Staempfli Gallery, New York
William C. & Elizabeth F. Overstreet, Washington D.C.
Salander O'Reilly Galleries, New York
Acquired by the present owner from the above in 1985
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 Bay Area Figurative Art. Challenging himself to apply the painterly techniques of Abstract Expressionism to a more recognizable subject matter derived from "life not art," David resisted the New York Abstract Expressionist emphasis on the subconscious and the imprint of personality as a source of imagery, preferring direct observation and recollection of the inner and outer world around him. Park's innate gift for vibrant, saturated color and a sensitivity to human awareness is a keystone to the movement. Park's painterly bravado belies any accusations made at the time of a defection from the "true" American art of New York School painting, and was arguably solely responsible for galvanizing the Bay Area Figurative artist's change to a new kind of figuration.
The figure in Rowboat, painted in 1954-55, is poignant in his anonymity, with his back to us, head slightly bowed. The deliberate cropping and tension of scale within the composition makes it difficult to discern whether the protagonist is rowing with placid compliance in his activity or exhausted strife. The vectors created by the diagonal oars and the frenetic brushstrokes thwart the viewer's immediate understanding, however it deliberately invites the viewer's participation. The rich, inspired palette, along with the confident brushstroke, is clearly the work of David Park, master of the movement, and his liberal use of swathes of bright white paint recreates that warm, blinding, almost colorless light refracted on the water.
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