Jeff Zilm’s exhibition at the Locker Plant–The Pharmacist The Errand Boy The Bank Dick–featured six new paintings and a video. Zilm makes paintings and videos that take as their starting point the physical properties of film stock. For ten years or so Zilm has been collecting 16 and 35mm films. These serve as his base material. Earlier in his career he cut them up and created lightboxed collages out of individual frames of film stock. Manipulating stock by hand, he noted how easily the film emulsion came away and became interested in working directly with the chemicals that comprise a film “image.” After some trial and error, Zilm devised the procedure he’s employed for the last several years: using detergent, he strips the emulsion off a film he’s collected, then mixes it with acrylic paint. This compound is then sprayed and brushed onto a canvas or panel.
The paintings that result, large or small, are delicate chiaroscuros. Their blacks and greys are subtle and softly modulated. For Zilm’s purposes, the best films are the worst ones, at least in terms of their physical condition: old and badly worn film stock decays in interesting ways, producing a range of tonal intensities when the artist decocts his compound. The artist observes a strict 1:1 ratio–one film equals one painting. On view at the Locker Plant, for example, were paintings and a video made from Fatty and Mabel Adrift (1916, starring Fatty Arbuckle and Mabel Norman) and Saps at Sea (1940, with Laurel and Hardy). Visitors to the gallery looked in vain for Fatty or Stan; nonetheless, they were there–in trace or figment form. Zilm’s gray and black paintings have a spectral presence, and there are specters within them. It’s for this reason, perhaps, that he always uses comedies to make them.
Jeff Zilm graduated with a BFA from the University of North Texas. He has shown his paintings and videos in a number of group shows in museums and galleries in Texas and New York, including the Contemporary Arts Museum, Houston and Marty Walker Gallery, Dallas (both 2007); the Dallas Museum of Art (2006); Texas Gallery, Houston (2005); the Jewish Museum and Pat Hearn Gallery, New York (both 2001); and others.