David Park's works (1911-1960) at Hackett Mill.
He started out as an abstract expressionist, But Park's rejection of the canon of 1940's abstract expressionism brought him a new painterly freedom, a freedom to explore figuration which was brought short by his death at an early age of cancer.
He later reflected, “As you grow older, it dawns on you that you are yourself – that your job is not to force yourself into a style but to do what you want. I saw that if I would accept subjects, I could paint with more absorption, with a certain enthusiasm for the subject which would allow some of the esthetic qualities such as color and composition to evolve more naturally.”
His artistic ascent was made despite decades of financial hardship and, after a terrible 1942 accident at his night job at the General Cable company, severe back pain. It was only a year or two before his death that Park told his friend Dorothy Baker that "at last he'd found how to paint." Park, who died at 49 of cancer, made his best works at the end of his career.
He never attended high school and didn't finish college. He studied briefly at the Otis Art Institute in Los Angeles but was essentially a self-taught painter. Highly respected by his peers, he taught at the California School of Fine Arts – now the San Francisco Art Institute – between 1946 and 1952 and was a member of the faculty at the University of California at Berkeley between 1955 and 1960. What he took from the zeitgeist of the time what the idea that painting was moral act, that the act of creativity mattered.
Lydia Sewing, 1955
Each painting represents a different theme - people walking, pouring coffee, waiting for the bus, at the beach. Painted with heavy impasto, each one ignores the typical division of space for a more architectural treatment - an arm curves into the air around a canoe, bisects a table while pouring coffee, a couple of bathers stand below a shimmering horizon receding into the distance.
Massive figures dominate - archaic forms as timeless as the Kouri of ancient Greece. But his men and women are human, painted with warmth and color, not anguished creatures screaming of the painter's own demons.
Woman with a coffeepot. 1958
Nancy Boas' "A Painter's Life" (on sale at the gallery) offers countless fascinating insights into Park and his development, including revelations about the artists who he was exposed to and influenced by early on. Who knew, for example, that 19-year-old Park had been present at a 1930 lunch given for the visiting French artist Henri Matisse? Park must have loved the loved the advice that Matisse offered to the throng of California artists: "Talk less. Work more." In the same year Diego Rivera and his wife Frida Kahlo spent over six months in Northern California, and Boas reports that Park soon after began to experiment with encaustic after seeing Rivera's encaustic paintings in the homes of friends and acquaintances.
These nine paintings leave the viewer wishing that Park had been given more time to "talk less and work more."
Hackett Mill. Hackett|Mill, 201 Post Street, Suite 1000, San Francisco, CA
Nancy Boas. "A Painter's Life"
Images courtesy of Hackett Mill.