Sunday, February 19, 2017

Dragon Master: Tony Smith and the Unexpected.

There is more than one way to skin a cat. But before that there is the one and best way to do something, including skin a cat. The only way.

A few years ago I purchased a painting at auction that I hoped was by my old friend Leon Polk Smith. It was a medium large, grid based, black and white geometric painting the kind I was assigned as a freshman in art school signed simply Smith 70.

Smith's longtime partner Bob Jamieson soon enough threw water on my great find in the nicest possible way. Something about it being a little too busy and trying a little too hard for it too be Leon's. Inotherwords not nearly elegant enough.

I knew it was something though, and I was still convinced it was Leon's. An under bidder, great term, had, after all, tried to offer more for it to me after the auction. This was no freshman project.

Enter Richard Tuttle. My brief mentor, the young and reluctant guru of my youth who spoke in riddles and got inside my head in a way that pissed me off for decades. He had worked for Betty Parsons and was privy to her store house, her back room stacks of art magic by all the greats who had passed through her gallery on 57th Street in Manhattan. He had claimed one of those as his mentor, Ellsworth Kelly, Leon's successful rival for the crown of elegant hard edged abstraction, even though Leon in turn claimed that she liked him best.

So I was struck one day while trying to unlock the mystery of this painting I had bought, that of course there was another Smith. Could it be? And then I remembered a story I had read from Kiki Smith about Richard Tuttle hanging around her family's home when she was growing up. I imagined a young Tuttle sitting alone in the living room with maybe a big hairy family dog, being asked to hold something, or if he had seen Seton, or if he would like to stay for dinner. Anything to soak up the enigmatic genius of the prince of American monumental geometric sculpture, Tony Smith.

Sure enough, it was all right there. The code. The binary bonanza. The bisected squares whose resulting triangles turned black or white, and left or right, to tell their story.

This is the language of Tony Smith's giant sculpture of the late Sixties and early Seventies. Large black painted aluminum grid and bisected cube based sculptures dreamed together by turning this geometric element one way or the other to see which way it would go and what it would become. Together they moved like a flock of swallows and then suddenly and unexpectedly shifted and surprised you.

I had a friend whose family had a house in a shoreline Connecticut enclave where Smith, who was also architect, had built a home. Decades ago she drove me by the house. There was also a geometric sculpture, one of the cubes, outside. I knew I was supposed to be impressed. I was still young and not easily impressed and so I wasn't. Maybe one of the worst of many bad qualities.

But there was his cube. So strong. The ultimate riddle. Patient and wise. Inscrutable. Impenetrable. Infuriating.

And there I was today, parked in front of this painting. Almost lost in a trance, sometimes dozing, flickering on the edge of consciousness, and it happened, doors began slamming open and closed, dimensions shifted, transformation unfolded right before my eyes. Did I just see that? I shook my head. I googled Tony Smith images on my phone. Still in a daze I rifled through them. Sculptures of huge proportions changing before my eyes, with simple slight of hand, showing me one face, one being, and then another, like dragons doing a secret dance, only to disappear and still themselves in a pose to be invisible to passers by.

Addison Parks
Spring Hill

It is worth noting that this painting is probably by some other Smith, despite the similarities. Just a little kickstart for looking at a sculptor who does not get much love these days.

Monday, February 13, 2017


Addison Parks, Valentine, 2014, oil on board, 6 x 8

A sweetness
Like honeysuckle
Circles and
A place both earthly and divine
In me
From you
A place both earthly and like heaven
Where soft caress and warm breath can leaven
My senses skyward
A high that since the night we met
Has never let
Me down
Just a smile
No frown
To delay
This joyous race to
The end.

Addison Parks
Spring Hill

Thursday, December 29, 2016

Younghee Choi Martin: Unconscious!

Younghee Choi Martin, 2008, Thunder of Spring, oil on linen,  74  x 101"

Younghee was in my sophomore painting class at RISD. I had just transferred from Skidmore. It was a very interesting class with a lot of really powerful and diverse painters. Just what I was looking for. And in a very interesting class of powerful and diverse painters, Younghee Choi Martin stood out. You might say that she was the one. I think everybody thought so. And in that really nice way that things sometimes happen, she didn't act like she was that person, she didn't act like she was the star.

Younghee Choi Martin, 2004, Fall of Troy, oil on linen,  61 x 80"

But as cut throat and competitive as RISD was in general and this class in particular, Younghee Choi Martin was the painter everyone was looking over their shoulder at, wondering what she was doing, how she was seeing and painting what they were all seeing and painting. The year was 1974, the place was the Bank Building's giant painting studio, and the teacher was Lorna Ritz.

