Goya on Garbage

Courtyard in front of AIR Vallauris

You are an artist-in-residence. Now, what?

The last time I was a resident at A.I.R Vallauris in 2008, I left a box of materials. This time I decided not to take any materials with me and to just make use of what was in the box and whatever I could find in the street.

I had two notions about how I would use my time. One, I wanted to experiment, respond to the moment and not plan everything out. And two, I wanted to look at Goya’s paintings and see if there is a way I can distil their essence into something abstract. I didn’t think that I would do these two things together.

When I open the box, I have plenty of paint, some brushes, and several pieces of 300 lb Fabriano watercolor paper. But what really excites me, is the box itself. It sat in a dry shed for eight years. The cardboard is soft and no longer has much structural strength. One side is white. I tear off one of the flaps and start painting.

Goya on Garbage: The Dog

Goya’s Dog on Cardboard, 4 inches x 2 inches, oil on cardboard, 2016

Goya on My Mind

Since Goya was already on my mind, I start by loosely painting one of his portraits with black ink. I switch to oil paint and the soft cardboard yields under my brush. The un-even torn edges make a beautiful deckle* around the piece. When I paint Goya’s, “The Dog” I like how the creases in the cardboard interact with the image.

All the pieces are small, averaging 4 inches x 2 inches. In the end, I branch out to include the back of a tuna box and a crushed can that I found in a parking lot.

*deckle edge paper—a type of paper with rough edges

 

Goya on Garbage: Maja on the Can

Leslie Parke, “Goya on Garbage: Maja on the Can”, oil on soda can, 2.5 inches x 5 inches, 2016

 

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Leslie Parke, “Goya on Garbage: Dona Tadea Arias de Enriquez on Tuna Box”, 6 inches x 4 inches, oil on cardboard, 2016

 

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Leslie Parke, “Goya on Garbage: The Countess of El Carpio on Cardboard”, 4 inches x 2 inches, oil on cardboard, 2016

 

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Leslie Parke, “Goya on Garbage: Arsensio Julia on Cardboard”, 2 inches x 2 inches, oil on cardboard, 2016

 

Goya on Garbage

Leslie Parke, “Goya on Garbage: Goya’s Countess on Cardboard”, 3 inches x 2 inches, ink on cardboard, 2016

 

Goya on Garbage

Leslie Parke, “Goya on Garbage: Portrait of the Countess of Chincon on Cardboard”, 3 inches x 2 inches, oil on cardboard, 2016

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Having Sex with Artists

A couple of weeks ago I dreamed that I had sex with Frank Stella under a boardwalk on Fire Island. We were both young. When I was the age I was in the dream I did this painting — clearly the “love” child of our astral meeting:

Leslie Parke Primary One

Leslie Parke, “Primary One”, oil on canvas, 1979.

 

Last night I dreamed that Anish Kapoor was courting me. It was all quite elaborate. I can’t wait to see how this will show up in my work. Harold Bloom would call this the “anxiety of influence”, I call it “having sex with artists.”

 

The Aurora Borealis in a Zip Lock Bag — Essay about Leslie Parke’s New Paintings by Christopher Millis

Little do I remember of the astronomy lecture I attended twenty some years ago on a warm summer night in an observatory on what may be the last densely wooded tract of land in Cambridge. What I do remember is that the lecture put me in a kind of swoon. For the first time in my life, science and poetry became one. Somehow a talk on chaos theory and its relation to the order of the universe – randomness as the predictable and necessary precursor to design – had the heft and elegance and perspicacity of a poem you want to memorize or a painting you don’t want to leave.

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Leslie Parke, “Road Work”, 56 inches x 43.5 inches, oil on canvas, 2014. Photo Credit: Jon Barber

 

Leslie Parke’s paintings live at the same intersection where patterns court chaos, abstraction approaches the figurative and stasis hovers on the cusp of implosion. Her paintings are charged by contradictions: impersonal grids softened by sunlight; watery washes with metallic spikes; a cathedral of squiggles above a perfectly triangular black hole; the aurora borealis in a zip lock bag.

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Leslie Parke, “Silo”, 46 inches x 96 inches, oil on canvas, 2014.

 

But even contradictions are connected by themes, and what’s most striking across these disparate, spirited works is their relentless energy. This is a painter who thrashes in her sleep. And it is not merely high-powered kinesis that comes through so much as the integration of movement, color and form. It is no coincidence that the lines of “Silo” shift from vertical on the left half of the diptych to horizontal on the right; those same lines correspond with the play of light – muted to the left, increasingly luminous as the eye moves right. For all that it initially appears purely cerebral – the meticulous study of an industrial grid – the painting as a whole achieves the thrilling solace of a sunrise.

