John Alexander Parks

John Alexander Parks, Hide and Seek, oil on linen, 2012, 19″ x 30″

For a while now I’ve been wanting to do a post on John Alexander Parks, an artist who I’ve long admired and yet oddly, I’ve never seen one of his paintings other than in reproduction. His brother, the novelist Tim Parks, has written a very nice personal reflection on the work which is on view at the 532 Gallery in NYC through Dec. 21, 2012.

This is a video of John speaking about the evolution of his work and his instructional methods as a teacher at SVA.–3QFhs0

John Alexander Parks, Portrait of Alex (Fingerpainting), oil on canvas, 2006

What I find marvelous and fascinating about Parks’ work is how he moved from the extremely literal descriptive realism of his early work in NYC into the more emotionally and sensually engaging paintings that he’s doing with his fingers at present.

I don’t agree with Tim Parks’ assessment of his brothers work. And I understand the work differently. To me, the earlier work, while wonderfully painted and conceived in its detail and virtuosity has only superficial interest. Parks “photo-realist” paintings are far better than an American photo-realist like Richard Estes, because even with their photographic descriptiveness they have a great deal of warmth and feeling for place and people and nature, things that Estes’ works entirely lack. As a matter of fact this is lacking from almost all the photo realist work that I can bring to mind. Another British painter, Malcolm Morley went in the same direction of John Parks as well, beginning with a type of photo realism his work early on began to migrate to much more expressionistic painting, as well as subject matter.

Sterility seems to be a particularly American accomplishment in painting at this point, having dispensed with the greatness of the Abstract Expressionists painters and handed things over to the Greenberg formalists painting has only become more cool and detached.

So all praise to John Parks for managing to delve into his inner sense of wonder by going into his memories and dreams and connecting to the world of his childhood and having the guts to have dispensed with the kind of work. His brother, Time,  evidences the fact that technical virtuosity is invariably respected in the ways that work incorporating originality and depth of feeling  that resides in our hearts as well as our heads rarely is nowadays. Unless, of course, one is looking far into the past at a painter like Van Gogh. Where are we to turn to see work with the fire of a Van Gogh in the present morass of timidity and cautious academicism on the one hand and bombastic exhibitionism on the other?

Here is a link to Mr. Parks work.

I find the late works moving in a way that all great painting is moving, connected as they are to the deeper mysteries and enigmas that are the source of all artistic creativity…. while at the same time reliant on the great amount of  technical training in painting that preceded their arrival, and thus distinguish them completely from the faux-naive mannerism that is ubiquitous these days. Parks’ work has a richness and lush paint quality that is derived from gaining a vast experience over a lifetime of looking at and seeing the visible world prior to the point he was able to express it imaginatively. The faux-naive mannerists never bother to have looked at and observed the natural world, and thus their work suffers enormously from that lack. Their work is contrived and can only stay so; what they produce is a sad statement about  the infantile quality of our culture and very little else.

The other sad fact is that while I could no doubt dredge up thousands of images by Marcel Dzama (as one example of the puerile and repetitive faux-naive infantilism I’m referencing) I could find no more than these few images of J. A. Parks work.

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8 Responses to John Alexander Parks

  1. Raye Mayo says:

    What a wonderful post! I have been introduced to an enchanting artist!

  2. trueoutsider says:

    Thanks, Raye. Very glad that you enjoyed it.

  3. trueoutsider says:

    Thanks for that update, Finda…and the R. Smith piece. I rarely, if ever, agree with anything she writes but if you’ve glanced through my blog you’ll see that I’m a pure painting partisan of a particular kind and there’s very little of that which is paid any attention to. At best it’s to laud painters like Lucian Freud, Bacon, Hopper, etc. Anyone who is trying to paint like that nowadays is seen as old hat… passé.. a kind of relic of nostalgist. Rubbish! I just hope some younger painters are ignoring it all and looking back to the great painters of the past and realizing that it isn’t dead at all…. Duchamp was full of crap… Painting doesn’t have a short shelf life. What a load! I’m going after Dave Hickey and Rauschenberg next… stay tuned… I’m on the warpath, boy… I’m going out to saddle up Rocinante right now!

  4. Thank you so much for your very kind words on my painting. The New York show at 532 Gallery Thomas Jaeckel has been extended to January 19th. I do hope you get a chance to see it in person.

  5. trueoutsider says:

    Thanks, John. It’s an honor to have you drop in here. I certainly hope I can see the work in person one of these days. I’ve taken tremendous enjoyment in your writing for American Artist and Drawing Magazine, but most of all in seeing your work at your website over the years. Cheers!

  6. Very nice post – I would like to add that I have studied painting with John for over 12 years and he is a fantastic teacher. He has a large student following . He teaches a technical solution to handling paint without being academic and has changed the way we see work of the past. So glad he is getting some recognition. Adrianne

  7. trueoutsider says:

    Thank you, Adrianne. From my point of view, John is one of the small percentage of artists painting in America doing work that I can tune into. I just read an Edward Hopper quote that summarizes my way of viewing painting. “No amount of skillful invention can replace the essential element of imagination.” The absurd perversion of the French Beaux Art painting that is rampant in America today is what I assume you refer to when you mention “handling paint without being academic.” Painters, unfortunately, know next to nothing about technique because they don’t know anything about the alchemy of oil paint making and mediums. And they also don’t investigate their own individual psyches, instead thinking of painting as finding some kind of novel style or statement. Anyone wanting to become involved in painting should saturate themselves in what paint is. The vision (or imagination as Hopper refers to it) comes from the paint itself.

    It’s damnably hard to use words to get at what I’m trying to convey. All I seem able to do is point in the general direction here.

    I think John is a national treasure at this point and I do wish he had far more recognition than he apparently does at present. And I’m very glad to hear he has a large student following.

    For those interested in a place to start investigating paint from the point of view of painting itself rather than the ridiculous Ralph Mayer-type technical manuals Tad Spurgeon is a great resource:

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