Zach Horn’s earnest sculpture-paintings exude joy and play

Logan Cryer takes a trip out to Reading, PA to check out Zach Horn's exhibition 'Cookout' at GoggleWorks Center For the Arts. Logan is refreshed by Zach's joyful, kitschy food paintings, and recommends Philly art lovers travel outside of Philly to other PA locations more often, where they too might discover a new favorite artist. 'Cookout' is now closed as of August 1, 2021, but you can check out photos below!

Horizontally oriented rectangular painting of 4 dishes with food on them on a decorative tablecloth.
Zach Horn, “Breakfast,” Oil and Acrylic on Canvas with Spoons, 2021. 48” x 72”.
Image courtesy of the artist

Author’s Preface: If given the space to do so, artists can experiment with their own experimentations; a big gallery provides enough room for a cohesive body of work, and room still for works that push beyond the viewer’s (and perhaps the artist’s) understanding of how aesthetics can express a certain idea.

GoggleWorks’ Cohen Gallery East is large and it is fantastic.

GoggleWorks Center For the Arts is a transformed industrial factory located in Reading, PA. I had never been to this art center before, nor was I familiar with the work of painter Zach Horn, until he reached out to me about his solo exhibition of paintings, Cookout.


(For all of the justifiable gripe Philadelphia artists have towards New York, it may serve us well to venture more outside of the city to art spaces within our own state.)

Cookout consists of works that depict food stuff: bowls of cereal, pre-prepared bread for sandwiches, bagels, spaghetti, picnic blankets. In his curatorial statement, Horn reminisces how he and his family would prepare meals with ritualistic enthusiasm as a way to express love to each other. Although sentimental in motivation, Horn approaches the subject of food with an acute focus on design and creates esoteric diagrams of the moments before eating.

Most of the paintings in Cookout are depicted from an aerial point of view. Horn’s compositions feature grids, geometric patterning and a minimalist usage of squares and circles that highlight the painting subject — a piece of toast, halves of a bagel with cream cheese. The palettes are light and cool, drawing attention to the slight hue shifts between background and foreground or across tesselating surfaces.


It is obvious to me that Horn possesses a masterful knowledge of painting. Excitingly, he risks disrupting it all with a little kitsch.

Vertically oriented rectangular painting of pieces of toast with alternating jelly or peanut butter spread onto them in 6 rows on a medium-dark blue background.
Zach Horn, “Peanut Butter and Jelly II,” Oil and Acrylic on Canvas, 2021.

With the exception of a wall-sized graphite drawing of a picnic blanket, the other 11 works in Cookout feature some sort of dimensional element. The three paintings in the “Peanut Butter and Jelly” series, for example, all depict slices of bread that are alternately slathered in either a peanut butter or jelly-like material. The bread both lays on the surface of the painting and emerges from it, not quite separated from the canvas. How these replications are forged exactly is a mystery but, the bread does have a beautiful crumb structure and nice browning on the edges.

Other dimensional components that can be found in Cookout include: 64 forks that are fastened along the entire perimeter of the canvas (“Spaghetti I”), faux marshmallows stuck onto sticks that are floating above a painting depicting a campfire (“Marshmallows”), 43 white cocktail umbrellas tucked into a white nylon rope that is wrapped around the edges of the painting (“Night Cap”), at scale cereals sitting within a bowl of milk and four spoons sticking out of the canvas corners (“Breakfast”), and a motion sensitive string of lights with lemon-shaped bulbs that are also wrapped around the painting “5 O’clock”).


Maybe someone has already coined the term “Kitcsh-en.” Kitsch after all is mostly applied to kitchen or living room spaces, where personal pleasures butt up against an outsider’s expectation of style. This is the main experiment of Horn’s work incidentally; an experiment of taste.

But how Horn’s inclusion of sculptural elements is received by others is beyond my conception or concern. I found the joy Horn felt from their inclusion. I found that the inclusion of sculptural elements into each painting served each piece’s larger formal and thematic investigations.

The metal forks that stick outwards in all directions around “Spaghetti” catch the light. The undulating reflections they produce mimic the shadows Horn heavily indicates under the contorting pasta. The entire painting begins to lift. In another work, a slice of American cheese is laid atop a slice of bread. A bright yellow square fills up the background and its cool tones draw out the warmth of the processed cheese. This painting is titled, “Homage to the Square.”

Vertically oriented rectangular painting of textural white brush strokes built up into a mass near the top, on top of a deep navy blue background, with white cocktail umbrellas emerging outwards from each edge of the painting.
Zach Horn, “Night Cap,” Oil on Canvas with Rope and Cocktail Umbrellas, 2021. 48” x 36”

“Night Cap,” in addition to its 43 cocktail umbrellas, also features a high chroma blue background and two gestures of textured white paint. The umbrellas are all placed at an angle and their positions facilitate a swirling aura around the painting. The otherwise expressionist qualities of the composition are turned into a enchanting abstraction of a drink.

I rarely find myself transfixed at the simplicity of an exhibition. Yes, the themes and content of Cookout are straightforward but, in approaching his subject matter with such earnestness, Horn produces sweetly vital art.

When looking at his more experimental works within the show, such as the exuberant “5 O’clock,” or his absolute masterpiece, “In Conversation on Matisse,” I find myself drifting away from critical analysis and begin to wonder about love; the love Horn’s family shares through cooking and the love he shares with himself when crafting these meticulous works. I wonder, what could it look like if more artists openly lead with their heart and not with their wit?

Zach Horn, ‘Cookout‘ (now closed) was on view at GoggleWorks’ Cohen Gallery East, Jul 2-Aug 1, 2021.

Horizontally oriented rectangular painting of abstract geometric shapes extending outward towards the left and right in triangular shapes.
Zach Horn, “In Conversation on Matisse,” Oil and Acrylic on Canvas with Plaster and Acrylic in Mugs, 2021