 

As with many artists at their performance peaks, Parke’s recent paintings seem deceptively effortless. They’re not. Go back to them; they have a lot to say.

Christopher Millis

Cambridge, MA

Christopher Millis’ criticism has appeared extensively in such publications as Art News, Artspeak, The Black American and The Boston Phoenix as well as on National Public Radio. He is the former editor of artsMEDIA Magazine in Boston.

Christopher Millis‘s writing has been published, produced and broadcast widely in the United States and Europe for the last twenty years. He has authored three books of poetry: The Handsome Shackles (2002,) Impossible Mirrors (1994,) and The Diary of the Delphic Oracle (1991,) and his poems have been featured in numerous magazines and anthologies. In 1994, his translations of the Triestine poet Umberto Saba appeared as The Dark of the Sun (University Press of America,) and the first of his acclaimed translations of Palestinian poet Mahmoud Darwish, “Requiem for Mohammed Al-Dura,” was published in The London Review of Books in 2000. His translation of Darwish’s “I Remember al-Sayyab” appeared in 2004 in The London Review of Books, The Daily Star, and The International Herald Tribune.

In 1979, Millis was commissioned by the Theater of the Open Eye in New York to write the libretto for Jean Erdman‘s dance opera The Shining House, a collaboration with Michael Czajkowski, Paul Jenkins and Ralph Lee. The Shining House established itself as part of the repertoire of Jean Erdman and Joseph Campbell’s Theater of The Open Eye with productions until 1984. The following year, Poems for the End of the World (1985,) choreographed by June Anderson, appeared at the Merce Cunningham Dance Studio. Millis collaborated with Anderson and David Leisner on The Magnetic Properties of Moonlight at New York ‘s Dance Theater Workshop in 1986.

Millis’s one-man autobiographical play Garbage Boy, directed by Ashley Lieberman, premiered to critical acclaim in Cambridge Mass. in 2004 and was included in the 2006 New York International Fringe Festival.

If you go:

SVAC

“Everything is Real” Paintings by Leslie Parke

Southern Vermont Arts Center
PO Box 617, West Rd.
Manchester, VT 05254
802-362-1405
June 14 – July 20, 2014
In Gallery 7
Opening Reception in June 14th, 2 pm to 4 pm

Everything Is Real — New Paintings by Leslie Parke

Parke-Wrapped Blue

Leslie Parke, “Wrapped Blue”, 40 inches x 72 inches, oil on canvas, 2014. Photo credit: Jon Barber

EVERYTHING IS REAL is a group of paintings that are both abstract and representational. Each image in the series exists in the real world – an old board of insulation, an industrial garage door, a silo and corncrib, a track in the mud and wrapped cargo on pallets. At the same time, each has been composed to accentuate the inherently abstract qualities of the reflective surfaces and their interplay with light.

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Leslie Parke, “Silo”, 46 inches x 96 inches, oil on canvas, 2014. Photo credit: Jon Barber

I started my career as an abstract painter, sometimes making non-objective images and at others deconstructing the work of earlier masters, such as Ingres, Matisse and Giotto. Then in the 1990s I received a grant to spend half a year at the Claude Monet Foundation in Giverny, where I had a studio and 24 hour access to the Monet’s garden. At first, I looked for anything abstract; the structure, the color — but in the end, I was seduced by the light. Since that time, I have been in search of the subject matter that would resonate best with this full range of interests. I have painted many things from nature in the past, and even some traditional still lifes, but I’ve never completely related to those traditional genres. It wasn’t until I stumbled onto a waterfront dock piled high with pallets of cargo wrapped in plastic that I felt I’d finally found my subject. This shiny, transparent, and translucent stuff, which reflected light and held water bubbles from the rain, had all the qualities I was searching for. The subject is completely abstract, and yet has a surface as complex and difficult to paint as one of Ingres’ satin dresses.

Leslie Parke. "Leaning Insulation", 60 inches x 40 inches, oil on canvas, 2014. Photo Credit: Jon Barber

Leslie Parke. “Leaning Insulation”, 60 inches x 40 inches, oil on canvas, 2014. Photo Credit: Jon Barber

At last, all the elements I’ve worked on separately over the years have come together in these new paintings and I can see a way forward. Everything is real; every crease exists in the object, every reflection.

