b. Beresford, South Dakota, 1922, d. New York City, New York, 1990
Ray Parker, a New York School Abstract Expressionist, was a colorist influenced by Cubism in his early work. He later sought to improvise in paint as he did in his playing as a jazz musician. In the early 1950’s he became associated with the Abstract Expressionists. Parker simplified his painting composition and used abstraction and color to express emotion. Parker was an admirer of Henri Matisse, whose work inspired his use of color and form, especially in works he made later in life. Parker is best known for his “Simple Paintings” from the late 50s to early 60s, where cloudlike forms of color are set against a white background.
In “Untitled,” 1963, a work from Parker’s “Simple Paintings” series, immediate impressions of pure formalism fade away upon further inspection. Parker’s process involves using rags to apply the paint, allowing the color the agency to diffuse itself across the canvas. In a Pollock-esque renunciation of artistic responsibility, Parker seeks through his practice to harness a larger, cosmic energy, allowing the rags he employed to respond organically to elements such as the pressure of his hand and nuances of his touch, allowing his medium to act, as William Agee wrote, like a “psychic seismograph.” The clouds of color that form on the canvas as a result are not quite the rigid forms they appear, as Parker’s commitment to exposing the painterly process collides with geometric abstraction to a quietly stunning effect.
Parker was born in South Dakota in 1922. He received a Master of Fine Arts degree in 1948 from the University of Iowa, Iowa City. Before moving to New York in 1955, he taught in Iowa, Minnesota and Tennessee. He later was a guest critic at Columbia University and Bennington College, and he taught at Hunter College in New York in the late 1950s. During that time he was represented by the Samuel Kootz Gallery, one of the leading galleries at that time who represented, among others, Picasso and Hofmann.
Ray Parker’s work is in the collections of the Los Angeles Museum of Art; Tate Gallery, London; Museum of Modern Art, Metropolitan Museum of Art, Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum and Whitney Museum of American Art in New York City.