In her debut exhibition at ZieherSmith, Liz Markus presents a suite of new paintings that reference Vietnam War era imagery without nostalgia or sentimentality. Acutely cognizant of current circumstances, she harkens back with curiosity, skepticism and empathy to an era that ultimately resulted in lost optimism and lessons unlearned.

At the outset, single portraits and pairs of hippies commingle in bright atmospheres made up of hyperactive color. Markus considers a vague account behind each painting, spelled out in her titles, which often reference music of the time, like the pair of dreamy figures in "We Are Stardust" and "We Are Golden."

Summoning the attitudes of free love communes of the 1960s and 70s, Markus’s buoyant washes of pigment on unprimed canvas are energized by the element of chance, as she never quite knows just how the porous canvas will absorb and disperse color. Yet, often, these bright atmospheres turn dark with successive washes, alluding to the less cheerful side of the failed utopias, misguided ideals, and inherent narcissism of young movements that also underlies the tripped-out vision of the iconic "hippie." Some of the works are so subtle and hazy as to form a perceptual illusion between portrait, landscape, and pure abstraction – further inducing the sentiments of uncertainty, doubt, or even ignorance that plague a country at war aboard. Evoking Rorschach’s psychological probes, these images hover between golden, fluorescent hallucination and snapshot of nuclear demise, with other lyric-derived titles serving as foreboding warnings like "I Hope You Know A Lot More Than You’re Believing" and "It Starts When You're Always Afraid."

Markus is also working in homage to her own fascinations and obsessions during the 1970s: the widely recognized innovators of American abstract painting that informed her inclination to become a painter. Growing up near the Albright-Knox in Buffalo, she spent many hours of her childhood confronting the bloated vision of the works in that institution’s strong collection of mid-century masters, such as Jackson Pollock, Willem de Kooning and Morris Louis. She deftly maneuvers abstract expressionist, color field and pop imagery in the broad swath of her raw canvas, reacting to a period of turmoil that coincides with our own troubled conflicts.

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