“Blue and Yellow Elysium” (1977) by Norman Zammitt.
PHOTO BY JENAL DOLSON, COURTESY PALM SPRINGS ART MUSEUM
You tend to stand in front of a Norman Zammitt painting like you would a Mark Rothko — silenced by its transcendent quality. Subtly gradated bands of color stretch across mural-size expanses, often evoking sunsets, horizons, and the sea, although the artist saw them more as an approach to the sublime, a portal to a mystical realm.
Zammitt, who died in 2007, was a pioneer of light and space, the Southern California art movement born in the 1960s whose torchbearers include Robert Irwin, James Turrell, Larry Bell, Craig Kauffman, Douglas Wheeler, and Peter Alexander.
Beginning Feb. 17, the exhibition Norman Zammitt: Gradations at Palm Springs Art Museum offers a rare look at the artist’s rigorously composed hard-edge band paintings as well as his looser, more spontaneous “fractal” paintings inspired by chaos theory.
Closer inspection of the band paintings reveals the artist’s mathematical progression of color, calculated not only for aesthetic precision, but also for emotional and spiritual effect. The straight lines in his paintings bring to mind the L.A. artists who worked in hard- edge and geometric abstraction during the same period. But Zammitt’s ethereal pictures defy any such classification. His exacting bands of brilliant color might even relate to Native Indian sand paintings, as Zammitt was raised on the Mohawk (Caughnawaga Indian) reservation near Montreal.
Because of their scale, Zammitt’s paintings went largely to institutions, including the Museum of Modern Art, Corcoran Gallery of Art, and Hirshhorn Museum on the East Coast, and LACMA, Norton Simon Museum, Palm Springs Art Museum, and San Francisco Museum of Modern Art on the West Coast.
Ultimately, galleries full of these meditative canvases create an environment of tranquility and contemplation — an effect that undoubtedly would have pleased Zammitt.
The exhibition continues through Sept. 16, 2024.