 

And yet . . .

 

If you go:

SVAC

“Everything is Real” Paintings by Leslie Parke

Southern Vermont Arts Center
PO Box 617, West Rd.
Manchester, VT 05254
802-362-1405
June 14 – July 20, 2014
In Gallery 7
Opening Reception in June 14th, 2 pm to 4 pm

 

Art and Travel: Living in Monet’s Giverny

Travel is an important part of my painting life, but not always in the ways expected. What connects meeting Robert Smithson in New Mexico two weeks before he died, Tony Caro in his London studio and Henry Moore at Perry Green, or having keys to Monet’s gardens, or painting on an archipelago in Sweden?  For me, it is meeting artists in the environment in which they work, getting a sense of their connection to the place, its history, the other artists who surround them, and connecting all that to who I am as an artist,  both in the moment and as these experiences work on me over time.

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My Path to Monet and Giverny

There were ten years between when I picked up a book of black and white photos of Monet’s gardens in a bookstore in London and when I spent five months as an artist in residence at his gardens in Giverny. When I found the book, the gardens hadn’t even been restored yet, nor were they open to the public.  But that book drove me to see Monet’s Waterlilies at the L’Orangerie in Paris, where they are mounted on curved walls in two oval galleries.

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It is hard to imagine now, but until the 1970s the late work of Monet, which consisted almost entirely of the waterlilies, were not generally appreciated. It wasn’t until a bright light was shown on the work of the Abstract Expressionists: Pollock, deKooning, Kline and Rothko, that these paintings by Monet gained new significance. Monet’s broad and expressive brush-work, which seemed to carry more feeling than content, was seen as prescient of the work of the Abstract Expressionists. It was suddenly relevant again.

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Experiencing Monet’s gardens as he had.

Spending five months with unfettered access to his gardens and surroundings allowed me to see for myself what, exactly, Monet was extracting from his gardens and what he was making up.  As it turns out, he was making up precious little.  To experience the garden in real time, made it possible for me to see what he was up against — what the weather conditions were; how the light changed day to day and hour to hour. It was a great privilege to have this time to understand more intimately what he painted and the challenges he faced. What surprised me, is how precise the information is in his paintings, even with the ones most loosely painted.

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Being in Giverny completely changed my own work.

Before Giverny, I was making paintings based on images from Giotto, Ingres and Matisse. After Giverny, I started to paint representationally and, not surprisingly, I searched for ways to imbue my work with light.  What may be less obvious about the effects of that experience on me, is that it took me more than ten years to reconcile my abstract/conceptual longings with painting representationally.

Leslie Parke, "October Light", oil on canvas.

Leslie Parke, “October Light”, oil on canvas.

My point is that through sharing Monet’s space over a long period of time, I not only gained insight into Monet, but I was moved and influenced in ways I never anticipated.

 

 

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Still Life – The Story

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While in Paris, Dégas’ close friend Giovanni Boldini painted a still life on a canvas that measured 47 1/4 inches high by 15 1/4 inches wide. This narrow canvas that stretches to nearly four feet in height was probably meant to evoke a Japanese screen or scroll. In it he painted a glass of red wine just emptied, the residue barely visible at the bottom of the glass and a stack of Old Paris plates, white porcelain with gold trim that casts a celadon shadow. On one of the plates, there is a silver bowl lined with glowing gold. Another plate is strewn with apricots and figs, their skin is the same shade of green as the plate’s shadow, only darker; the inside is the shape of an almond, only white. Faintly in the shadow falling diagonally across this unusual expanse of canvas — so tall and narrow, — one can see an embroidered “D” on the tablecloth, perhaps for Dégas.

As soon as I saw this painting in a coffee table book of still lifes, I knew that this was what I wanted to paint. I wanted to paint that painting, or rather a painting of that size, that composition, that beauty. So, I plunked down the $125. and hefted the book into my arms and carried it home to my small apartment.

In my career as an artist, the muses often contacted me in this manner — leaping from a page in a book — or jumping off the wall.  Once, while removing notes, postcards, and photographs from the wall of my studio, I found that the backs of several postcards that I had dropped on my work table framed a perfectly cropped, eloquent painting-to-be of the back of a woman. Without disturbing a thing I carefully taped each of the obliging scraps of paper to the found image, thus making a makeshift frame around it. This way I would know exactly what this painting required, what part of the image should be included and what needed to be cropped out. Careful to maintain the precise proportions I stretched and primed a small linen canvas. The painting effortlessly appeared under the caressing strokes of my brush. I merely revealed through the gentle dusting of my brush an image that was already there; midwife to this painting, I was neither the creator nor owner of what came forth.

