Artist Zahar Vaks Feeds His Abstracts With Life Experiences at The MCCC Gallery through March 5


WEST WINDSOR, NJ — “Marinate on that for a bit,” said Zahar Vaks to a group of art aficionados at Mercer County Community College (MCCC) on Wednesday, February 5 during his “Conversation With the Artist.” The lecture was the kick off to Vaks’ art exhibit “Searching for the Cultural Plumb Bob,” curated by Alice K. Thompson, which runs through March 5 at the MCCC Gallery.

The artist’s passionate and lively presentation, complete with film and slide show, demonstrated that food isn’t just for human consumption. In Zahar Vaks’ multi-sensory world, his use of oils and spices to create aromas and colors characterizes his creations. Cooking ingredients are pervasive throughout his “makings” as he terms his art — most of which represent vivid sensory memories of his childhood in Tashkent, Uzbekistan.

Take a pinch of beet powder, add clove and walnut oil, and stir well.

During the presentation, Vaks described how his painting of a bowl of borscht contained beet powder. “The color red in that soup is real in the painting,” said Vaks, “I love borscht, you know, beet soup. And the reds have to be real. For me it is about sensory recall.”

“I can remember the tangy quality of the grapes on our grapevine in Uzbekistan," said Vaks. “Those thoughts of smells and tastes guide my painting. Experiences of my childhood guide my painting … and reflect my cultural background.”

While all things gastronomic color Vaks’ lexicon and his visuals, comestibles are but one of his many tangible ingredients. In addition to creating a sensory experience from the use of oils and spices, scents of lavender and balsam tree sap, paints and cellulose pigments also go into the mix with silks and threads.

“At times, the material narrative may be fluidly connected to the subject narrative such as the sensory memory recalls,” explained Vaks as he described how the materials he uses span from the physical: pigments and oils, to the sensory: recollections of the taste, smell or feel of an event or object.

Vaks’ approach to art is playful. It starts with his work spread on the floor. The process, according to Vaks, is “very physical” at the early stages. Then, when hung, it takes form and deepens.

“It is only when the painting gets a few sessions on it that the visual narrative and its influences begin to take place,” explained Vaks. “I may approach the use of painted layers or create mysterious skins in a painting by combining known surfaces such as silk mixed with burlap. The viewer may recognize that material but may also have a moment of mystery in the way those materials combine to create something that comes out of the place of recognition,” he said.

“Legs we will be. We will be legs.”

Vaks showed during his lecture that his performance and film art blends together his love of cinema, gymnastic motions, violin playing and manipulation of recorded sounds. “I am trying to put it all in,” said Vaks. “I am interested in performance being another way to experience the olfactory, gastronomic, haptic, audio and visual qualities present in my work,” he said in a written work he authored.

As part of his presentation Vaks shared a film where, in loose fitting garb, he danced and whirled in an art studio. He shifted and swirled colored sand and sawdust with his feet. He swished and rearranged the powdery substance using bizarre athletic physical motions. Holding a violin, he played music and turned and spun. He flipped his legs like a windmill. Spinning and chanting he repeated in a hyper slowed-down recording: “Nagami budim mi. Budim mi nagami” -- a phrase he would echo over and over again as a young child which means “Legs we will be. We will be legs.” His dance in the film was captivating. As he later described, the film was a method of embodying how he moved and bounced as a child. His mother would scold young Vaks for the incessant chanting. “I am now starting to see some truth in “Legs we will be. We will be legs,” said Vaks.

Each creation is a memoir of a moment.

“Searching for the Cultural Plumb Bob” is a compilation of 18 of Vaks paintings, each a bold and colorful representation reflecting a moment in Vaks’ life. Vaks titled the show after an instrument called a plumb bob that swings back and forth. “I used a plumb bob to make marks when I was doing a Rauschenberg Residency on Captiva Island in 2018,” said Vaks. “The name of the show is an abstract concept of this tool that swings back and forth and constantly shifts and changes.” Vaks described how his paintings shift and change, similar to a plumb bob, “For me, a painting is still being worked on although it may be physically done. It is open to interpretation.”

Zahar Vaks currently resides in Brooklyn, New York. His makings will be on display through March 5 in The Gallery located in Communications Building at Mercer County Community College on the West Windsor Campus. The show is free and open to the public. Gallery hours are Mondays, Tuesdays and Thursdays from 11 a.m. till 3 p.m. and Wednesdays from 11 a.m. till 7 p.m. For more information visit The MCCC Gallery Home Page. For more information about Zahar Vaks visit

The Gallery at MCCC

Return to Current News

MCCC Home Page

mccc news


Artist Zahar Vaks (right) discusses his painting, "Gust on Wind" with a student at the February 5 opening of "Searching for the Cultural Plumb Bob" at the MCCC Gallery. The show is open to the public and runs through March 5.


Guests at the Zahar Vaks exhibit

 Art aficionados contemplate the multi-sensory works of Zahar Vaks at The Gallery at Mercer County Community College. The Gallery is located in Room 200 in Communications Building, 1200 Old Trenton Road at the West Windsor Campus. The show is free of charge.