The challenge of the painter is to invent a version of the world that adds to our own while also amassing a diverse range of expressions that reflects the accumulated knowledge of a particular experience. This is then injected into the process that allows them to invent anew with each canvas, like an equation or solvent that enables all the other elements to seek the most comprehensive solution possible. For Katherine Parker, the spark that begins the alchemy of her transformative paintings, The Ghost Town series, is a tangent where opposing forces meet, commingle, and give birth to an idiosyncratic vision that is fought and won each time, leaving its marks of passage for all to view.
The artist begins with an empty canvas but is already filling it up in her mind before a single brush meets the surface. Certain structures or amounts of painterly matter are in the mind, and must be put down initially even if they are due to be obscured. This is the case in each of Parker’s paintings. Though she works large (a majority of her canvases measure five by six feet in scale), every square inch of each work has seen the paintbrush. Parker’s education took place at the feet of two masters of the expressive painterly tradition, Milton Resnick and Louise Fishman; and alongside them, the critical perspectives of Irving Sandler, a critic best known in the early phase of his career for aligning himself with the “New York School” painters who became known for Abstract Expressionism—Pollock, DeKooning, Ad Reinhardt, and so forth. Sandler was the only contemporary critic allowed to penetrate the social ranks of this artistic community. The lessons she gleaned from them obviously took root in a major way; for Parker is one of those whose rigor and vision maintain the viability of the painterly
Obscura (2016) is a dark painting with strips and bits of color peeking through its mostly black surface. Beneath the colors one spies a lattice of sorts, as if a structure of strong forms were at first lain down. Parker begins with very authoritative structures and then paints over them, simultaneously obscuring them while leading us in a completely different direction. We are still allowed to glimpse what lies underneath, but only as part of a process that at one time needed specific structures but no longer does. This gives us the message that structures, though sometimes esthetically pleasing, are not the end result of a true creative endeavor. Rather we should be willing to have further layers revealed to us, and that we should revel in the convergence of opposites. If one stares into the dark outer layers for a time, marks and ghosts of marks become visible. These inconsistencies are like the emanations of the mind projecting into a deep darkness that boggles the senses and threatens bodily security. Like a deep ocean or cave, it is an alien environment in which the eyes must adjust. What we see there is the very life of the composition emerging from beneath, like the secrets of a lost innocence.
The Conversation (2017) is a different sort of painting. A large white expanse covers most of one canvas with the lowered area covered by a light blue rectangle possibly resembling a table. Above it are two squares suggestively drawn and colored, one in blue and the other in yellow; they inhabit opposite sides in the logistical middle of the canvas, and they seem to be involved in some sort of confrontation, like two players in contest of wills. Below them, written in white on white in all caps is a single word: YES. It’s unclear which party has made this affirmative pronouncement, of if it is meant as a verification of the efficacy of the dynamism between them. Yes, this is conversation. Each says Yes. Each races to say Yes. Yes is both the greeting and the answer, like a note in a composition of musical counterpoint.
Touching Down (2017), presents a mostly blue and white painted canvas with three squares at the bottom and rectangle drifting down to touch them. Its title is an expression that came into usage when mankind officially entered the Space Age, with the capsule of a rocket returning home, the base of the compartment landing back upon the earth. Yet there is something very intimate in the expression that takes it beyond Landing. Touching down is touching, being intimate with the earth. The expression implies not only arrival but presence as well. This painting has as its central impression a moment of merging, a conflation of objects that double as locations or persons. Invisible sparks are generated in the margin between them, as parts of a long unfinished puzzle rush to fit and meet one another.
Yet despite the assistance of titles, Parker still makes paintings that draw us in with the use of formal elements alone. They are psychological portraits of the evolving consciousness of the artist. Pale Edges (2016) is one of these. The title infers that the exterior edges of the work are part of a metaphor for experience leading us “beyond the pale” – into strange lands and new unknown experiences that threaten not only the familiar but also the proper. The painter is emphatically saying, here is what matters, look at what’s here. The edge is pale but the center is full of color—full of life. A light blue canvas verging on Aquamarine contains three squared forms, one that is long and wide and splits the canvas into two areas, its continuity beyond the edges making it feel like a river. Above it are two square forms, a small one on top the same hue as the river, while the larger one in-between is purple. The ambiguity of the construction leads us to endlessly consider the dynamic between edges and contents. They are both full and very empty, filled and yet reflective. They possess the ambiguity of a person.
Last but far from least there is a painting named Slippage (2017) that I find to be most impressive among her works. Its scale seems magnified by the pearlescent wash of color in brushy grids up and down the length of the painting, with a window in the middle in a more golden hue, as if the morning sun were flooding in. Below it and above to the right are darker areas of blue, as if a cloud and a shadow accompanied the shimmer of new light that is both coming from the window and reflecting off every stroke all around it. It is beautiful yet spooky. Parker uses manually depicted geometric forms like squares and grids to establish a lattice or construction of matter while relinquishing the authority of distinct and objective classifications. A door is a door but it can also be a window, or portal to another location or to an entirely different universe. We are there, with her, at the threshold.