New York

Ray Parker

Fischbach Gallery

Ray Parker is a painter who gained a certain strength of reputation based on the way he was able to extract himself from the more derivative phases of late Abstract Expressionism. By 1958–9, Parker was painting loaf-like suspended forms in muted colors on neutral grounds. His pictures evoked a light, hovering sense of spatial liberation in a period when only a few other young painters were able to pry themselves loose from the stale drips and spatters of 10th Street painting. Since 1965, Parker has worked with hard-edged mobile strands in crisp, even-keyed colors, dispersed over bright monochrome grounds. They bring to mind the late cut-outs of Matisse, Arp’s torn collages, or even, in recent years, the flooded sheets and streaks of Helen Frankenthaler’s more simplified banner-like stain paintings. His own musical background (he played jazz trumpet for eight years before he painted) has always lent Parker’s painting a quality of lyrical, improvisational freedom. But one realizes that although his newest paintings are not weak pictures per se, their weakness—their formal tentativeness—is very much concealed by the brilliance and intensity of an admirable, intuitive use of color.

He still relies on the randomness of a spontaneous, improvisational approach, but one senses that this has become more and more of a formula. The joggling, bumping shapes (they are not quite volumes but are not really decisive as distinct flat patterns) look hesitant in the way that they collectively attempt to activate a field. That field is never wholly or satisfactorily energized by their formal osmosis. The color does at times manage to overcome the conflicts one feels between direction and aimlessness, spatiality and flatness, or between the floating and anchored shapes. It is interesting that the one painting which, for me, approaches the simple authority of those earlier airy loaves of color on white grounds, is one in which a large grey crescent on an ochre ground seems to rise slowly from between two vertical purple and alizarin flutters, as if quietly levitated. Certainly more subdued than the welter of orange, green, purple, yellow, pink, and other decorative colors which dominate the majority of the pictures, this one canvas resolves Parker’s lack of certainty with less startling effects, rather than with a merely superficial chromatic brightness. The impact of his color is not to be denigrated, but my view is that it only serves to bolster what are essentially inconclusive abstractions. Even the most luscious color cannot survive without an effective vehicle for its transmission. Whatever Parker intends in the rhythmic, free dispersion of his shapes, they are never meant to be disembodied (their hard contours and flat coloring deny such a reading), and they require a more forceful embodiment to affect as the assertive pictures one yearns for when faced with their ambitions.

Emily Wasserman