Beyond The Figurative
Solo Exhibition at National Gallery of Art, Tirana, Albania. 2017
For forty years, I have run one of the United States' premier art and architecture studios. In that capacity, I have seen thousands of artists, and a lot of talent. In the same way that one can identify a real poet, Zinni is the personification of someone who lives their art. In the fifteen years I have known him, Zinni has demonstrated an immense talent and passion as an artist who truly loves his craft.
Zinni is, among other things, a consummate colorist, who uses lush hues to express vivid emotions. At the same time he is capable of subtle harmonies and complex color interaction. He is a master of his medium; with brushwork that exudes energy and an ability to push paint around that brings his work to life. During his time at EverGreene, his work for us has shown a wide range in topic and style, but has always been expressive and energetic. His personal work is uninhibited and full of an honesty, revealing the soul of a true artist.
Jeff Green, Chairman EverGreene Architectural Arts, New York, USA
The National Gallery of Arts has always paid attention to the artistic activities of the Albanian artists, who left their country after the early 90s, and continued their artistic life in new environments with great tenacity and considerable sacrifices. In the recent years some of the most original voices of painters are displayed in personal or group exhibitions organized by the NGA. New perspectives are also featured and give complex answers to the eternal question: "What is Art?"
The first major personal exhibition of Zinni Veshi at the National Gallery of Arts will be a special pleasure. This is due to the fact that it will be presented as the most complete study of his work in the United States. In addition to a selection of his most recent and his most important body of paintings, this exhibition will also present a cycle of charcoal drawings, created during the years 2015 - 2017, which often serve as a foundation for paintings of more complex compositions, and with a larger format.
Zinni Veshi (born in Vlora Albania, but has lived in New York from 1996 onwards) was destined to be in artist. He ventures to reflect, through contemporary painting, his artistic concerns, almost exclusively formal. At the same time, he strives, through his work, to define the meaning of being an artist and a painter nowadays.
Zinni Veshi's painting is essentially figurative, developed with a formal language. It begins and ends with the human existence. A quick look over his work gradually reveals a complex and chaotic world that arises from the collision between the pure form of painting and both, the abstract and his existential conveyance. Veshi tries to convey on the surface through the pictorial plane the message that the essence of the human and artistic existence, is the humanity itself. That the connection between life and art is a closed circuit, that starts with the man and finishes with the man represented in art. His painting figuratively and symbolically is heavier than the canvas on which it resides. Zinni Veshi expresses himself through a kaleidoscope of personal moods, that sheds light on several dimensions, simultaneously both over himself and the painted subjects. His paintings, with a semi-abstract style, emphasize the pictorial gesture with expressive, anthropomorphic brushstrokes that allow you to distinguish, above all, the psychological intensity of the figure. Furthermore, the artist maintains a strategic and analytical distance from the painting, which reminds us of the famous phrase of Leonardo da Vinci, "Every artist paints himself".
The art of Zinni Veshi successfully demonstrates that painting even now, in an age dominated by visual culture and flooded with new advancements in media, has its unquestionable place as one of the most dramatic forms of expression regarding the human soul.
Artan Shabani, Director of The National Gallery of Arts
Thoughts on the Work of Zinni Veshi
Influences: Frank Auerbach, Lucien Freud, Francis Bacon, Cubism - Picasso, Willem de Kooning, Paul Cezanne, Van Gogh, Goya, the European Baroque, Primitive Art, Abstract Expressionism. Synopsis: The intense use of light and dark, lyricism paired with brutalism, and figurative abstraction are all key tools of Zinni Veshi's newest series of work. Mr. Veshi employs a bluntly spare palette, layering thick impasto gestures in sharp geometries across the canvas, building dimensions while also tearing down and exploiting hidden surfaces and forms.
There are forms and feelings in the blackness. There is a psychic intensity that runs throughout the work that exists in contrast to the seemingly pedestrian subject matter addressed by the series of paintings. The titles of the works, "Richard's Graduation Day", "Man Finishing His Supper", "The Crowd", "Morning, Going to the Studio" help the audience to live and perceive perhaps any day in the life of Zinni Veshi. What we see is a curious and passionate disruption of normalcy, a hidden ferociousness that the artist brings to his work which betrays his rejection of normalcy and what it means. This is not normal, the way we hold ourselves physically, mentally, and in relation to each other. Many of the orientations and geometric sub structures of the paintings create a turning sensation, an uneasiness that the viewer is forced to accept. If as Lucien Freud says "Every Artist Paints Himself", then Zinni Veshi is not every artist because these are not self portraits. These paintings are a gaze at the dark corners of blind assumptions that we all must take for granted to get through every day life.
