Chroma, Ecstasy, Teleology:
Uncensored Thoughts on Mirana Zuger’s Abstracts

“Colour is the place where our brain and the universe meet.”
-- Maurice Merleau-Ponty, quoting Paul Cézanne (1)

Mirana Zuger’s exuberant abstractions are remarkable for their cohesiveness and incessant internal flux. They bridge Lascaux cave walls and the restless paintings of Lee Krasner, Barthes’s sign fever and Banksy’s feverish graffiti. In effect, they are limpid constellation maps of desire and ecstatic phenomena – buoyant integers of pure joy in oil paint on canvas. Zuger captures with enviable immediacy all the sensuous presence of the lived world and offers us, above all else, an unalloyed experience of colour freed from any and all forms of mediation.

Colour is Zuger’s personal way of celebrating life. If her fields constitute a primal index of a life lived, their inherent gestures lend them a sense of seeming preternaturally alert. Chroma, like amber sap from the Tree of Life, entraps memory and experience while her sign language ensures that no vitrification takes place.

Zuger’s signature luminosity trickles down from above just as it surges up and through from below. Like a vegetal resin, the light and the colour enable a tiered archaeology of colour - an accretion over time that must be peeled away like an onion’s layers and revealed. Her palette is radiant, even incandescent in its mien. It is as though she offers us a vision of the terrestrial paradise in the light of a first day. There is spirituality at work and play here, and an acknowledgement that sensation is or can be ecstatic.

French philosopher Maurice Merleau-Ponty once held that our first response to color is pure and unadulterated. He argued that our primary perception of color is unmediated by extant knowledge or culture. If we respond to a certain hue of pink in one way, and a certain blue in another, it is because those colours hold that response. Color affords us direct access to the truth of the world. As Merleau-Ponty quoted Paul Klee: “Turning back to colour has the advantage of bringing us closer to ‘the heart of things.’ ” (2) Working chroma as a way of unveiling perceptual truth and building signs as excavating instruments in order to reach unmediated meanings, Zuger insists on the sensuous response to colour and seeks the fabled “heart of things”.

Mirana Zuger puts paid to the notion that painting is somehow governed by a Greenbergian teleology, which really means the ‘end-of-the-line’ pursuit of absolute purity of medium and form. She is a resolutely abstract painter yet one wed at the hip to the life-world. And her pursuit is different in kind. She embraces the sensuousness of pure chroma. She shows us that the real teleology is in the chroma itself, that it has a voice that expresses itself through colour, and one that might well show us all the way out of darkness.

James D. Campbell
November 23, 2010


1. Maurice Merleau-Ponty, The Primacy of Perception, edited by James M. Edie and William Cobb (Evanston, Ill.: Northwestern University Press, 1964), p. 180.

2. Maurice Merleau-Ponty, The Merleau-Ponty Aesthetics Reader:
Aesthetics and Painting, edited with an introduction by Galen A. Johnson, translation editor Michael B. Smith (Evanston, Ill.: Northwestern University, 1993), p. 41.


Leila Mehulic, Curator, Mimara Museum, Zagreb
From Mirana Zuger, Vie en Rose, Exhibition Catalogue, 2007

In 1967, writing about the artist’s role in society, Herbert Read noted: “Our basic psychological activity is to merge, to search the balance between spirit, psyche and the external world”.

It appears that in this statement Read provided an answer to the question of what differentiates the artist from the non-artist, that is to say, the difference between the creator, who is in touch with himself and the world around him; and one who is alienated from himself and his surroundings.

As a stylization of existence, art dictates to its adherent, to live, first and foremost, a life of consciousness and freedom. It seems paradoxical that it is especially difficult for a young artist to attain this freedom. Often, even the strongest artist has difficulty overcoming a lack of confidence in his own uniqueness and has to travel a long road to establish his style.

For that reason, to have a young person successfully reach such a level of emancipated expression is a true sensation. I believe that 25 year old Mirana Zuger is precisely such an artist, but she is still largely unknown to our audience. Being part of the North American continent has also significantly defined the morphological qualities of Zuger’s painting, which has emerged from the lyrical abstract tradition.

Mirana Zuger established a closer tie to Abstract painting through her professor and mentor Françoise Sullivan, a renowned member of the momentous Montréal group of artists known as “Les Automatistes” founded in the 1940s. Alongside her likeminded colleagues Paul-Ëmile Borduas, Jean-Paul Riopelle and Fernand Leduc, Sullivan was a pioneer of a movement that can best be described with Hans Hartung’s words: as the act “born of an inner necessity”.

The starting point of this radical movement was the idea that an individual has a moral obligation to live “authentically”, that is, to be free. The paintings of Mirana Zuger reflect the same belief.

It should be stressed that the “authenticity” and the aforementioned “emancipated” expression of this young artist rises above the conventional understanding of these concepts. Her biomorphic shapes are akin to that of Wols; her witty forms are suggestive of Miró; her impasto has a Rothko-type diaphanous quality with soft edges; her colour dynamics evoke Kandinsky’s art; and the fluctuation between abstract and figurative is on the same path as Helen Frankenthaler or Nicholas de Stael, while her primitive pictograms remind us of Bazoties… Nonetheless, such “post-modern mannerism” reveals the exceptional theoretical knowledge and skill used to transform known matrixes, which are the qualities we associate with rare master painters that are not seen very often. Her overwhelming heterogeneous style is coupled with a thoughtfully honed métier and inexhaustible productivity.

I would say that painting comes to Mirana Zuger as naturally as breathing. Her statement that “I was painting so much that I could not tell what time of year it was”, may seem insignificant at first glance, but it reveals more than anything said above. It points to Zuger’s shamanistic nature as an artist which enables her to bring the mystery of the world closer to the “alienated” among us.