Zöller combines emblematic graphics with luminous colors and sharply contoured figures, weaving expressive, atmospheric forms and markings into his worlds. The layers of the image accumulate, surfaces, shapes, and figures are superimposed, and images appear within images, which in turn reference each other. By doing so, Jan Zöller develops an intelligent painterly practice without illustrating rhetorical figures; instead, they appear through his interest in the ambivalent associations between everything in the world and are thus an indispensable part of his visual dramaturgy.
The places and settings in Zöller’s images have their origins in the quotidian. The birds on the fountain spending time together, the stick people rushing around, and the lonely cabin in the woods, are all moments concerned with freedom, intimacy, and contemplation. At the same time, they are situations in which one experiences distraction, systems that mark dependencies, or that no longer work. It is a fate similar to that of the Hygeia Fountain in Karlsruhe: with the figure of Hygeia, the god of health, and the many mermaids and saplings that adorn its basin, it is supposed to represent vitality and youth; but if, as most people do nowadays, you pass by the fountain on your bike, you either turn your head away or simply take no notice of the basin into which water hasn’t flown for years and around which a group of homeless people often gather.
Jan Zöller plays with the flaws in the system and turns them into the themes, protagonists, and showplaces of his paintings. The cycles are dysfunctional, the figures broken or even injured, houses and entire towns are ablaze, and the fountains become human and spew out urine instead of water. Painting as a form of expression also contains a certain openness with Zöller – an emptiness between his dense repertoire of motives and figures. When the painting is deemed unable to express something symbolically in the exhibition, Jan Zöller complements it using performance, video, and sculpture.
Leaving the canvas behind, he still employs familiar motives but presents them in other mediums within the exhibition space: legs, crows, and the wooden house. In the form of video, sculpture, and performance, they make up a new infrastructure in the realm of reality that acts as a symbol for the next damaged basin which, true to the cycle of the fountain, will allow components to flow back into the world of painting.
“In an era of cultural production tailored for success, Jan Zöller’s collaged image architectures tell of malfunction, failure, loneliness, comedy, and the attempt to achieve genuine social connection. Zöller’s paintings are full of allusions to the failure of modernist utopias and German postwar painting, to the collapse of hyper-capitalism. But just as the anarchist birds occupy the fountains and bathrooms of his paintings and appropriate them for their own communities, Zöller’s painterly practice creates the fabric of new utopias from the material of malfunctioning systems (to which the current art industry surely belongs).” Quote from an interview with Jan Zöller by Oliver Koerner von Gustorf, 2019.
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