George Gavin Zeigler
Essays & Reviews

Mr. Zeigler blends vivid colors in a thoughtfully understated manner, transforming coins and keys into impressionist tableaux. Canceled checks and stock certificates find new life and color in miniature gems of precision and style.

The aesthetic appeal of Mr. Zeigler’s work is not merely paint-deep. The metamorphosis of functional objects into art imparts his work with a distinctly poetic quality. Just as poetry transforms everyday words through carefully crafted ambiguity and metaphor, so Mr. Zeigler’s use of common, discarded objects carries a powerful message. His use of keys produces particularly stunning effects. From afar, the keys, arranged on masonite or wood panel
detail of Survivors
in symmetrical patterns, provide the soothing and familiar illusion of a crowd. Upon closer examination, the homogeneity of the crowd is overshadowed by the individual shape, size and color of each key. At a deeper level still, each discarded key becomes a snapshot of someone’s past: a summer job, a first car, an old apartment, a family home. The simplicity of the metaphor is both beautiful and remarkably potent, imbuing Mr. Zeigler’s work with the bittersweetness of nostalgia.

Mr. Zeigler’s technique deftly capitalizes on this effect. In many of his paintings, he applies several coats of paint to keys or pennies over a period of weeks, then selectively strips away layers, leaving complex, multicolored patterns in his wake. The beauty of the finished work is the direct result of a complex process of construction and controlled destruction. The individuality and beauty of each painting are wrought by the effect of these antagonistic forces, mirroring the duality of the human spirit, shaped by joy and sorrow, hope and despair, life and death. Hence, when an occasional key or coin is pared down to its shiny, metallic core, strength and beauty are distilled from its vulnerability. It is a powerful statement, simply made.

Guy Des Rosiers

We would probably and rightly see color first in Gavin Zeigler’s inventive re-arrangements of a spectrum. We then might see spectral lines angularly veiled in the depths beyond. A good painting has tantalizations painted into it that provoke questions more often than answers. “Color,” said Bonnard, “has as strong a logic as form, so I turn my forms into color.” I believe Matisse felt much the same way. To both of these men color was the most potent raw material.

Everything we look at hides something. Mr. Zeigler, a searcher/explorer and a finder/discoverer, treats our vision teasingly. He invites us into brilliant colored vertical spectra that descend like gauges of warning. They behave at moments like threads and yarns of secret values and then again in deep forbidding darks thick as a book hinting at transactions in distances unseeable. These numbered enigmas perhaps deceive with colored joy but we congratulate them.

Mr. Zeigler’s works have had many invited and successful appearances in exhibits widely and far in America.

William Scharf
March 2004

The beguiling new bronzes that are making an exciting initial appearance also employ verticality in the forms of the shafts, like caryatids that support a wonderful angular activity that assembles horizontally above them. These clustered pentahedrons seem to respond to magnetic appointment as they fuse and weld with perfect balance into permanent geometric solidity. It is awing to imagine these sculptures growing to a fathom’s height and gathering five or six of their number in a dangerous and challenging circle.

Meet Venus, perhaps the Venus who loved gardens before she loved love. Here she seems bravely but cautiously wanting to recline. Angular Presence grandly and handsomely absorbs equilibrium and golden heat and reflects warm light back up to the heavens. Hector stands intrepid and noble as always in victory or defeat. Orchard at Night’s dark figures are down from their stanchion to frolic in a white nightscape. Victory could not display more symmetry while forming a strongly militant “V” and is quite likely honoring himself by himself.

We again see quiet power and unexpected benignity in Perceptive Automaton as he holds a mysterious cylinder that in its turn may hold the automaton’s power. When our attentions need the decisions that guided these fine works we will have responded well and appropriately.

William Scharf
March 2004

{ Article excerpted from Nashville Scene, Arts section, July 31 - August 6, 2003 }

North and South
The Arts Company spotlights three artists influenced by their dual identities as Tennesseans and New Yorkers

By Angela Wibking

Nashville’s visual arts community has grown remarkably in the last decade or so, but New York City is always going to lure away homegrown young artists. Whether rightly or wrongly, it’s still considered the place to go for anyone serious about pursuing a career in art. But even if the artist leaves home, that doesn’t mean home necessarily leaves the artist. Works by three Tennesseans currently on view at The Arts Company offer proof, reflecting the urban energy of the artists’ adopted New York City home while also drawing inspiration from their Southern roots. It’s a combination that creates intriguing imagery on the canvas—and dual allegiances within the artists.

Among the three, Gavin Zeigler is perhaps the most notable, having generated attention in national art magazines and in New York galleries with his found-object mixed-media art. No matter how much big-city acclaim he garners, though, the artist admits a part of him still feels connected to the farm where he grew up. “The environmental sensitivities fostered on my family’s farm in Franklin still live strong and speak loudly,” says Zeigler, who has lived and worked as an artist in New York City for nearly 20 years. Eight years ago, he won first prize in the First Annual Juried Small Works Christmas Exhibition at the Chuck Levitan Gallery in Manhattan. The award was a solo show at the gallery’s SoHo location, which helped establish Zeigler in the New York visual arts community. This year, Art & Antiques magazine named him as an artist to watch and featured a full-color spread on his art.

While Zeigler’s works have an urban feel and an abstract look that seem to belie his rural roots, the Tennessee connection is there if you know where to look. New York critic Marion Wolberg Weiss, reviewing his Cityscape series completed just before Sept. 11, noted that Manhattan’s “transcendent quality has been perfectly captured by Mr. Zeigler in an effectively subtle way, a quality we are reminded of every day since the attack.” What Weiss didn’t point out was that the canceled checks and time cards used by Zeigler in the series are actually from an old Nashville-based business.

