Opinion

Joe Zucker, Prolific Painter of Innumerable Styles, Dies at 82

Joe Zucker, an influential painter who took his obsession with process and materials to unique extremes, died on May 15 at his home in East Hampton, N.Y. He was 82.

His wife, Britta Le Va, said the cause was multiple organ failure. Mr. Zucker had suffered numerous health problems since being injured in a car crash in 2022, including, near the end of his life, metabolic encephalopathy and three underlying infections.

Through a prolific and inventive six-decade career, Mr. Zucker made too many visually distinct types of work to easily summarize. But he aimed for “a logical connection from one diverse style to the next,” he told his friend Chuck Close in a 2007 interview for Bomb magazine. And all of the work was “conceptual and literal,” he said, attempting to fuse the means of its making with its ends.

“What I was and still am doing,” he told The Brooklyn Rail in 2010, “has always been about trying to take a specific image and put it together with how I made it or what it was made of.”

Mr. Zucker’s “Paying Off Old Debts” (1975), acrylic, cotton and Rhoplex on canvas. He made many works about American slavery and its ties to the cotton industry. Credit…Art Institute of Chicago/Artists Rights Society, N.Y.

Drawn to make work about the lingering sin of American slavery and its ties to the cotton industry, Mr. Zucker dipped thousands of cotton balls into acrylic paint and glued them to canvas, as he did for “Paying Off Old Debts” (1975), a 10-foot-long sepia-tinged image of a Black man moving an enormous bale on a hand truck. He also used paint-dipped cotton balls to make brightly colored pieces, like “Woman With Halo and Sceptre,” that referred back to ancient mosaic.

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