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.
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.