In his latest works, the artist combines old keys, coins, time cards and canceled checks with paint to reference manmade pursuits and human concerns, but without ever actually depicting the human form. “The items incorporated into my mixed-media compositions have all been held, handled and in some cases discarded by people,” says Zeigler. “It is in their usage that the objects develop an individuality that is unique to them alone.”

For Zeigler, coins represent manmade artifacts that are universally identifiable but anonymous, while keys signify the people who have touched them, cared for them and used them, passing on human qualities, histories and secrets to the objects. Zeigler attaches the coins and keys to canvas or wood panels using a combination of gel medium and modeling paste; he then applies several coats of acrylic paint over a period of weeks and sands the surface after applying each layer. Finally, he selectively strips away layers to create the finished work. As a result of human use, each object holds paint a little differently, adding an element of chance and mystery to the artistic process.

Zeigler comes by his fascination with found objects naturally. His father ran an architectural salvage business in Franklin in the early 1970s, long before such stores were popular in Middle Tennessee. “My father was ahead of his time when he opened Rack & Ruin,” Zeigler recalls. “He made countless trips to Europe buying architectural antiques for his store. Opening these containers and finding various items such as statues, doorknobs and stained glass fueled my passion for artistic geometry, while also introducing me to the beauty of everyday items.”

Today Zeigler remains consumed with what he calls “discovery within the common,” and his works challenge the viewer to make similar explorations. Viewed at a distance, the keys, coins and other items in his pieces merge into an abstract design, but up close they reveal themselves as familiar objects. “It is the transformation of these everyday items that compels the viewer to reach out and touch my paintings,” the artist says. “Tactile interaction is something I encourage.”

Zeigler’s parents encouraged their son’s early artistic ambitions and arranged for him to study with the late Nashville artist/teacher Bunn Gray. With Gray’s help, he landed a scholarship to Atlanta College of Art. But he didn’t consider tackling the New York art world until a friend suggested it. “New York City had never been on my mind until my best friend from childhood challenged me to make it here as an artist,” Zeigler admits. “His argument was that if art is your life and your passion, New York City is the place to prove your mettle.”

{ Profile from Art & Antiques, April 2003 }

Emerging Artists
By Katherine Hall
(Portrait by Gordon Grant)


Primarily concerned with surface and color, 40-year-old Gavin Zeigler (at right, with Year after Year) uses common objects that otherwise would have been discarded—pennies, keys, obsolete bank checks and stock certificates—to create his pattern-filled mixed-media works. “Each object has been handled by somebody, and the different ways they are worn down cause them to hold pigment differently, adding an element of chance,” the artist explains. “Coins, for example, are unifying, man-made ‘artifacts’ and identifiable. Their collective use establishes grid patterns. Keys, on the other hand, represent people in that they are all made out of the same material yet have individual qualities, histories, secrets and characters.” Old bank checks and stock certificates, more durable than today’s examples, are aesthetically valuable because of the patterns their holes create.


After collecting the items from various sources, Zeigler attaches them to canvas or wood panels using a combination of gel medium and modeling paste, applies several coats of acrylic paint over a period of weeks and sands the surface after applying each layer. He then decides on the overall composition before selectively stripping away layers—“a complex process of construction and controlled destruction,” according to patron and friend Guy Des Rosiers. Since moving to his New York City apartment in 1987, Zeigler says, “the grid patterns of the city have affected my work,” inspiring his mixed-media Cityscape series of works on paper. In this series he employs a similar technique of layering bank checks and stock certificates, creating a type of sheer “fog” that he says mimics the haze over the city.


As a child, Zeigler was intrigued by the adventures of underwater explorer Jacques Cousteau and began drawing brightly colored fish and other abstract forms. But he didn’t consider an artistic career until his senior year of high school, when he learned acrylic painting techniques from local artist Walter Bunn Gray and received a scholarship to the Atlanta College of Art.


Zeigler credits two of his Fordham University art professors, Richard Kalina and William Conlon, as most influential to his career. “They didn’t teach me technique but gave me direction,” says the artist. He cites Abstract Expressionist painter William Scharf, Mark Rothko’s former studio assistant, as his mentor, the person who would critique his work and help him when he’d get “stuck.”


In 1995, Zeigler won first prize in the First Annual Juried Small Works Christmas Exhibition at the Chuck Levitan Gallery in New York City. The award was a solo show at the gallery’s SoHo location, and the resulting exposure earned Zeigler two subsequent solo shows.


Liquitex Artist of the Month Award (October 2002). Exhibition award, 11th Annual Art Exhibition, Hunter Museum of American Art, Chattanooga, Tennessee.

{ Review excerpted from The New York Times, September 1, 2002 }

Art Review
Painters Meet Printers, With Energetic Results

By Helen A. Harrison

....The repetitious sameness of identical coins provides the structure and the texture in Gavin Zeigler’s relief paintings. Row upon row of pennies have been laid down, painted and sanded to reveal some, but not all, of the coin details. The artist shows that surprising variety can be achieved with such limited means.

{ Review excerpted from The East Hampton Star, May 3, 2001 }

From The Studio

By Rose C. S. Slivka

....Gavin Zeigler’s acrylic paintings are built on layers of objects such as bank checks, keys, obsolete stock certificates, and pennies, as in “Composition in Blue.” He paints over the pennies on a wood panel and sands down to produce intriguing glints through the embedded surface, grid-like in pattern. The pennies trap the paint in their edges and crevices, at the same time imbuing the piece with texture and sheen.

With the contrast of a patterned vertical stroke at the lower part of the painting creating a kind of horizon, the picture reminds us of our favorite Louis Armstrong song, “Pennies From Heaven.”

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