New York

Erik Parker, Oh Yeah!, 2018, acrylic and collage on canvas, 68 x 68".

Erik Parker, Oh Yeah!, 2018, acrylic and collage on canvas, 68 x 68".

Erik Parker

Mary Boone Gallery | Chelsea

Erik Parker, Oh Yeah!, 2018, acrylic and collage on canvas, 68 x 68".

Calibrated for maximum hallucinogenic effect, Erik Parker’s ultra-vivid, hyper-pictorial paintings go all out to grab and hold one’s attention. For this show, his first with Mary Boone, the artist’s hyperbolic solicitations came in three distinct forms—portraits, pyramids, and planks. The portrait paintings, of which there were five (three of solitary visages, one bearing two heads, and one comprising a group of four severely discombobulated busts), were either medium or large in scale, and constituted the most labor-intensive, complex, and accomplished works in the show. Each portrait was essentially a constellation of crisply rendered cartoon eyes, ears, mouths, and noses dispersed across vaguely face-shaped masses fashioned from geometric and biomorphic forms. These contours delineated vignette- or portal-like spaces that were then filled in with decorative patterning, quirky depictions of lysergic landscapes, or cheesy evocations of recreational bliss: a sun-drenched beach, a tropical golf course, a kidney-shaped pool with diving board, and so on. Cogitation toggled between facial feature and pictorial fill, as one’s eye—spurred by juicy color and enchanting scenarios—was shunted through and across the pictures’ multiple planes, as though playing a game of Chutes and Ladders. The visual field here was so seductive and thick with incident that it was impossible to take in everything at once. Indeed, Parker has compared the experience of viewing his work to that of scrolling through an Instagram feed, scanning the grid for interest value, then zeroing in on what appeals. Extending the analogy, the artist’s mastery of color balance and formalist dynamics is such that almost every aspect of his portraits, whether figure, ground, or both, garners a “like.”

Yet the show’s four pyramid-shaped paintings were less compelling. Lacking the dimensional complexity and semiotic intensity of the portraits, these works, with their masonry-esque striations of dutifully inscribed yet somewhat arbitrary embellishments, failed to overcome or energize the cliché iconicity of their supporting form. These paintings had their moments, but the prescribed geometric structure constrained what is most affecting in Parker’s work elsewhere—the generative interaction of eccentric composition and enticing content. And then there were the planks: a spaced-out row of seven tall, narrow canvases—each in some way irregular in shape—perched atop tiny plinths and leaning against the wall like surfboards in a beachwear store. This association was reinforced in Right On!, 2018, by the clever weaving of a surfboard’s outline into a vertically stacked, comic-strip-style catenation of graphic imagery, miscellaneous abstractions, and the upbeat vernacular title, limned in a classic 1970s font (as were many of the titular words appearing in all three categories of work). Reception of these quasi-sculptural objects pivoted between a phenomenological consideration (maybe it’s a stretch, but John McCracken comes to mind) and a poetical parsing of signifiers (an eclectic catalogue of motifs and insignia adorned the works’ surfaces and crept around their edges).

Parker’s art-historical pedigree and aesthetic allegiances are readily apparent. Many of his forms resemble those of maverick satirical art-cartoonist Peter Saul, under whom he studied, while the neon palette and vertiginous pictorial construction place him in close subcultural company with the likes of graffitist turned painter and sculptor KAWS. But between the vintage fonts, the postwar leisure kitsch, and the occasional bulging eyeball, this show also put out a nostalgic vibe, calling forth not only the renegade spirit of underground comic-book legends such as R. Crumb and Art Spiegelman, but also the lurid insanity of old-school Frank Zappa– and Deadhead-style psychedelia. Of course, such aesthetic insurgency, once regarded by mainstream society as vulgar or suspect, is now sanctioned, even lauded. Parker’s feel-good agglomerations and trippy derangements nod to the brief history of his genre while further distilling its adolescent essence into highly refined, if culturally recuperated, tableaux of radical hedonism. Keep on truckin’ . . .

Jeff Gibson