Alexander Kellum, Artist in New York, NY
Instead of the Curatorial Concept The writer of this short introduction is only acting as a curator, because a curator, over here, has no relevance at all. We try to avoid this harmful agent to contemporary art; this agent, fundamentally faithful ally to the mediocrity, which has generated and raised him, almost to the point where it feels like a legal obligation. "Beyond the Figurative" would have had a conflict of interest with these blind navigators. They have found themselves unable to lead the way for these works, since Zinni Veshi's paintings contain these types of characters within his works, therefore, there is no need for a concept that designs and produces exhibitions. It will be the painting itself that will expose the concept. Figures that inhabit paintings will follow their journey, being at the same time their own guide to the destination. But really, where do they come from and where do these beings go, that carry the night along with them, their drowsiness, and who knows, their dreams, illusions, prejudices, monotony, lamentations and screams? Certainly, from the contemporary art point of view, they will go toward their destination: beyond the figurative, or rather, toward a pictorial disfiguration. And for a possible response that belongs to the human reality, one has to plunge himself into the intense darkness of the painting itself, in order to observe from within the elements that have been used as subjects. You see them somewhere on the painting, following their journey, riding a train throughout the darkness of the being, towards other night stations, where people heading toward other train cars; where they find solace by looking at the countenance of their similars. All this grueling effort to look normal and vital; following the ritual of their masks, and makeup of everyday's routine. And all this panic, - the commotion of the masses. "People who go from one comedy to another", as Celine would say it, or return to their homes, to pass the night in their loaned boxes, until the dawn of the next comedy. Meanwhile, they wander rhythmically like a metropolitan monotony, "confused, empty, messy and pleased like a deserted bus that rushes toward his parking lot". It looks like, that if we for a moment, undress them from their stylized copyright, and wipe their makeup, we will notice very little change between them and the ones of the Fulton's steamboats time — times when the invention wonder was exceeded. Perhaps, it changes the quality of their misery, indicated from the enthusiastic saying "we are too many", to the consolation of our time: "I am not alone". Whereas the fact that even if you call them filthy proletarians, it doesn't change anything in their unrestrained desire to grab and posses things. I am simply expressing an angry part of my own literary narrative, which the painting is not at fault, nor is it responsible. Furthermore, there is no apparent benefit towards the painting, except eventually an indirect arousal of some curiosity toward it.
In fact, the melting and the fusion of elementary figures towards abstractions, and the artistic disfiguration, keeps the painting away from the narrative - an inevitable fulfillment of the exigencies of contemporary painting today. Alternatively, the painting would have fallen into the trap of reality, reality that has stimulated it. Instead, the painting itself should trap aspects of this reality. In other words, discovering, demonstrating, and exaggerating this fragmented reali-ty. Like art always does: simultaneously exhibiting an absence, but through exaggerating it. And along with this, in the semantic background, even without seeking it, it appears that lack of the opportunity to change this alarming condition, in which the individual is sucked totally into the masses. Drama of anonymity and the effort to escape the average state, but nonetheless by looking normal. Every painting here is an exhibition of portraits. Pushing the portraits and their bodies towards a painterly disfiguration -- toward the faceless face -- we end up with a body, that as it was demonstrated in ancient drawings, or recently from Francis Bacon, is more a support for the head, than anything else. There is not a defined itinerary in this cycle of metropolitan works of Zinni Veshi. Because he is not committed to the political aspects of art. But, being an art that has in the center the human being, necessarily appeals to reflect over it. Suddenly it comes in my mind the types of heroes in Faulkner's work; how he makes them confess "while dying," or Hitchcock's cinema that makes you tremble with its images inside the coffin. Heresy? Hell? Punishment? ... All this exhaustion for nothing. They look as if they were dressed with nudity, as anthropomorphic reptiles, working tools transformed into limbs. Dracula without teeth, and teeth without Dracula, vampire without blood stains, giants and midgets so powerful in their powerlessness, transmission belts on the cogwheel image of the painting! It is like an underground train, with ubiquitous profiles, across no fixed stations. Even when they are encountered in New York, they become rather a universal event, than a local one. The city where the author lives and where his painting coagulates, is like a coincidence station, but typical enough to give the urban charge to his art. While the stylistic address is more accurate, strictly guiding us towards an integral essence; remaining true to himself and without falling into eclecticism. The centrifugal force, compressed under tension and energy, will force every single fragment of the picture to recreate itself as a whole. And this integrity, from one end to the other, content and form, foreground and background, is not easy to achieve in today's paintings, except rarely. This would be possible only through an extensive amount of experience, clear minded action, and a very hard work. Furthermore, the technical and the formal unit can't hold together, without an identification between the pictorial language, and the idea that penetrates its depths. Mastery is required to reach this level: to develop your work from one layer to the next one, and so on; charging the work so much with feelings and substance, that it can be noticed even from the onlooker.