Younghee Choi Martin, 1999, Violet Air, oil on linen,  23 x 26"

Everybody was good. Everybody brought something to the table. Even the people who seemed forced into the shade were good and offered a unique vision. But Ritz liked playing students against each other to get results. She liked playing favorites to get results. She was that kind of teacher. Lazy. Mean. But even though Younghee was probably the favorite of the favorites, she never acted like it, or even went along with it. She was completely interested in what everyone else was doing.

Younghee Choi Martin, 2012, Grief into Joy, oil on linen,  18 x 18"

The favorites were all women. A correction for a male dominated art world. Ritz made some of the toughest guys in the class cry. She was legend for it. I had the strange honor of being the only guy included in one of her weekly all women exhibits of the class's work that she would curate in the library. Otherwise she regularly insulted me with her squeaky little voice and smile. I say all this because it made Youngee's humility that much more striking.

Younghee Choi Martin, 2011, Here is the Meadow Where We Started, Small I,
oil on linen,  15 x 22"

I didn't know Younghee well, but she was always friendly, and a friend of friends. The little I had heard about her was that this very gifted painter had had a hard life. That she still had a hard life. That she lived in a crappy apartment in a crappy part of Providence, without heat. At least that is what I remember. She was way too skinny in that way that says undernourished. But undernourished or not, in the Bank Building, painting, she was a spirit possessed.

Younghee Choi Martin, 2007, Orestes' Revelation, oil on linen,  30 x 34"

We bumped into each other in New York occasionally years later, still a friend of friends, and she was still alive and painting. The same spirit possessed with a brush in her hand. Our mutual friend Carol Heft, herself a gifted painter from that Bank Building class, has always stayed close to Younghee. Today they show in adjacent galleries in New York City's Chelsea gallery district. The Blue Mountain and Bowery on 25th.

Younghee Choi Martin, 2007, Memory of Dawn, oil on linen,  9 x 12"

To say that Younghee's work is still the same sounds like a put down, except that she was always good. Anyone who knows me gets that I am free and easy with hyperbole, but also that I generally steer clear of comparisons, and comparative language. Bad, good, better, best. Younghee might be the quiet exception. Quiet, perhaps to her detriment. Quiet, definitely to her detriment if the objective is fame and fortune.

Younghee Choi Martin, 2012, Ascent, oil on linen,  36 x 45"

Younghee could probably paint the pants off of any painter out there dead or living and they would know it. The Resnicks and Pollocks of this world, no pants. I won't mention the living so as not to embarrass anyone, but we all know who we are.

Younghee Choi Martin, 2012, Here is the Meadow Where We Started,
 oil on linen,  74 x 112"

Unconscious is a word people use to compliment someone's work sometimes, especially athletes. That's Younghee Choi Martin. Unconscious! High praise.

Younghee Choi Martin, 2006, Arcadia, oil on linen,  47 x 54"

She paints classical themes. I am not sure why. I could guess. Excuse to make a painting. They read abstractly but they are figures in a setting, a landscape. Maybe she delights in the stories. Maybe she loves the masters. Maybe she likes the way figures like shapes interact in a space. But stroke for stroke she brings paint to life like the first creature that climbed out of the primordial ooze.

Younghee Choi Martin, 2012, Riverbanks, oil on linen,  81 x 80"

Why some dealer somewhere hasn't given her a parade I will never know. Why the Whitney hasn't called her number is beyond me. Younghee Choi Martin has always been something special.

Younghee Choi Martin, 2004, Thunder of Spring, oil on linen,  75 x 100"

Addison Parks
Artdeal Magazine
Spring Hill, December 2016

Younghee Choi Martin

Younghee Choi Martin, 2004, Nabi Gallery, New York

Younghee Choi Martin, 2012, Bowery Gallery

Thursday, December 22, 2016

I Call Myself Artist

Addison Parks, Ear, 2016, oil on linen, 14 x 11

Never mind that for years I preferred the more practical term of "painter." I bought into the idea that "artist," like "genius," was something you earned, bestowed upon you by others through merit.

Addison Parks, Lovey, 2016, oil on linen, 20 x 16

I can't remember not painting or drawing. They have been my life long companions, helping me through every phase of my life, every adventure, every change, of which there have been many, every joy, every heart break, every mountain climbed, every fall off said mountains.

