So weit wie noch nie, 2015, 54x40 inches, oil on canvas
So weit wie noch nie, 2015, 54×40 inches, oil on canvas

In an increasingly polarized world, people seem attached to the rigidity of their ideas, values or beliefs. This suggests that something or someone attempting to change a tightly held notion might be traumatic. We get that, we like to know where we stand, keep it simple.

That might work for politics and religion, but in the art market, understanding a painting or sculpture–let alone appreciating it or criticizing it—can be, perhaps should be—even more daunting, especially when left on our own. After all, what is art anyway?

This might explain how European artist Paul Pretzer’s work, on display at the Garden of the Zodiac Gallery through May 26th, makes its impact.

Pretzer, known for his colorful yet darkly humorous surrealist tableaus, composes usually a single or small group of realistic figures, often animals, against an atmospheric backdrop of color, “creating a stage for a theater of the absurd of his own invention” according to the show statement.

“Portrait” by Paul Pretzer

Consequently,Paul Pretzer: Glow, the title of this exhibition, leaves a lot to be imagined. Literally. There’s not a lot to go on, as far as information about the meaning of the work. This makes the interpretation challenging, and at times, seemingly impossible. The images are surreal, typically highlighting a situation that at best seems problematic.

The artist indicates that the works should speak for itself, and for many this might be a difficult task, as there isn’t a general avenue to pursue for a viewer to make it easy to understand the direction of his work. For some this is an uncomfortable prospect.

To suggest that the meaning of Pretzer’s painting is to be decided by the viewer, for some might be revolutionary. In this case, that’s exactly what one should do, as he intends the viewer to be a part of the creative process.

The viewer brings their ideas of what painting is or what the painting possibly could or should be, and their life experiences related to painting or not. This is what makes this exhibition function as a solid group of paintings–the idea that the viewer has and should exercise their opinion of the work to create their meaning. In this case, the paintings are open-ended questions without definite answers.

“Mona” Paul Pretzer

Mona,’ a lithograph in this exhibition is a picture of a monkey in a dress, smiling a bit eerily. In an odd juxtaposition the monkey is attached to a body resembling that of a woman, a human woman…and one might wonder if there’s commentary beyond the picture ranging from questions of a political nature to addressing the meaning of what it is to be human. It seems maybe Pretzer is poking fun at everything but the monkey, and many of the works evoke a dualistic tragicomic notion.

‘Hain, Zaun, Pendel,’ which translates from German as ‘Grove, Fence, Pendulum,’ is a large-scale oil painting featuring girl with only half of a body in a gymnast-like pose, holding a what could be a yo-yo or as said, a pendulum.

Hain, Zaun, Pendel, 2016, 100×130 cm, oil on canvas

She is positioned in front of a fence, but the fence only stretches on either side of the figure for a short distance and not the entire length of the picture plane. In the fore, middle and background sit cats that seem to be the observers in the painting.

Seem confusing? Considerer the elements: a half of person holding or maybe held in place by an object that is typically swinging back and forth. An open-ended fence? Fences are typically meant to contain an area or animals at the zoo, but maybe this is suggesting a choice?

Why would somebody in an open area be in any way tempted to relate or be confined by a fence? Maybe it’s a prison the character is choosing, while the cats observe and realize their freedom from the conundrum?

These kinds of existential questions are readily available in each of the works, if the viewer is inclined to take that path, but Pretzer isn’t spoon-feeding anyone, which is the thing that makes his storytelling and commentary work.

This exhibition is as complicated or simple as the person considering the work chooses it to be. As riddles or complex metaphors, or simple but well rendered pictures of characters doing ridiculous things, or at least trying to, Pretzer has created a body of work that tells its own story through the eyes and minds of its viewers, which is no simple task.

Paul Pretzer: Glowruns through May 26th, 2019 at the Garden of the Zodiac Gallery, 1042 Howard Street. Gallery hours are Tuesday through Saturday from 12pm till 8pm and Sunday from 12pm till 6pm. For additional information please contact (402)341-1877,, or at the Garden of the Zodiac page on Facebook.

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