Erik Parker: New Soul
New YorkMary Boone Gallery
January 10 – March 2, 2019
New Soul is Erik Parker's second exhibition with Mary Boone. Once again we may experience the artist's penchant for bright flaming colors and zany surfaces. This is one year after Parker's former exhibition, titled New Mood, shown in the Gallery's West Chelsea space. Whereas the earlier show presented a variety of styles that included both Abstract and Pop-oriented subject matter, the most current exhibition focuses primarily on a series of fantastic tropical landscapes, painted on tondos (round surfaces), accompanied by a selection of exuberant, if not inscrutable, psychedelic heads.
It is curious that these Surrealist-oriented heads, such as Free Form, Triple Double, and Little Secret (2018) have attained the popularity that they have. In each case, the raging colors, biomorphic interlocking shapes, and infinitesimal images from popular culture charge Parker's compositions in such a way as to exonerate the maximal expressive impulses once popular in the '60s. The difference being that Parker's current approach to painting is now shown in high-end galleries whereas decades ago psychedelic paintings were rarely, if ever, presented in this context. For the formalist critics, such painting was understood as a subcultural phenomenon related to the underground youth movement that had suddenly emerged above ground. In contrast, the more accepted work shown in art galleries in the late '60s was either Color Field Painting or Pop art. The contradictions between the two were exemplary.
Rather than relegate Parker's paintings to the past, it would appear more prescient to consider why the pursuit of psychedelic aesthetics plays an important role today. At a time when signs of a livable democracy are giving way to authoritarian management, which was also apparent in the '60s, avant-garde culture was moving in the opposite direction. With Parker, we are given paintings that presume to exhilarate our senses by giving the sensation that we are psychically involved with a resurrected form of virtually programmed art that paradoxically suggests an egress from the frustrations that appear ever-present today.
Concurrently, the landscape fantasies that adorn Parker's new tondo series give tranquility another meaning. They involve a more careful perception of how these starkly defined color relationships integrate with the simulacra of natural form, New Left Bay and Orange Outlook (2018) suggests opposite moods—the coolness of the first is offset by the heat of the latter. Still, there is the sense that these colors do not belong to nature but to another made-up world, and even as we may feel coolness and heat, we know these colors belong to some other registry of experience. Ultimately, Parker systematically contextualizes his color through a form of simulation that stands on its own.
The decision to show Parker's New Soul in Mary Boone's uptown gallery was a good one. It is an elegant space more conducive to paintings that share their optical inventiveness with the Renaissance. The regal placement of these relatively small paintings enhances our ability to perceive them in all their systemic delicacy. Thematically, these paintings suggest a tropical environment without attempting to be one. They offer the viewer a chance to absorb their presence not because they simulate nature but because they are so defiantly involved with their formality.