Mar 5th 2023

Zachary Rawe: Allegedly Sister Perpetua’s Grey Habits


2100 S Marshall Blvd. Chicago IL 60623

Opening Sunday, March 5th, from 3PM - 6PM

On view through Sunday, April 23rd

Allegedly Sister Perpetua’s Grey Habits:
New Paintings by Zachary Rawe

March 5 – April 23, 2023


Opening reception: Sunday, March 5, 3–6PM

Following the opening, gallery hours are available by appointment only.

Please contact to make arrangements
to visit RUSCHWOMAN during the run of the exhibition.

It is wrong that we walk into walls for life. That we type with broken wrists. That the soundtrack to the day is an engine scraping the last oil off its crevasses. That the small voice barely heard in the grinding will break itself to feel approximately free. That to appear healthy a gummed-up drive will surely reappear as desire.

–Lauren Berlant and Kathleen Stewart. “Suicidiation Nation.” Durham: Duke University Press, 2019.
The Hundreds. Print, p. 61

And they did this with the buoying political lessons of writerly style—style as praxis, as a way of doing political thought by critical worldmaking…asking much of us, by engaging us in the work as comrades, felt intimates, potential or actual friends. Their sentences are wound tight, portable, quick in their punch but longing for a slow unpack.

–Jill Casid. “They Did What They Could Do at the Time: Thinking with and after Lauren Berlant.” Art in America. July 20, 2021.

I feel that understanding is an unnecessary violence I do to the work of art. I live in a secular, liberal society. I can do what I like, but I am not interested in exerting control over the ideological content of my work. I let my community do that. I exert a lot more control over the material form my work takes.
–Mike Cloud in conversation with Andreana Donahue.
Maake Magazine. Issue 13, 2022.

To inscribe language (back) into painting as a surface, form, object, process, habit is an erotic struggle, an episode of mud wrestling, slippery gray clay and limbs akimbo, a battle between longing for legibility and an expansive, encroaching capacity for jouissance: ecstatic cathexis, orgasmic dazzle of materiality feeling, developing feelings for, itself. Oriented toward a deliberately limited palette on the one hand and the centering of excerpted text on the other, Zachary Rawe’s new groups of paintings on panel align to the affect of rambling text messages, faded street signage, and a struggle toward everyday poetry that might mark out post-industrial urban epicenters like Rawe’s homebase of Philadelphia and RUSCHWOMAN’s Chicago. Erudite yet squishy, contemplative and tragi-comedic, Rawe’s grey paintings are, in a sense, epitaphs both for hyper specific losses such as longtime inspiration to Rawe’s work, Lauren Berlant (1957–2021), and for more abstract visions for social transformation recently under fire in a political realm of alternative facts, under researched conspiracies, and culture wars waged around the use of fundamental language structures like pronouns and other tools of identification.

In a practice that works the conventions of picture-making toward an invested engagement of a social sphere that extends beyond art worlds proper, one can situate the burgeoning bibliography indirectly implied in the last few years of Rawe’s paintings alongside projects including bread being baked and distributed, grants for rest residencies in sleeping bags the artist sewed, and prototype garments demonstrative of a latent political philosophy that eases zen and Marxist positions into smooth relation. In this sense, Rawe’s paintings swirl their own materiality and traditions in with models for posters and propaganda, signs, aphorisms in the key of Guy Debord and the Situationist International, and, well, books.

Collapsing library and gallery, the dialogical aspects of Rawe’s paintings show his attempts to bridge the pitfalls that lie before an approach toward an/other. To do so, past and present are bundled into juicy aspirational matter by which paintings, their borders, and their own closed captioning are manifest. Looking backward, the achievements of Abstract Expressionism were already feeling a little unsatisfactory as the world settled into its new reorganized configuration post-war. Certainly gesture, spiritual symbolics, and a widened field of materiality had been asserted, but it proved difficult to contextualize with a more sedimentary account of everyday ‘modern’ life. The restless and petulant twin step children Minimalism and Pop Art came into focus as indispensable means of situating art praxis in relation to a world superpower’s industrialized society of spectacle: manufacturing to begin with and consumerism to follow. This historical moment of interchange may be thought of as the ‘origin of the species’ of work that Rawe proceeds from. Within the struggle of art relating to the everyday, it seems, is a particular tension about language—speech acts, text, communiques running through the otherwise sensual fields of cunningly painted surfaces. Twombly romantically smeared; Johns stenciled ironies and strategic evasions; Ree Morton blends diaristic aphorism into public discourse; Mira Schor aches in phrases; Roni Horn shivers snippets of poetry; Kay Rosen rules the run-on sentence, word, and phoneme; Cary Leibowitz camps it up in offhanded mopey confession; Mike Cloud gums up the works of systems with carefully devised philosophies whose edges have gone mushy. It is into the fray of this chatter that Zachary Rawe’s paintings draw together quotes, echoes, responses, and dialectical mishaps into a murky and marvelously greyscale field of poetics.

In gesture, workflow, and aesthetic decisions, this new body of work signals to earlier projects Rawe has pursued over the past fifteen years, such as a series of grey t-shirts pieced together in oversized patches redolent of cartoon hobo clowns or the irregular compositions of Gee’s Bend Quilts. Those were assemblages, and so too are the panels RUSCHWOMAN presents, but in Rawe’s shift from the sartorial to the bibliographic as the basis for his integration of fragmentary pieces and parts, the artist stages a nimble collision between body and language, logics by which we are constituted and made to matter. A 2011 painting titled it feels like failure, eponymously inscribed onto a tenderly grubby white monochrome offers an early counterpoint to Rawe’s newest text-based paintings. Slight, humble, and yet glimmering with bits of plastic foliage coated in silver glitter and a single metallic jingle bell appear as a protean form for the ways the artist coaxes so many muddy neutral hues into an enlivened, shimmering plane on which words float freely.

Titled with a twisty paraphrase after one of Ree Morton’s complex installations that evolved from earlier efforts in painting and drawing, RUSCHWOMAN is honored to host the premiere presentation of Zachary Rawe’s most recent bodies of work.


Zachary Rawe is a painter and occasional Adjunct Professor based in Philadelphia, PA. His practice treats painting as a field of wet inquiry where differing aesthetic and academic regimes can be clumped together with the hope to court messy dialogues and strange bedfellows. The specific works here exemplify ongoing experiments in the impossibility of the color grey, borrowed contours, and mushy language. Rawe’s writing has appeared in Title Magazine, Temporary Art Review, and at Thomas Erben Gallery, NY. Rawe’s work has been displayed in Cincinnati, OH, Chicago, IL and Philadelphia, PA. You can find his ongoing writing around art, which is accompanied with egg sandwich recipes, at his substack Egged on.

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