“TCHARAM!” the exhibition.

October 28 – December 3, 2022 at A Very Serious Gallery (673 N Milwaukee Ave, Chicago, IL 60642)

Introduction by Rob Zeller.

Click here for PDF of exhibition catalog shown in slideshow above


by Robert Zeller*

The Norwegian artist Odd Nerdrum is known for his epic, Wagnerian compositions and for the various controversies surrounding his career. One of these controversies resulted in a prison sentence, which he successfully avoided. What Nerdrum is less known for is his role as mentor to younger artists. He has long demonstrated an eye for up and coming talent and shown a willingness to invest his time and effort in nurturing it at his palatial studio digs in Paris and Norway, where he holds court like royalty in exile. He charges no tuition for this. He gives the students his attention, and in return they pay him with their own.

In fact, the three artists in this exhibit hail from Nerdrum’s artistic family tree, Holzrichter and Passos having spent time directly under his wing, and Knapp a long-time admirer and scholar of Nerdrum’s work. Nerdrum’s pedagogical style is to help artists find their unique voice, and send them out into the world to make their way in it. He neither teaches a specific technique nor does he seek to turn out carbon copies of the standard-issue, identity politics variety one finds in the university system. He encourages artists to be their true selves. Which is to say that Nerdrum’s best students make work that looks nothing like his.

Trevor Knapp’s highly textured paintings depict paths, portals and an otherworldly sense of light, as well as an odd sense of humor. Once Long Lost depicts a solitary figure ascending a staircase, as he turns his head and torso sharply towards the sunset depicted at the top right of the composition. Where is he going? Where is he coming from? The ambiguities are part of what makes the painting so interesting. Incomplete narratives allow the audience to step in and do the heavy lifting. The humorous construction worker leering out from a hole in the ground in In a Pit, evokes the figurative abstractions and narrative fun of Phillip Guston.

The thematic and technical range of Bruno Passos work is quite impressive. From the kinetic energy and homoerotic Eakin’s quality of Passos’ wresting male nudes in The Night of the Rubies to his sensually evocative portrait of a young woman in Maria, Passos creates highly saturated, captivating images. He leans into pathos in his portrait painting, Kisuco, where the telling glance of the male figure implies the weight of an entire lifetime of suffering in a single, captivating glance, seen from behind a garland of flowers.

The most direct evocations of Nerdrum’s bizarre sense of secular religiosity are found in Adam Holzrichter’s floral votives Altar 4 The Setting Sun , Altar 3 The Night, Altar 2 These Days. Like Cain’s vegetable offerings to Yahweh in the Old Testament, Holzrichter’s altars seemingly offer homage to a pagan deity. Cain’s altar was found lacking, as Yahweh favored Abel’s animal sacrifice instead, which lead to Cain’s jealousy and finally the murder of this brother. Indeed, it is worth noting that the first recorded instance of fratricide was committed by a vegetarian towards a carnivore. Like Cain’s, Holzrichter’s altars are composed of vegetal and floral matter, but seem devoted to a more benevolent feminine deity. She is perhaps playfully depicted in Cat Problem. The goddess proves elusive to view clearly, as we have to peer around her feline familiars. These include a cat’s anus which is placed prominently in the foreground, a humorous flourish that leads us directly into the center of this mysterious scene. Are we the viewer her lover or her acolyte? Holzrichter’s feminine divine and her feline familiars all look out the window, as do we. But towards what, exactly? It is the incomplete narrative that tells the best story.


* A new book by Rob Zeller, the author of The Figurative Artist’s Handbook.”

New Surrealism

This book offers an overview of surrealist influences within contemporary painting and some of the New Surrealist movement. It features work by Rosa Loy, Adrian Ghenie, Glenn Brown, and many others. It also offers a survey of historical Surrealism from World War I through the death of Andre Breton, the movement’s founder and leader, in 1966. The book demonstrates that the themes explored by the early Surrealists are still present in contemporary painting, and offers a look inside the studios and working methods of contemporary artists, including Inka Essenhigh, Ginny Casey, Anna Weyant, Vincent Desiderio and many others who are influenced by Surrealism.

Published by the Monacelli Press and Phaidon International, due out Fall 2023. Available for pre-order soon.

Rob Zeller’s school for classical techniques, The Teaching Studios of Art (Long Island, NY), invited Adam Holzrichter to design and instruct a series of courses based in the Post Impressionist style of oil painting from 2020-2021.

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