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Sasha Zirulnik: Young Hearts Run Free

November 19, 2020 - December 27, 2020

A painting of four pink-skinned people with shoulder length wavy black hair. Their bodies are staggered. Starting with the person in the left corner, shown in profile, each person turns progressively more to their left until the person on the right faces away from the viewer. Scattered clouds in a light blue sky over a red sea fills the horizon in the background.

It’s high time now, just one crack at life
Who wants to live in, in trouble and strife
My mind must be free
To learn all I can about me
—Candi Staton, Young Hearts Run Free (1974)

There’s something in the goddam air. The poignant and quietly powerful work of Brooklyn-based artist Sasha Zirulnik, illuminates this moment of personal and societal introspection. The paintings and sculptures on view in Young Hearts Run Free, Zirulnik’s debut exhibition at Nationale, were all made during the pandemic and the current racial justice uprising. Shifting materials and moods, from playful found object sculptures to pensive self-portraits on canvas, reveal the artist’s deep dive into her creative practice as a form of survival. 

Perhaps the best place to feel free is the sea. Each sculpture on view in Young Hearts Run Free incorporates seashells, whether visible or hidden, collected by the artist from the beaches of New York. Zirulnik’s use of seashells, and the process of collecting them, connects her both to the natural world, and to ancient cultures who also found beauty and meaning in gifts from the sea. “I choose to work with seashells because they symbolize life, death, and the natural world in which our ties to nature have become increasingly frayed.” 

Seashells exist in what Zirulnik calls the “liminal” space between land and water. They have an enduring and mythical quality that is reflected in Zirulnik’s work. Her sculpture Venus, with its organic forms and shells for breasts, head, and pubis, could belong in an ancient spiritual site or in a contemporary space. For Dali, the small, playful sculpture with a butterfly face and a delicate body made of shells, plaster, and paper mache has a similar timeless quality. An homage to the surrealist artist who delighted in fantastical scenarios, For Dali feels as if it could scurry away on its three column-like legs at any moment. 

In the sculpture Hard Times in New York Town, one of a series of self-portraits in the exhibition, the artist’s head is shown on its side, a black ringlet, clipped from a former lover, falls down her face. The eyes appear almost hollow, but when you look closely you can see deep set shells. Hidden from the viewer is another shell inside her closed mouth. The title, borrowed from a Bob Dylan song, says it all; feelings of defeat, claustrophobia, and grief permeate. Profile is another self-portrait, but this one is an almost tessellation-like painting of the artist’s profile set against a bright blue sky evoking a sense of hopeful calm. In Young Hearts Run Free, Zirulnik reminds us that when hard times fall, as they inevitably always do, art and nature will save us all. 

Sasha Zirulnik was born and raised in San Francisco, CA. She attended the San Francisco Art Institute and graduated in 2017 with a BFA in sculpture. She currently lives and works in Brooklyn, NY. She has shown and curated exhibitions in New York and California. Young Hearts Run Free is her first exhibition at Nationale and in Portland, OR. 





November 19, 2020
December 27, 2020
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Wheelchair accessible, Service Animals allowed
Women-owned, Women curated, Women artist(s)
Event Type
Gallery, Visual Art
Pandemic Info


15 SE 22nd Ave
Portland, OR 97214 United States
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