Wednesday, May 8, 2013

Erik Parker

I recently visited Erik Parker's gorgeous Williamsburg studio. 
Erik has a gift for storytelling. His expansive breadth of inventiveness creates the impression that anything can and will happen within these paintings.
The exuberant humor and the fantasy-based surrealism in Erik's paintings reminded me immediately of the Chicago Imagists. The way in which Erik utilizes the visual complexity found in the vernacular of pop culture is also reminiscent of the movement. Erik and I discussed our kinship with the Chicago Imagists and we spent some time looking at his elegant Ray Yoshida catalogue. Since I grew up in Chicago and studied under Barbara Rossi while I was at the Art Institute, I feel strongly connected to the Imagists.
The Imagists' defiant sense of autonomy seems so thoroughly Midwestern to me, now that I've spent some time living in the East Coast. Chicago's visual culture is saturated by the Imagists, and I remember always being immersed in their aesthetic, whether I was seeing Karl Wirsum's mural, PlugBug, on a daily basis, or looking at the Jim Nutts at the MCA. During lunch breaks as a student, I used to visit the hauntingly beautiful Ed Paschke, that hung, of all places, in the Modernist furniture section of the Art Institute. With Paschke's highly individualized and otherworldly palette as well as his bizarre sense of subject matter, it's interesting to consider how much of an impact he had on his most famous student and assistant, Jeff Koons.
Many of Erik's stylizations have a nostalgic quality that seems to share an affinity with the golden era of animation. However, Erik disrupts the nostalgic aspects of the imagery, by introducing bright, pulsating color as well as incorporating collage elements that reference a more recent time in the history of pop culture. By mixing references to various time periods, Erik creates an idea of time in which elements from the past and present simultaneously coexist.
All of Erik's work has a sense of rhythm and movement, even when it is not referencing animation directly. This is an edition from a series of prints that Erik has been working on. Each of the prints in this series has individual elements  and colors that separates it from all of the other prints. Each print is a one of a kind, in its own right!
Erik's work shares a history with the grotesque, which can even be traced as far back as ancient times.  During the beginning of the Renaissance, Europeans tried to emulate the neatly contrived, Apollonian tenets of Greek Classicism into their own art. Later on during the Renaissance, ancient Greek carvings were discovered in the grottoes, that entirely undermined the idea that the Greeks were only invested in Classicism, which in turn forced the Europeans to rethink their simplistic conceptions of ancient  Greek culture. The discovery of these splendidly wild and humorous carvings of animal headed beings fucking, eating, and celebrating corporeal reality defied any prescribed conventions of figuration, as well as perspective and space.  These carvings seemed to follow their own internal logic,and embraced a  Dionysian sense of excess.  The word "grotesque," was taken from the root word "grotto," and is used to describe all work that contains incantations of the chthonic. 

This is a detail from the painting below. I love the contrast between the matte and shiny paint and the way that Erik painted the water. The decision to include a vista in the upper left hand corner made me think of Titian, since he often did that in his paintings of odalisques.
This painting was still in progress when I visited Erik's studio. Notions of Utopia are conjured up in many of Erik's paintings. The cool and lonely desolation of the room is contrasted by the boundless, warm hues of paradise, that seep in and break through in the periphery. That's the most literal interpretation of this painting, it can also be viewed as a dream sequence, or as a metaphor for the self, contrasting the internal world of the individual with the external world that contains everything else. This painting has a personal, anthropomorphic quality. The room seems to be human and alive although the antiquated television, that operates like a brain, appears to be numb and detached, despite being the most specific and complex object in the painting. It seems as though the beauty of the external world  will never infiltrate the cool emptiness of the room.