Clouds are frequent accessories in Western art. The first painters to seriously study their appearance were the Dutch landscape painters of the seventeenth century, who dramatically lowered the horizon line to make more room for the sky. Jacob Ruisdael meticulously recorded the billowing forms of cumulus clouds and the sunlight falling through them onto the flat Dutch landscape. John Constable, the founder of modern landscape painting, looked back to the Dutch model in his views of heaths and beaches. The modernist tradition of cloud imagery stems from the example of El Greco in paintings like the View of Toledo, where white haloes flicker dramatically around the edges of dark clouds, reverberating in white highlights on the buildings below.
Like Constable in his cloud studies and Stieglitz in his Equivalents series, Zimmerman focuses on the sky, omitting any trace of the terrestrial landscape. Zimmerman’s technique in these works recalls the Baroque tradition: beginning with a middle-value ground, she works up toward highlights and down toward shadows. Her drawings are informed by an understanding of what clouds actually are and what they look like as she works solely from photographs she’s taken.
The sky seems to call for a large-scale image, but the paper she prefers for pastels comes in relatively small sizes. Zimmerman has responded to this challenge by creating a series of multi-panel cloud drawings. Where the individual panels in the earlier water drawings and photo works display alternative versions of the same motif, the panels in the cloud drawings show adjacent areas of the sky, like frames in a panorama. In the larger four and six-panel works, the imposition of a cross-shaped division gives the impression that we are viewing the sky through a window. Penetrating the physical wall on which the drawing hangs.
The first Heaven’s Breath drawings were done in 2009, and the series continued until 2014. Lyall Watson’s Heaven’s Breath: A Natural History of the Wind, a 1984 volume combining science and mysticism in equal measure, provided Zimmerman with the name for the series.
-Pepe Karmel, 2014