellectually interesting to consider.

Painting today is a bit on the defensive. Critics and curators keep announ­cing its demise. But an artist like Zilker infuses very good energy into her pictures, which first and foremost do what they are supposed to do: intrigue her audience. “Interior Fault” makes it clear that there is a future to Zilker’s abstraction, both for her personally and for art generally.

The most remarkable point of Zil­ker’s show is its consistency. The artist regularly maintains a high level of artistry from canvas to canvas. In “Po­litical Stance,” we see a row of columns, black, white, red, and blue, some with straight edges, but most with the zigzag outline mentioned above. Again, the effect of her work is larger than the sum of its parts. “Political Stance” regales the viewer with its vibrant complexity.

The viewer recognizes from the painting’s title that Zilker is referring to the red and blue states. Humorously, she has reduced them quite literally to abstractions—which in a way the states actually are, as their red or blue color is based on their political stance, itself an emblematic representation of partisan ideology. It is extremely clever of the artist to boil down an attitude toward government to a non-figurative form!

As happens with Zilker’s pictures, her titles are just as intriguing as her art. She is a committed, highly talented painter who shows works of true intelligence and verve. Zilker deserves to be recognized within a wider context; her achievements demand no less.

The show is open to the public through July 23, Mon., Tues., Wed., 2 to 4 pm and by appointment.