Leslie Parke, "The Back", 13 inches x 10 inches, oil on linen.

Leslie Parke, “The Back”, 13 inches x 10 inches, oil on linen.

 

The Boldini was different. I knew I wanted my painting to have the same feel: the transplanted Orientalism of the elongated format with the objects casually, yet perfectly distributed on the surface with the shaft of light that divides and illuminates the space, bringing focus to one object and leaving another in the quiet eddies of darkness.

As a dealer once said to me, “I can find plenty of artists who paint well, but they don’t know what to paint.” Not so for Boldini, whose painting is emblematic of his life; a café life, a casual meeting with friends just over, their conversation reverberating in his ear as the muse pulls him aside and says, “Paint this.”

In my apartment, I drag a table in front of my west facing windows. In the late afternoon, the sun pours into the room like rain lighting each bit of dust. But no one has been to my apartment in weeks — no meal just eaten, nothing has been left casually on the table. So I pull objects off my shelves and line them up first by color — the blue vase, the blue cobalt and white Spode china, the gold and blue Lenox teapot. Then I arrange the objects like soldiers in a row. I move everything to the center, then everything to the edge. I try for a Zen-like casualness that fails utterly, as my anti-muse takes over and enters a regularity into my placement that is dull and even.

Leslie Parke, "Cobalt Vase", 20 inches x 20 inches.

 

As I struggle with my artificial arrangements, other artists’ still lifes come to me: Eric Fiscl’s kitchen counter top under florescent light, so modern, real and evocative;  and the master of still life painting, Janet Fish’s all over compositions that show formal sophistication, and yet at the same time are so full of her life, friends and everyday objects — a football game on a portable TV surrounded by bags of Cheetos and chips, with a dog asleep under the table and the convenience store across the street visible out the window. Her world is complete, inside and out and it is peopled by friends, family and animals.

I continue to move my objects around — old things like my Grandfather’s Lalique vase, and new things, like my cell phone. With each arrangement, another artist’s work seems to appear: Wayne Thibaud, Morandi, Matisse. I feel like a writer who cannot construct a sentence without recognizing which Hemmingway story it is stolen from.

My own objects are not enough. My friends lend me theirs: 19th Century English Mulberry Brushstroke china, a Belgian crystal ball, and an open-cut lace tablecloth. With each arrangement, I photograph the still life to paint from later. At first I take dozens of photos. then hundreds. Some things remain, the tablecloth, the Lalique, the old China. Others are eliminated, the cell phone. I compose like a veteran editor at the New Yorker. Taking the great raw material of superior artists, I cut and paste until I am left with either the echoes or the essence of the originals. Some of my borrowings are obvious — Vermeer makes an unabashed appearance in the form of a reproduction in a book.

Leslie Parke, "The Weight of Pearls". oil on canvas, 35 inches x 70 inches

Leslie Parke, “The Weight of Pearls”. oil on canvas, 35 inches x 70 inches

Boldini left me with some evidence of his life. What evidence am I offering? I suppress the query and move on. Two themes emerge, despite me. The tablecloth, which seems never to be eliminated from the still lifes, is taking on a personality of its own. Its arabesques of open-cut lace move across the surface of my paintings like a well-charted landscape. As the light changes from bold to muted and passes through the increasing quantities of translucent objects, it is as though weather is passing over the lace landscape. A cool winter glaze covers the surface when it is coupled with a shimmering crystal sugar bowl in the blue light of the early morning.

Leslie Parke, "Sugar Bowl", oil on linen, 1999.

Leslie Parke, “Sugar Bowl”, oil on linen

"Still Life with Onions"

“Still Life with Onions”

 

My birthday comes and with it a bit of colored translucent wrapping paper that shifts appearance like a chameleon when you crinkle it and let light pass through it. I can’t even remember what came in this magical paper, the wrapping itself seemed such a gift. I put the paper around bouquets and water-filled vases. As the light splinters over the surface, the solid objects in its grasp dissolve, melted in its refracted light. Here is the final theme; The light, the transparence and the disappearance. It is here that I emerge, a thing that is no thing, a reflection, a transparency, an object that light passes through.

 

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