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.

Leslie-Parke-Road-Work

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.

Leslie-Parke-Silo

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

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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.

Leslie-Parke-Silo

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

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 . . .

 

 

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On the Nature of Abstraction: Ellsworth Kelly

“I’m not interested in the texture of a rock, but in its shadow.”  Ellsworth Kelly

Ellsworth Kelly

Ellsworth Kelly

I have been looking at the  abstract paintings of Ellsworth Kelly, Brice Marden, Sean Scully and Jackson Pollock,  that in some way intersect with the natural world. As non-objective as these paintings appear, there is something, an underlying quality of line, an approach to color or an  interest in rhythm and energy that connect these works with nature.

Kelly has always been aware of the intersection between abstraction and nature as is evidenced by his early work as a camoflage artist for the army during World War II. But also in his early days as an artist living in Paris, he searched for the abstract in all that was around him. What continues to this day, is his interest in making line drawing from nature, particularly from plants. He says that it helps keep his hand in — meaning you need to excersize your ability to draw – you need to feel it in your hand, or you will lose it.

Ellsworth Kelly, "Magnolia"

Ellsworth Kelly, “Magnolia”

Ellsworth Kelly

Ellsworth Kelly

It seems to me that in much of his work you can see the evidence of these lines. While they are not direct translations of the natural imagery, one feels a purpose in the contours of his images.

Ellsworth Kelly

Ellsworth Kelly, “Leaves”

Ellsworth Kelly

Ellsworth Kelly

Ellsworth Kelly

Ellsworth Kelly

Ellsworth Kelly

Ellsworth Kelly

Ellsworth Kelly

Ellsworth Kelly

Ellsworth Kelly

Ellsworth Kelly

Ellsworth Kelly

Ellsworth Kelly

Video Interview with Ellsworth Kelly

 

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