Rhys Ziemba



Instead of a proper style I try to work myself into a superstitious attentiveness that allows me to believe that at any particular moment I can only render a particular object in a particular way. (Along with its everyday meaning I am using the word “object” in an extremely broad sense to include living things, imaginary objects, ideas, etc.) I make paintings that allow me to use different painterly strategies in the same piece. I find it natural and fun to paint technically inconsistently and abruptly change pace when working.


Last year, I started painting the objects in my basement studio as if they were characters on a mostly empty stage. It makes for a sort of “alone together” effect. At first I disliked the term still-life but now I embrace it as a description of a paradox. Still, but alive. This contradictory term gets at a fundamental truth of the universe (which as it happens is also borne out by the scientific method). Every object is an event. If you look closely enough, even the oldest hardest stone is a swarming atomic frenzy. This is equally true of the oxygen we breathe, the liquid paint that I arrange into paintings, and the thoughts in the mind of the reader of this text.


I think some people might find these ideas aloof or academic. In my view they are deeply humanist and politically radical and they address the most important questions now confronting our species: How can our existence fit in with the other world, the one outside our own experience? Is that even possible?




Many of my paintings are titled for the date described in the scene as rendered in the French Republican Calendar. In the 1790’s the Republican Calendar was invented (and briefly adopted officially by the Revolutionary government) as a way to re-order the dates and months of the year in a decimal-based system that exalted nature. This calendar was designed to sever dependence on what its creators viewed as a superstitious and illogical view of time.


In the following centuries theoretical physics has also been intermittently unveiling its own revision of time. In 1905, Einstein published a letter predicting that a clock would run slightly slower on the floor than one on a table nearby, a result that has been confirmed again and again in experiments using extremely precise atomic clocks that were not invented until the second half of the 20th century. These results prove that, because of gravity, time passes differently at different locations in the universe.


As it happens, my studio is in the basement where time passes slightly slower than in my apartment upstairs. The difference is very slight indeed, only a few nanoseconds (there are as many nanoseconds in one second as there are normal seconds in 31 years) yet that difference (gravity) finds its way into my paintings of people and photons and clouds of indeterminacy. How could it not?


I paint the things I do in order to ask he same questions as the theoretical physics I allude to above: Where does the difference between the past and future come from? In what ways are the things in the world actually events? How can we make truth out of observation?