Deborah Zlotsky: Today Is Yesterday and Tomorrow
McKenzie Fine Art
55 Orchard Street, New York, NY
March 31–May 7, 2023
Each new painting by Deborah Zlotsky presents many things at once: abstraction that models
into figuration; drips and smears that distort hard-edged lines, sometimes negating gravity;
readings around Jewishness and assimilation; and narrative that refutes chronology. The artist
says, “I’ve always been interested in the blur of time . . . how the present is always giving way to
the past or opening up to plans for the future.” On her canvases, the disparate don’t so much
blur as coexist: among and within the cleanly wrought lines, the intentional and accidental marks and smudges, the sanded-down and built-up layers, and the colors that vibrate, complement, or balance live anxiety, humor, prayer, horror, joy, history, love, and family, all together.
In the Diaspora paintings, colors emerge, disappear, reappear—a people moving through,
behind, over, around. The artist offers not a singular event, but centuries of moments, of her
personal, ancestral, and familial travels, abstracted to embrace multiple interpretations.
Throughout the exhibition, flatness gives way to depth as Zlotsky expertly deceives the eye:
moments of trompe-l’oeil figuration pull us into a present reality just as a nearby color field
propels us to recognize paint on canvas, a pause from having to make sense of it all, a moment
to appreciate color and form, and then a sudden shadow that twists us back into a meaning-
making loaded with personal and cultural baggage beyond the art. This play is perhaps most
apparent in the series Ill-fated ancient symbol, in which the artist confronts the swastika. Despite its millennia-old history, she accepts that it is now a symbol for Nazism and white nationalism that cannot be stripped of its power. But by rendering it in this way—where she paints it, yes, but also strikes it into disorder—she challenges us to address the messiest parts of today, yesterday, and tomorrow, the parts we might prefer to ignore.
The paintings encourage us toward vital questions about identity: How well are we paying attention, and to what? And what will we see but not know? Symbols of Judaica—the number seven, chai (life), a striped tallit (prayer shawl)—are apparent to only those who know them. For others, titles offer clues, but such words are also reminders that there will always be so much we don’t know. So perhaps, then, the question is: today, what will we seek of yesterday to open up plans for tomorrow?
— Rebecca McNamara
Rebecca McNamara is Associate Curator at The Frances Young Tang Teaching Museum and
Art Gallery at Skidmore College, where she organizes interdisciplinary exhibitions, programs,
and class collaborations. She is editor of the forthcoming catalog Radical Fiber: Threads
Connecting Art and Science (Tang and DelMonico/DAP, 2023).