Addison Parks, Syrian Kat, 2016, oil on linen, 14 x 11

Whenever I read about the Carl Andres of this world declaring an end to the "tradition" of painting and sculpture I just have to laugh and think that they obviously never knew about these things, never experienced them, never found themselves in them, never lost themselves in them, was never remade or reborn in them. They never got it. Easy to just say nanny nanny poo poo. For me it would be like declaring an end to love or sunlight.

Addison Parks, Landscape with Blue Sky, 1975, oil on board, 16 x 20"
collection of Bruce Helander

Now maybe I am like some Beatrix Potter or Emily Dickinson, more than content with the marriage of imagination and the blank page. A recluse with a box of paints or a pen.

Addison Parks, Three Ships, 1966, oil on board, 6 x 24"
painted on Via della Minerva, Rome

My first box of paints came to me from a mad Welshman my mother had had an affair with when we first moved to Rome. We were flying home to Ohio from a year and a half living on the island of Mykonos and wintering in Athens. I suppose my mother couldn't stand the idea of the options that lay ahead. She looked out the window as we were sitting on the runway in the Rome airport, said quick quick quick, grab your stuff, and we lived there over a five year period, and she for twenty. Until my children were born, Rome was my happiest memory.

Addison ParksBrickabrok (2016); oil on linen, 16 x 20 inches

The Welshman, Handel Evans, was a brilliant artist and a joy for me and my sister. We made puppets together and drew and painted all the time. He taught me his artist secrets and I was his devoted apprentice. The year was around 1961-62, and JFK was still alive and beloved in Europe. Handel was not an abstractionist, the art which my mother championed(we had paintings by Kline and Resnick and de Stael to name a few), but his work was well informed by it along with automatism, cubism, and surrealism. It was very powerful and original and fully integrated, but at the same time open to inspiration from Bernini and all the juices that flowed from the breast of the beast that was Rome. Like Pollock and de Kooning he came to learn.

Addison ParksAli (2016); oil on linen, 16 x 20 inches

In fact we ended up on that street where they had had studios. Via Margutta. My mother had by then traded in Handel for a more handsome arm, a young tenor from Canada, and all that was left of my first mentor was a box of paints under the stairs that I imagined he had left for me. My first oil painting at the age of 8 was of our cat. I can smell those paints still, like a meal wafting from the kitchen, and feel the excitement and trepidation and miracle of this rich, sensuous, malleable substance that could bring a dry brittle white canvas to life.

Addison ParksBanana Bush (2016); oil on linen, 16 x 20 inches

Until then Handel had only let me use pencil, and colored inks. Oil paint was for later. Like black shoes, which my mother would not allow. Boys wore brown. And grey flannel shorts. Never long pants. Rain or shine or snow or sleet I wore shorts. I also had a cough all winter long.

Addison ParksBending Birches (2016); oil on linen, 16 x 20 inches

Handel had taught me how to find the painting in the painting surface. How to prepare a wood panel with plaster, and in the barely perceptible patterns commingle memories, dreams, and observations, entwining them by scratching into the plaster and letting the inks flow.

2016, in progress

A few years later Gino Severini would recommend the same practice to me, except that he added sand to the fresh plaster to further enhance the patterns and texture.

Addison Parks, Angel Wings 2, oil on linen, 20 x 16"

These days I let a preliminary coat of paint on the canvas guide me in much the same way. Or sometimes I use the canvas as my palette until it sets a course.

Addison Parks, Angel Wings, oil on board, 8 x 10"

Then the conversation begins. I listen. I respond. I make a proclamation. I wait for an answer. Somewhere in the dance of all that, things find their way to the surface, they reveal themselves, and I am reborn.

Addison Parks
Spring Hill, December 2016

Friday, December 16, 2016


Addison Parks, 2005, wood and paint

Sculpture was my first love, but let's face it, sculpture doesn't travel well, and we travelled all the time. Painting would have to do. So painting it was, all through school, art school, and my career as an artist. I only took one class, introduction to sculpture, my freshman year in college. It was really called 3D. I have never shown any sculpture professionally outside of my own installations. When it comes to sculpture I am untrained, untutored, and unproven. Outsider.

Addison Parks, 2002, wood and paint

But I still love it. And over the last twenty years I have turned to it for great pleasure, excitement, and inspiration. Whenever I write about art, great art, great inspiration, the first thing that jumps to mind is always one sculpture. The Winged Victory of Samothrace. First saw it at the age of seven. And then of course the Lions at Delos later that summer made a huge impression. And then of course anything Michelangelo. Or Bernini.