By digging in its Balkan and Albanian roots we may encounter strings. connected to the polyphony, not in the folkloric sense, but in a compositional one, as it happens in Picasso's paintings, or Schoenberg's music. Also, the haptic brushstrokes compressed into a shallow space are combined somewhere with byzantine iconography. Furthermore, it contains the fractures of colors that carry traces of cubist, fauvist, and expressionist painting. This is a synthetic painting, drawn directly with colors, which give power and substance to the pictorial language. This is the essence of this painting and to achieve it, an extraordinary amount of work is needed.
True art will always face rejection and ironic remarks from some, but, at the same time, it will be visited from the ones who enjoy it, and learn from it, contemplating with the same diligence, sincerity and courage, with which art has been created and perfected throughout the ages.
Krenar Zejno Writer, President of Zenit Art Tirana, Albania
Beyond the Figurative
Art never exists in a vacuum, however formal it may be. is not possible, the artist like the whole society is a slave to the large habitat, to the circumstances of time. However, not necessarily, and even vaguely he will use those circumstances to be displayed in his art. When we are in front of an artwork, we always seek to "read it," or in more extreme cases, we try to assume what the author wanted to convey, - this is more a luxury best applied to literature. Painting works with other mechanisms, the way it acts on our senses and on our nervous system is more direct. Nevertheless, it is true that art is a product of its time, however, asking art to serve something "or any other end except aesthetic quality, is to make an illegitimate demand on art" explains Greenberg. Even in the most extreme cases in art, like that of formal art, or "art for art" somehow it will reflect its time.
The painting of Zinni Veshi, at first glance, seems to be a scream of our time. Large sized paintings, crowded with human figures, which in many cases are superimposed over of each-other, fragmented and integrated into the sounds of colors that jump out of abstract brush strokes, the tension which is expressed in a forceful way, and the effort of the unaccepted and the unappreciated individual. Not only does he feel this way from a clownish and authoritarian society, but from an amorphous and absurd society. In this short piece, in the most laconic way, I would like to specifically enter inside his painting and its internal mechanisms, and, the context and its aesthetic social reflection will be left to the art admirers.
Zinni Veshi is a painter "par excellence" regarding the human figure, everything in his work revolves around this. The human figure, from the very beginning, is the substance with which he struggles with continuously. In the beginning, the human figure in his paintings will appear isolated as one figure. The experiences and prowess from his academic years will be challenged by new research which surpasses the time and place where he lived, research which intuitively will push him towards pathways not yet known, being deeply personal at the same time. An artist struggles tremendously with formal elements to enter as deep within his being as possible, and this a constant struggle. These are the elements which are his most effective weapon to express his vocation. Traditionally in modem painting, the research of these elements moves in two opposite ends. One direction consists of a total exclusion of the figurative, which leads to an optical painting. What we mean by this is abstract painting, Kandinsky, Mondrian and etc. The other end turns beyond the figurative, where the figure is present even without having any visible element, where the most excellent example is abstract-expressionist painting.
Zinni Veshi's paintings, in essence, are profoundly figurative. It would be more exact to say they are essentially figurative even when the human figure completely loses its presence. The figure always has its importance on his paintings. "My paintings" -he explains, "are subjective constructions created mostly to accommodate and fulfill certain psychological needs. They are created to express, articulate, and bring to life deep feelings, ideas or impulses that are fundamental to my existence." On the pictorial plane, his painting develops by building on top of each other. Sometimes this is fluid and sometimes this is chaotic. On occasion, this becomes simplified to big and formal brush strokes which create shape; or some capricious configuration. However, figures or fragments of these shapes reemerge more distinctly, the painting is trapped between these two extremities with a final mission to summon the figure from the figurative.
