Paul Thek: Diver, A Retrospective

Solo en Inglès

Exhibition co-curators Elisabeth Sussman and Lynn Zelevansky discuss a selection of works by the legendary American artist, Paul Thek. The audio guide includes commentary by artist Neil Jenney and literary scholar Ed Burns, who also reads excerpts from the artist’s extensive writings.

NARRATOR: The wordplay so common in Thek’s notebooks spills out into his later canvases. Here he reverses the phrase Horror Vacuii—fear of empty space—to become “Hurrah Vacuii,” transforming the dark phrase into a kind of cheer for emptiness. But the painting’s vibrant surface celebrates fullness. Every inch of the canvas is daubed and smeared with colorful paint. Lynn Zelevansky reflects on Thek’s attraction to these extremes—empty and full, austerity and excess:

LYNN ZELEVANSKY: There's a late painting that he did that has the inscription "while there's still time, let's go out and feel everything." And to me that's just quintessential Thek because he doesn't just want to feel the good things, he wants to feel everything. That that's what life is and he wants to totally embrace it.

NARRATOR: Many of Thek’s late paintings are bursting with intensity. They are arbitrary and unruly. He described them as “crowded little moments of painting.” When asked about meaning, Thek said, “They’re agnostic. They lead no where except perhaps to a kind of freedom.” As a whole, Thek’s late paintings do not conform to a specific style and his writings do not establish a coherent philosophy.


Paul Thek (1933–1988), Hurrah Vacuii!!, c. 1988. Synthetic polymeron canvas board, 9 x 12 in. (23 x 30.5 cm). Private Collection; courtesy Alexander and Bonin, New York, and Mai 36 Galerie, Zurich © The Estate of George Paul Thek; courtesy of Alexander and Bonin, New York.