Zuriel Waters: Pent-up House at My Pet Ram, NYC (Review)

Installation view, Zuriel Waters: Pent-up House at My Pet Ram, NYC, 2022.
Installation view, Zuriel Waters: Pent-up House at My Pet Ram, NYC, 2022.

Zuriel Waters: Pent-up House at My Pet Ram

March 25 – April 17, 2022

All images courtesy of the artist and My Pet Ram

Zuriel Waters was born in Philadelphia and received his MFA from the Rhode Island School of Design in 2010. He currently works in Brooklyn. His show, of sewn fabric and acrylic paint works, worked on one at a time, of similar shapes, offer an overall form that feels floral, driven by discrete shapes of cloth that fit together in an utterly flat imagery, without armature support. The designs are supported by flat pins attached to the wall. “Pent-up House,” the title of the show, refers to a 1950s composition by saxophonist Sonny Rollins that Waters calls nearly “architectural” in nature. Overall, the closely related works feel like a series, in which a basic arrangement and pattern of forms is subtly varied, almost in a musical manner. The subtlety and sensitivity of the art are undeniable, turning the gallery space into a nearly garden-like presentation of form. Waters’ art can feel both abstract and figurative. While the overall presentation of the exhibition feels like a late version of slightly ornamental abstraction, in a modernist manner, there is also something new: an improvisatory eschewal of structure, in which the individual components of each work are nearly small paintings on their own but contribute to an overall design.

Zuriel Waters, Mint Tulip, 52″ x 39″, acrylic, dry pigment, stainless steel, thread, linen, cotton duck, 2022.

Waters’ fugue-like sequence always consists of different areas of a single color, some of them rounded, some of them more geometric in shape. They are pieced together in a template that has curved areas of hue, making each work feel like a large flower. At the same time, these forms are remarkably contemporary in nature, apparently influenced by modernism’s great legacy. The mixture of embellishment, more or less decorative in nature, and modernist implication results in a body of work that is enjoyable and historically aware. For example, in Mint Tulip (2022), five rounded forms compose the overall shape, their hues variously gray, blue, green, and yellow, with a squared center of two panels colored cool mint green. For Waters, the establishment of color in the design is as important as the overall shape of what we see, which varies slightly from one construction to the next. In Rodeo Waltz (2021), the palette is darker; the blossom-like, rounded forms usually occur in two hues: mauve and mustard yellow, brown and mustard yellow, orange, and brown. Some curved forms, also presented as two-colored, and a single vertical stripe extend from a slate blue rectangle. The combination of form and color is, as the title asserts, musical in nature. As a result, it is fair to characterize Rodeo Waltz as an abstraction, close to music in its allusiveness.

Zuriel Waters, Swan Doctrine, 39″ x 27″, acrylic, dry pigment, stainless steel, thread, upholstery linen, cotton duck, 2022.
Zuriel Waters, Rodeo Waltz, 36″ x 27″, acrylic, dry pigment, stainless steel, thread, cotton duck, 2021

The final piece to be described, Swan Doctrine (2022), consists of Waters’ usual array of bulbous, rounded forms and curved stripes, variously painted, that issue from a tannish brown square in the center. This form’s components, again composed of sets of two colors, emanate a crafted elegance determined by a precise, linear outline of color: the colors of the work’s separate elements can sometimes extend across a single horizontal line, even if they belong to different elements of the piece. If we consider the overall impact of the group of works, it is easy to see them as forming a single series, taken as they are with close repetition of shape and hue. The individual works of art, both abstract and figurative, transform their existence as compositions with floral suggestions to something more non-objective, more musical. The subtlety repeats from image to image, in ways that attract the eye. Waters is an artist of genuine refinement, someone given to subtleties and mixed genres that stay alive in the viewer’s memory.


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Jonathan Goodman

Jonathan Goodman is an art writer based in New York. For more than thirty years he has written about contemporary art–for such publications as Art in America, the Brooklyn Rail, Whitehot Magazine, Sculpture, and fronterad (an Internet publication based in Madrid). He currently teaches contemporary art writing and thesis essay writing at Pratt Institute in Brooklyn.

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