Zinni Veshi's art doesn't display events, situations or certain subjects, they do not go further than their title. For example, in the painting, "An ancient head came to New York shore," the title of the work is fictional. If another title would have been used, it wouldn't change anything since his paintings tend to go beyond the narrative. Or in one of his last works such as "Morning, going to the studio" where the work not only has no narrative, but its form has an ambiguous character. At first glance, the simplicity of the color range stands out, but that sounds rather prismatic. The blue brushstrokes are very prominent and make the work more enigmatic. At first glance, the heavy texture of paint spread uniformly all over the canvas, helps the forthcoming of the geometric structures. While the painting is overworked, it retains a feeling of freshness. Furthermore, the whole arm (if it is an arm) operates precisely for the sake of this discombobulation, and becomes more apart of the geometric structures than it is to the figure. What is intriguing is that this concept is not followed strictly. Conversely, its is followed in a contradictory and unknown fashion. This grants the paintings, feelings, and thoughts more freedom.
The figures in Zinni’s paintings arc the quintessence of its existence. Ibis is where the oscillation to and beyond the figurative, or between the figurative and the abstract, exist. These arc attempts which, 'according to Francis Bacon, "will bring the figurative painting exactly on the nervous system in the most violent and ruthless manner"
His paintings are equally volumetric throughout the surface, just like a bas-relief plan, where everything takes place in the pictorial plane by synthesizing the volumes, the depth, and the surface in a decorative-dramatic unity. The painter Cezanne once said: "One must look beyond a landscape, to its chaos ... to the point where he no longer sees forms or even matters, but only forces, densities, intensities." Figures, now not alone anymore, are bundled together in large groups. Which in most cases are reduced to only heads or head fragments, and do not communicate with each other. They often are divided into sections, spasmodically seeking to emerge from themselves stuck in the general structure of the composition. This situation of trance is not literally obtained, nor obtained in a descriptive way. But it is the result of his pictorial concept. This is because the author does not see the surface of the canvas as an optical space, so he does not see it through the chiaroscuro where the figurative is a result of consequence. This invites the onlooker to enter inside of the painting. In other words, a three-dimensional world is built out of a two-dimensional plane. He views the two-dimensional plane like a real colorist, where the chromatic relationship produces a "haptic space," not illusive, but tactile, and it is this effect or sensation which is, according to Deleuze, "the agent of bodily deformation". The size of the canvas is another fundamental element in the works of this artist. A large format is something that works very well with this artist. I wouldn't exactly say that the monumental character of his art requires such a large format. This is due to the fact that a monumental painting, very often, excludes the pictorial. On the contrary, I think that the exaggeration of the pictorial, diving into the essence of the figure, are the two prerequisites that require a big format. Even when he is working with small formats, such as works on paper, they are a fundamental part of the whole format. A large format such as this requires space, for example the series "Women," which start growing from "Four Women," then "Six Women," then "Eight Women," "Ten Women," "Twelve Women," and so on is an example such a work.
However, an art piece always goes beyond the formal boundaries and beyond the experiences of the artist himself. And I think we violate the painting by enclosing it to a strict set of rules that have to be followed. I believe that in very a laconic way, I attempted to enter the essence of the paintings of Zinni Veshi without pretending to grab its essence. Often enough, judgments about art are subjective and mostly reflect the formations, cultures and individual taste. On the contrary, I think it is necessary to sometimes do an "analysis" of the work of an artist for the reason of elucidating the experiences, and the tantalizing and inexorable process of creation.
And lastly I will not avoid today's complexities and the problematic nature of the art world today where the situation has become too convoluted, not to say desperate. It is not that art, especially painting, is going to hell. If it was like this today, there would not exist such high level painters. Of course the art of today is painted very differently, not only for the sake of so-called multiculturalism, nor for the violent introduction of new technologies into the art world, which is moving in staggering steps, but it is because the spirit of our time is different. Furthermore, art institutions are filled up with an amalgamation of mostly insignificant works that have no relation to the world of art. Not to mention the amorphous crowds of students that graduate from institutions where it is loudly proclaimed that "to be an artist it is not necessary to have skills." In addition, what is also problematic is the relationship between the artist and gallery, even more so in this consumerist society, where even museums are turning into giant malls. Another problem is that art galleries are going online, there lies the the great contradiction, art by nature is "tactile," art does not accept any form of "virtuality." I'm very optimistic that the art of painting will find the strength to overcome this situation, it always has found it and has overcome it. Excellent art, like always, has continued and continues to transcend even at a time like this. True art has always been measured and measures itself with, in Greenberg's words, the "best of its past." Because good art, new art, and true art arrives without commotion, just as it has done before. Incomprehensible and suddenly, as it has always arrived.
Mustafa Lamaj Artist, Painter, Graduated in the Academy of the Fine Arts, Pennsylvania, Philadelphia, USA