Addison Parks, 2000, wood and paint

But before all of that there was the giant terra-cotta head my sculptor mother was furiously piecing together in my parents bedroom in Shaker Heights. And then there was every afternoon hanging around the studio of Nino Franchina on Via Margutta in Rome circa 1963. Sculpture was always capturing my attention and I was always making it and leaving it behind.

Addison Parks, 1986, oil, encaustic, mixed media
Sculpture creeping into painting more than painted sculpture.

Stupid, but it was when someone smashed one of my terra-cotta sculptures opening a window that something finally went click. That was it. No more. I must have been 12 at the time. Painting it would have to be. And of course I loved painting anyway, the color, the sense of gesture, and always the physicality of it. Not just the texture. The actual substance of paint. The sculpture of paint.

Addison Parks, 1985, oil, encaustic, mixed media on canvas

So when it comes to sculpture I am a pure vessel. Pure love. Pure intent. Pure experience. Pure joy. There is a lot to be said for that. I always try to achieve that place in painting, but it is almost impossible. Damaged goods. Too much schooling. Too much mentoring. Too much tutoring. Too much criticism. Too much careerism. Too much expectation. Too much promise.

Addison Parks, 2006, wood and paint

There is none of that when I make sculpture. I am free. I have even seen people get truly excited by my sculpture, until they found out that it was mine, and then they put their excitement away. No cred. No blessings from any institution, any gallery, or anyone. But in that brief moment I would see a wow in their expression. Not hmmmm. No chin scratching. Just wow!

Addison Parks, 2010, mixed media, found wood and paint

Mostly what I make these days I do in my wood shop on Spring Hill in Lincoln. On the Cape, in Truro I made small ones with a glue gun on the kitchen counter. But usually the shop. The same tools and materials I use for carpentry and construction. Everything found or from the lumber yard or hardware store. I like the feel of wood. I can't help it. Tried stone and metal but wood feels good. Plus I like the way it takes paint.

Addison Parks in Truro, 2002, wood and paint

Whenever I feel particularly blocked, in need of a shot in the arm, it has been sculpture that saves me. Some pieces of wood, glue, a nail gun, a little paint, and I am off to the races.

Addison Parks, 2010, found wood and paint

It has always been true that if I could just make a good painting, then all was right with the world. Funny thing is, all I have ever had to do was make a sculpture, period. Good never entered into it. Judgment never entered into it. Just joy. Pure joy.

Addison Parks, 2007, wood and paint

Addison Parks
Spring Hill
December 2016

Addison Parks, December 2016, Spring Hill

Addison Parks, 2010, found wood 

Addison Parks, 2009, found wood and paint

Addison Parks, 2007, wood and paint

Addison Parks, 2006, mixed media, found wood and paint

These pieces I did out in Truro in the summer of 2002-2003. The simplicity of them appealed to me. 2x4s and dowels and paint. Reminded me a the tie makers challenge. How to make as many interesting striped ties with just three colors.

Kindling and paint. 2006

Wood shims, glue gun and paint. 2006

Addison Parks, 1985, oil, encaustic, mixed media on board
These pieces were all considered dream images. A swirl of life on another plane. Love and art.
The sculpture just keeps climbing into the paintings. Not quite feeling permission yet to just make sculpture. Sculptors are a whole other kettle of fish. A whole other tribe. I tribe I don't belong to. 

Addison Parks, 1985, oil, encaustic, mixed media on burlap and cardboard

Addison Parks, 1985, oil, encaustic, mixed media on canvas
Part of this whole Dreaming of Trees series that flowered in Providence.

This piece was companion to the works on paper with house paints I had mixed in the paint store. 1987. Providence, Rhode Island. Wood scraps from the lumberyard. Always a favorite source of inspiration.  I was also teaching at RISD at the time. Classes in painting designed to free up the students. Water based paints on paper. Move fast.

I started these pieces on the Cape in 2006. Pieces of wood from the lumber yard used as shims. A glue gun and some paint and some fun.

In the summer of 2009 in Truro it was time to clean up some of my wood pile. Old stretchers. Nail gun. Paint.

2010 in Truro. Old chairs with glue and a nail gun and more fun.

This motif shows up over and over for me. Tree. Figure. 2010 Truro. The stripe paintings in 1998 became the tree figure paintings in 2015.