New York

Ray Parker

Fischbach Gallery uptown

Ray Parker, like Al Held, Ellsworth Kelly, Sam Francis, Grace Hartigan, Paul Jenkins, Joan Mitchell, Jack Youngerman, and Kenneth Noland, belongs to the second generation of “New American Painting.” His stylistic brother in this group is Jack Youngerman, with whom he is often linked. They seceded together from the rest of their generation, sharing a reverence for Matisse, especially his late collages, that encouraged them to get close to Matisse’s style. In so doing they separated themselves from the Constructivist orientation in current American painting.

In the late ’50s and early ’60s, Parker’s image was similar to that of Rothko. He floated large, unevenly edged, rounded rectangles of ponderous color against a neutral, usually bare canvas, ground. As the ’60s progressed, he firmed his edges, decreased the size of his forms, and packed more and more of them into each painting. He began painting his grounds, then heightening their hue intensity. His bittersweet color shifted slowly from sour, somber tonalities, into a lighter, higher key. He avoids strong dark/light contrasts as often as he shies away from primaries. The bright saturated grounds force the opticality of his floating colored shapes to function against each other. The ground acts like a polarizing field, its intensity setting the colored shapes in vibration. The system obviously connects with aspects of Matisse’s colorism.

In his recent paintings Parker has begun to loosen his edges slightly, and to use several smallish units per painting, though this often mitigates against their effectiveness as structures. The single exception to this rule in his Fischbach show has a huge heart-shaped form centered, on the field and filling most of its area. Its lower tip touched the bottom of the canvas and two irregular shapes located near the tip reiterated the uppermost roundnesses of the heart, relating them to the lower corners of the canvas. The top of the heart was locked into a wavy horizontal ribbon floating across the top of the painting which echoed the heart’s curving protuberances and repeated its dipping cleavage in reverse at the center to secure it to the top of the canvas. The heart reads as satisfyingly important in relation to the other pictorial elements. It cuts out chunks of the field that are transformed from negative to positive shapes in the process.

Because his canvases are large and light in key, filling them with only curved ribbonlike shapes, which function as lines passing through the field, provides neither sufficient stability nor a sense of closure. These linear forms are not uninteresting as shapes, but their hyperactivity usually prevents the paintings from appearing to have reached a point of solution. Large, complete formal masses, like the heart, provide just that sense of resolution and internal scaling from large to small that Parker most needs.

April Kingsley