New York

Ray Parker

School of Visual Arts

I saw some of Ray Parker’s early paintings for the first time in the show at the School of Visual Arts and they’re not what I would have expected. They reminded me most of Magritte’s pictures of floating rocks such as The Active Voice. Parker’s paintings have areas of paint somehow doing the same thing that Magritte’s rocks do.

Parker’s canvases are rectangular, predominantly vertical, white fields with one, two, or three lozenge-shaped areas of fairly dark color placed close to their centers; done between 1960 and 1962 they appear to form a sort of series though no mention was made of this. In a couple of instances, especially in #82 (1961) the lozenge shapes are placed so that they read almost as landscape elements, one as earth and the other as sky. But in #82, particularly the thickness and facture of the paint force the areas of color to be read as literal emblems of surface and depth. The color areas never really read figuratively as they are kept from it, not by being abstract or incompletely suggestive, but by being readable literally as gobs of material stuck to the canvas. Though it probably sounds cruder than it is, the tension in these paintings seems to be between the figurative and the literal, a tension that is still operating within an “unshaped” canvas format. Parker seemed to be on the verge in these paintings of getting pictorial space to state its nature or an aspect of its nature, but he doesn’t seem to have realized it or taken it anywhere. The space in these early paintings is understood as a space of possibility, as yet committed neither to figuration nor to literal mapping or measure. Incidentally, only in those paintings with more than one color area does this kind of space occur; it seems to require a relation between two areas of paint to appear.

I doubt very much that Parker himself took these paintings the way I have; it may only be hindsight that makes them appear as they do. In any case, he has since fallen back on much more conventional figure/ground strategies for making paintings. And although the recent paintings are a lot more polished than the early ones, they do not seem to me to be any more interesting.

Kenneth Baker