Erik Parker, Hello Sunshine, 2004, mixed media on canvas, 213 x 213 cm, courtesy Arndt & Partner
Erik Parker is an acute observer and archivist of all kinds of signs and images. These are merged in mesmerizing grotesque paintings to form new fantastic, cartoony hybrids. Text, emblems, medical illustrations, floral ornaments and figural elements of cartoons painted in glaring contrasting colours fuse into ambivalent psychedelic forms and caricatural figures.
In some of his latest smaller formats Erik Parker appropriates a wide range of artistic styles, combining pictorial schemes of icon painting, i.e. with allegorical portraits by the Italian mannerist Giuseppe Arcimboldo, and folkloristic paintings by the American painter Jim Nutt. They are vaguely discernible depictions of human faces, made up of stylized tendrils of plants and fingers, as well as bulging words, picking up the slang of Hip-Hop. Whereas the bold, flat pictorial language, the bright colours, and the vernacular refer to a specific cultural scene and spirit, the person depicted is rendered unidentifiable.
The compositions of Erik Parker's larger formats are often symmetrical. Clusters of colourful words, as well as the titles of the paintings hover within biomorphic bubbles, framed by stylized excrescences of inner organs and mutated extremities. Often the compositions seem reminiscent of the accidental shapes of Rorschach's ink plots, so that the words as well, at first sight, seem to derive from free association. However, the rhizome-shaped clusters of words result from meticulous research and Erik Parker's intense engagement with specific personalities, historical incidents or cultural phenomena. The names of people, groups, places etc. illuminate the background and dubious details of the era examined. Thus the paintings, which Erik Parker likes to think of as 'snapshots', capture the essence of a particular moment. He interweaves the written elements with offensive, hallucinatory imagery, creating surreal compositions of labyrinthine density.
Due to the precise, smooth application of paint Erik Parker achieves an unexpectedly ordered structure, stabilising the rampant abundance of details and shapes. His interest seems to be rather graphical than painterly. In addition to acrylic- and enamel paint he often uses coloured markers, in order to draw the filligree lines and text elements. Stylistically he appropriates the graffities of early 80ties' Hip Hop scene, as well as the cartoons of the comic-underground legend, Robert Crumb. Another influence are the hallucinatory drawings of persons suffering from schizophrenia. Particularly the series of collages and paintings, which the Swiss artist Adolf Wölfli executed during his yearlong stay in the insane asylum, depicting fantastic, personalized recreations of the world, have inspired Erik Parker. A similar combination of hysteria and subtle construction as in Wölfli's images, is characteristic in Erik Parker's satirical, sometimes monstrous visualisations of 20th century's western culture.
Erik Parker was born in 1968 in Stuttgart, Germany, and studied at University of Texas, Austin, and at Purchase College, NY. He lives and works in New York City. Besides numerous group exhibitions in the US (Andy Warhol Museum, Pittsburgh; Bronx Museum of Art, NY; MOCA, Los Angeles; P.S.1 Contemporary Art Center, L.I.C., NY; Walker Art Center, Minneapolis) and Europe (Barbican Center, London; Galleria d'Arte Moderna e Contemporanea, Bergamo, Italy; Kunstmuseum Wolfsburg, Germany), he had successful solo exhibitions in Cologne (Jablonka Galerie), London (Modern Art Inc.), Los Angeles (The Happy Lion); Milan (Paolo Curti & Co.) and New York (Leo Koenig Inc.).