This June, David Park: A Retrospective, organized
by the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art and curated by Janet Bishop,
Thomas Weisel Family Curator of Painting and Sculpture at SFMOMA, presents work by the founder of the Bay Area Figurative Movement at The Modern Art Museum of Fort Worth.
At one point engaged in Abstract Expressionism in the postwar years, Park famously abandoned his abstract canvases in the East Bay dump and ultimately returned to the human figure.
On view through September 22, 2019, Patron contributor Chris Byrne discusses the late artist with Janet Bishop.
Chris Byrne (CB): It’s exciting that the Modern Art Museum of Fort Worth will be hosting David Park’s first major retrospective in over 30 years.
How did the show come about? Janet Bishop (JB): We thought that Park’s work would resonate with today’s audiences.
There is such an authenticity to it, and he was just so good at wielding a brush.
Park is a towering figure in the Bay Area and there is a smattering of his paintings from the 1950s in museum collections outside California.
But, as you said, the work has not been seen in depth for a very long time.
And his pre–Bay Area Figurative work, from the 1930s and 1940s, is almost never exhibited. Park’s style shifted every few years for most of his career.
Yet his interest in people was remarkably consistent, and we wanted to show that thread.
So you’ll see domestic scenes and bathers painted with tiny brushes in a social realist style at the beginning of the show.
And then at the end, you’ll see those same subjects executed with large, wildly expressive, wet-into-wet brushstrokes that show the extent of Park’s love for paint and his capacity for conveying human emotion.
PARK PLACED CB: Was there a time when Park’s work was considered retrograde or out of fashion?
JB: Park’s career wasn’t helped by the fact that he died so young, at 49, when he was at the height of his powers as a painter and had just started showing in New York.
The reception to it, both during and after his lifetime, is a big topic. His first, post-abstract figurative canvas is Rehearsal,
from 1949–50, which pictures the jazz band for which he played piano. When it was first publicly displayed in 1950, it was interpreted as a gag.
It took several years for Park’s own community to get what he was doing, but he was such a charismatic guy and so widely respected as a painter,
that other artists started to develop their own figure-based practices, which coalesced into the Bay Area Figurative art movement.
PARK PLACED On a national level, responses ranged from enthusiasm to a sense that these guys had somehow copped out by turning away from abstraction.
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