Treacy Ziegler: Points Of A Compass

Tenya Mastoras
Jun 3, 2016 6:31PM

By Rick Pirozzolo, Executive Director, Arnot Art Museum
March 2013

Stages set for action and lit for drama crackle with the energy of what’s next. We anticipate the about-to-happen even as we have no inkling of its form. Is the handsome hero readying to step in, or is there tragedy on the horizon? In the magician’s trick box of our anticipation, we revel in wondering. Potential pulses in these unpeopled landscapes, and the possibilities bewilder. 

Or is it otherwise – did the unknown crisis just unwind itself? Is the empty chair on a bare stage evidence of denouement? Is this a document of post-finale resolution? Is this the posttempest calm? Echoes of yesterday’s ovations loiter here, and here, too we are invited into private contemplation of the unseen. 

Hardly before or after pictures, Treacy Ziegler’s new works are of the contemplative present. It is the now of these works that intrigues. The connoisseur’s taste for light and shadow, the virtuosic play of color in near-impossible realities, the richly ragged texture of marks on paper, and the luxurious absence of population come together to provide a space for audience, and to encourage that rare extravagance: meditative, interpretive reaction.

These compositionally spare interiors offer that space, and present just that precise moment – daring us to colonize these rooms with our own nostalgia or our secret future plans. In Crossing The Border and The Leaving Light, Ziegler’s signature solitary chairs – always lit with an engineer’s eye for drama, always forced into a geometry that is hers alone – challenge us to conjure their last occupant, and to art-direct their next. The slub of her fabrics and the whimsy of her interior designer’s paint choices bring an accessible opulence, and we find comfort. We live in those spaces. 

The fantasy landscapes of hoary towers and russet roofs, inky shadows groaning across spongy moon-touched lawns, and ghost cottages hugging their waterscape thresholds present another imminence. We feel the nearness of an advancing energy in the deep vegetal colors of the Following the Road to the Sea and Pass The Towers, in the spectral forests of Garden Wall and Night Pond, and in the otherwise tranquil Italian geography of Tuscan Villa and Along The Appian Way. Shakespeare’s witch felt it in the pricking of her thumbs: “something wicked this way comes.” Wicked isn’t always evil; it is mischief, it is cheek, it is risk. It is many things, and it is coming.

The enigmatic and beckoning gondolas are Ziegler’s metaphysical conveyances. It is not the Venetian lagoon they ply, rowed by stripe-shirted tenors at Carnival time; no, these might be the boats that move the departed into the land of the dead – the ultimate transition between two spaces. The hollow of the felze in The Waiting Boat holds an unanswered question; it is there in all the boat pictures. Ziegler doesn’t answer; she doesn’t approach the resolution at all. She holds us in that moment, allowing us to bask in it and discover it with her. She is fascinated by the dualities inherent in her subjects: the density of the blacks against the loose diaphony of her dream skies and mystery waters; the structure of the vessels versus the non-form of the sea; “the balancing act of waiting... between there and not there.

The fantastic and startling inclusion of one living animal figure in this collection of space-places – the totemic, iconic Traveling Bird – provides us another consolation. It is a sentry, an oracle, a guide, frankly gazing at us and sanctioning our musings atop a holy red altar against a melancholy horizon sanctuary. We need our prophets, heavenly and otherwise; they authorize our reflections. 

The stage director Peter Brook subtitles his masterwork The Empty Space: A Book About Theatre with four words: “Deadly, Holy, Rough, Immediate.” The art of Treacy Ziegler is radical and revolutionary and questioning and moving as Brooks’ stage works. It is deadly in that magical way, in its unflinching approach of the present moment and in its contact with the gods of in-between. Its holiness looms in images of power and stately formality, always guarded by a knowing light or a calming, sheltering shadow. Never unrefined or approximate, it is nonetheless rough in its forthright and hard-wrought presentation, bringing the richness of her experience and the depth of her philosophy in every push of her extravagant toolbox. And immediate. Ever immediate. Treacy Ziegler commands our attention with her messages, and we don’t look away.

Tenya Mastoras