David Park – Woman at Piano

When David Park hauled his abstract paintings to the Berkeley dump in 1949, he discarded the popular non-objective forms of Abstract Expressionism in favor of figurative painting. Joined by contemporaries such as Richard Diebenkorn and Elmer Bischoff, Park embraced representational art and pioneered what would become the Bay Area Figurative Movement.

Characterized by slabs of rich color and energetic brushwork, Park’s scenes of everyday life bring the expressive vibrancy of abstraction into the realm of figuration. Transcending traditional realism, he employs the gestural freedom of Abstract Expressionism and celebrates the medium of oil paint with indulgent colors and impulsive paint handling – all the while depicting scenes of common humanity.

In Woman at Piano, Park’s use of color and composition magnify the intimacy of the scene. The background’s brilliant orange hues contrast with the cool and heavy tones of the seated figure, pushing the scene to the edge of the canvas, angling the subject toward the viewer. At the same time, the lush texture, consistent even in the negative space, makes use of the full area of the painting, causing the entire surface to pulse with energy. The resulting effect envelopes the viewer, making it seem as though one could simply rest an arm on the edge of the piano and hear the woman’s song.

His figurative works of the 1950’s can be found in important museum collections, including the Hirshorn Museum in Washington DC, and the Los Angeles County Museum of Art. 13 years after Park’s tragic death at the age of 49, in 1973- the Museum of Modern Art in New York showcased a 1960 David Park portrait of Richard Diebenkorn in an exhibition alongside works by Picasso, Matisse, Chagall, Hockney and Kirchner.