Mr. Page Schorer, Berkeley (acquired directly from the artist)
Salander-O'Reilly Gallery, New York
Acquired by the present owner from the above
Oakland Art Museum, American California Painting, 1964
Newport Harbor, Newport Harbor Art Museum; Oakland Museum, David Park, September 1977 - January 1978, cat. no. 74
New York, Whitney Museum of American Art; Oakland, The Oakland Museum, David Park, November 1988-August 1989, cat. no. 33, p. 81, illustrated
San Francisco Museum of Modern Art; Washington, D. C., Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, Smithsonian Institution; Philadelphia, Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, Bay Area Figurative Art, 1950-1965, December 1989 - December 1990, fig. no. 2.14, p. 28, illustrated in color
While the New York art community of the 1950s was dominated by the momentum of the Abstract Expressionists, a small group of West Coast artists, led by David Park, returned to a more figurative style of painting known as the Bay Area Figurative Art Movement. Along with contemporaries Richard Diebenkorn and Elmer Bischoff at the California School of Fine Arts in San Francisco, where Clyfford Still and Mark Rothko came to teach in the late 1940s, they developed their individual artistic styles through group drawing sessions and visits to each other’s studios. An atmosphere of mutual support and creative exchange evolved among the teachers and students, even after the years together at the School ended in the early 1950s. Keen observers of the New York scene, this artistic community nevertheless became a breeding ground for the Bay Area Figurative painting style of the 1950s, galvanized by Park's exhibition of seminal works beginning in 1949 and 1950. David Park challenged himself to apply the painterly techniques learned by the Abstract Expressionists to a more recognizable subject matter derived from "life not art."
Richard Diebenkorn, Elmer Bischoff, James Weeks and Nathan Oliveira would also progress to paintings of objects, figures and landscapes, and would be loosely (and often reluctantly) grouped together as Bay Area Figurative Artists, derived from the title of the ground-breaking show organized by Paul Mills at the Oakland Museum in 1957. Together they shared with Park specific traits in their return to figuration. They resisted the New York Abstract Expressionist emphasis on the subconscious and the imprint of personality as a source of imagery, preferring direct observation of the inner and outer world around them. They also brought an innate gift for vibrant, saturated color and a predilection of human awareness and appreciation.
Despite the content of figurative subject matter, Park's works such as Standing Male Nude in the Shower contain a painterly bravado that belies any accusations made at the time of a defection from the "true" American art of the New York School. His use of the figure as a purely formal vehicle rather than a narrative subject is in fact closely linked to a similar evolution of de Kooning's works. As stated in the catalogue for the authoritative 1989 exhibition on Bay Area Figurative Art, "[the] hard-worn hegemony of Abstract Expressionism as the first national style rendered any deviation from it doubly suspect...The individuals who conducted the Bay Area 'defection' perceived it quite differently. Like others in New York and abroad, they viewed the dominance of Abstract Expressionism as a form of stultification. Figuration seemed to be a way of saving that which was still vital and dynamic in the Abstract Expressionist style, a way of moving forward, of encouraging a more generous personal vision" (Caroline A. Jones, in Exh. Cat., San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, Bay Area Figurative Art, 1950-1965, 1989, p. 11).
The notion of the everyday moment is witnessed in the present painting’s beautifully rendered mature work by David Park. The male figure is slightly mannered in stance and in relation to his environ, which is indicative of the transition Park makes in these important years of his life's work. The rich palette of primary colors, confident brushstroke and intimate composition of a full frontal male nude are clearly the work of one of the masters of Bay Area Figurative Art. Standing Male Nude in the Shower invites a thoughtful and sensory-laden experience from the viewer while never apologizing for its private subject matter. We are encouraged to appreciate the beauty of the male nude without embarrassment or concern. It appears that Park's implication is for the viewer to simply observe this intimate moment. The figure is not only confident in his sense of self, but Park portrays the male nude within a spectrum of color and texture that rend this brilliant painting as one of the artist's most significant works painted a few years before his untimely death in 1960.
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