Monday, May 23, 2011

In Pursuit of Possibilities

In Pursuit of Possibilities
By Tom Wachunas

While Nyctea looked at the painting with that all too familiar far-away look in her eyes, Aegolius could no longer contain his silence. Or his rage.
“How can you approve of this, this…atrocity?” he moaned. “What could you possibly be thinking? How can you call this thing good?! It’s awful, just awful. What’s good about it?”
Nyctea looked at him, then back at the painting. She took a long, slow breath, and said, “Sometimes you just know that you know that you know. It’s that simple. That complex.”
- From “Mournings of the Grebes” by June Godwit –

I can well remember the contentious dialogues generated in my circle of New York City artist friends by the 1978 “Bad Painting” exhibition at The New Museum of Contemporary Art. Some were resentful, even a bit jealous, while others were simply offended. No doubt we were just a microcosm of common art world reactions. I also remember that after the initial furor had settled down, virtuous hindsight prompted some cooler heads to posit the notion that the show really wasn’t at all that new or revolutionary so much as it was a formalized revealing of what had been underfoot for years.

Nonetheless, the exhibition, curated by Marcia Tucker, was to some degree a watershed moment in postmodern art developments. She described “Bad Painting” in the press release as “…an ironic title for ‘good painting’, which is characterized by deformations of the figure, a mixture of art-historical and non-art resources, and fantastic and irreverent content. In its disregard for accurate representation and rejection of conventional attitudes about art, ‘bad’ painting is at once funny and moving, and often scandalous in its scorn for the standards of good taste.”

Read the artist’s statement that accompanies the paintings by Patricia Zinsmeister Parker now showing in the Canton Museum of Art’s “A Celebration of Women: Director’s Choice II.” She makes it clear that the “Bad Painting” show resonated greatly with the changing vocabulary that was already present at that time in her own work. It was a freer, more raw vocabulary that was evolving from her interest in right-brain/left-brain workings (connections and dis-connections), along with intentionally making images with her untrained, left hand – a deliberate eschewing of academic, traditional working methods and perceptions. Parker understood the essence of ‘bad’ painting to be “…a profound search to find one’s own unique means of expression in a world of infinite possibilities.”

Then, read the excellent essay written by Canton Museum of Art executive director M.J. Albacete for the beautiful color brochure that Parker has so generously provided here. Therein he writes that Parker’s work is best appreciated when absorbed in larger doses, as opposed to viewing just a single work. Only then can we begin to make sense of the life-long flow of aesthetic mazes that Parker continues to negotiate with ever-increasing, compelling verve. “Viewing one painting in isolation can be a puzzlement,” Albacete observes. True enough. “But in taking in five, or ten, or twenty altogether, a pattern emerges, the maze transforms into a labyrinth, and we can at last find our way to the center of her artistic core.” Truer still.

For many years that core has shown itself to be consistently bold, challenging, and at times even maddeningly cryptic, though always fresh, in abandoning the more predictable niceties of expressionistic painting. I think she’s well advanced beyond what might have been once a merely polemical aesthetic based on speaking modern art “vocabulary” fluently, into a newer, more intuitive, and exciting articulation of subtler dialects.

The big surprise in her group of paintings here, which does include a few of her more “trademark” visceral abstract explorations of scruffily drawn/thickly painted figurations, is a series of ten large (9’ x 6’), unstretched acrylic canvases, collectively called “Hommage Les Peintres Femmes (Homage to the Women Painters)”. These amazing pictures have a refined, architectural presence, and exude a serenely somber urgency. Ghostly and heroic, some incorporate a logo-like spiral form, reminiscent of ancient symbols of universal forces. Each panel is dedicated to a significant woman artist. Perhaps these haunting configurations are Parker’s personal tone poems - a symbolic witness to, and identification with, the essence of endless stepping out into a cosmic labyrinth of creativity.

Maybe one way to savor the pictorial possibilities that Parker offers us here is to in turn entertain another possibility for ourselves as viewers. Look, and don't let your right brain know what the left is looking at. It’s that simple. That complex. That marvelous.

Photo: “Eva” by Patricia Zinsmeister Parker. On view in “Director’s Choice II: A Celebration of Women in the Arts” at the Canton Museum of Art, through July 24, located in the Cultural Center for the Arts, 1001 Market Avenue N, Canton.

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