Painting By Nathan Zap (oil on canvass, 1977)

Nocturnal Visions—the Paintings of Nathan Zap

Nathan Zap (1919-2012) in the 1950s, probably a self-portrait (he was an excellent photographer and painter)

all images copyright Nathan Zap

Nathan painted during two brief periods of his life. 1951-52 and 1976-79 with most of his paintings produced in 1977-78.’ His technique might be regarded as basic (he was entirely self-taught), but many of the images have powerful visual elements that seem like X-rays of the unconscious. The images are always concise, never busy, and there is strong sense of visual authority. In the spring of 2012 when I encountered these paintings again while doing some work at my parent’s house I was astonished at how many of the images had symbols of the singularity archetype. Most of the paintings featured spirals and some seemed to be images of what, in my book, Crossing the Event Horizon—Human Metamorphosis and the Singularity Archetype, I call “homo gestalt”— a telepathic network. Another parallelism is that my dad’s most prolific year for painting, 1978, was the same year that I began work on the Singularity Archetype and wrote about it in a philosophy honors paper, Archetypes of a New Evolution. I recently wrote an oracle card based on my dad: No Safe Walk Through Life. When I showed my parents a slide show of the paintings on my laptop, my mom, who recently read my book, was also astonished at the profusion of Singularity Archetype motifs. She asked my dad (who turned 93 that week and has some cognitive issues) what he meant by all the spirals. “They were meant to be symbolic.” he replied. “Symbolic of what?” she asked. “I’m not sure, space possibly.” he replied.

I named the collection “Nocturnal Visions” because so many of the images are nocturnal and have black backgrounds but also because they were mostly created very late at night. My dad was always a night owl and the paintings were done in the basement under florescent lights at a time when most people, even other New Yorkers, were inhabiting the dreamtime.

The paintings were not stored very well and many of them are in distressed condition. Many were painted over existing paintings. I photographed them with a point and shoot camera and available lighting. They are presented in no particular order.

This 1978 painting actually has an eye at the center of a spiral. In my book I wrote: “If you wanted to reduce the Singularity Archetype to an icon, you would probably end up with an eye at the center of a spiral.”

This image has Homo gestalt aspects.

This painting was based on a Kodachrome slide I took of a roller coaster with colored lights silhouetted by a sunset. My dad asked to borrow the slide to make the painting.

For some reason our cats seemed to be obsessed with this painting and would stare at it for long periods of time.



In addition to the usual spiral motif, this image also has double helix spirals inside the plants.

Crossing the event horizon? Seems like an image of transitioning to another age.


This one is dated 1952 and the next two are also from the 1951-53″ period. The best two paintings from that era are presently MIA

This painting stikes me as an image of Homo gestalt

This painting has the strongest Homo gestalt elements with what looks like telepathic lines of force between the figures.

This appears to be the last painting as it is the only one I’ve found dated 1979. It is also the image where the most is known about my dad’s intentions. It was supposed to be of deceased figures crossing the river Styx. The flying figure is the angel of death.

The man becoming nearly life size.

See also: In Memoriam Nathan Zap 1919-2012 (at least scroll down to the epilogue because an image—see above— appeared the morning after his funeral that might have been his last painting, sent from the other side, with some willing suspension of disbelief)

More about Nathan can be found here: No Safe Walk Through Life

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  1. Cheryl Anderson

    These are each wonderful – & each so uniquely different yet similarly emoted in a style of his own, which often takes decades to settle into. I think he could still enjoy expressing himself in this way, if he had the materials all assembled before him & had the time & quiet to find that place from which he created these.
    Even if they weren’t “as good”, he might love the opportunity to mix his paints – love his sense of colors – & experience his brush loaded with paint against a canvas again.
    His talent is so organic, so natural & easy feeling.

    A few contrast the distant rectangles of a city skyline, or bits of right angled forms, minimized in importance to the trippy looking vibrations of human forms, juxtaposed with awareness of the fact that we are made up of atoms & the spaces between those atoms, which only hold together by sheer will of being – just enough to provide a form within which we can exist on this physical plane, to experience & observe.

    His sense of minimalistic forms, hues & textures is so mentally sensual & compelling – gently so, of deep impressions likely too complex to verbalize – implying knowing beyond words.

    You may never want to sell these, but may share them in prints & have a nice income from that for your folks.There’s a type of reproduction called giclee, which works from a photo image & prints in paint on canvas, which would optimize the experience of the paint textures. You may have heard of this.

    These are inspiring. Thank you for sharing them & please tell your dad how much they have affected me.The only way they could’ve affected me more would’ve been if I’d been stoned & could’ve seen them in person, or in the print form on canvas – which btw can be made in any size! Some of these would have an amazing impact on a large canvas.

    What a lucky find! Had you not been there helping out – just think – they’d still be shuttered up in the attic. They’re now freed, & I imagine it was quite moving for you & your parents to view these – after all these years.

    Especially when we become so old that our lives become limited in most cases, to be able to see something we’d accomplished, that’s so marvelous….well, I’m very happy for you to have had this experience – especially while your folks were still alive to share it with you. It would’ve still been a wonderful find even if when clearing out their home after they’d both passed – but this was a gift from the universe, for your actions & timimg, doesn’t it seem so?

  2. Loved reading about your father’s passing and what happened after. His paintings are so very spiritual…it seems they were his spiritual practice. I agree with the person above re: making prints, so that others can take them in. Best…

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