Martha Parsey, All things bright and beautiful
Martha Parsey investigates the masks we adopt and the roles we play in the belief that thus we make life more bearable. Her view-point is detached but never dry. However tormented, empty or smug these incarnations may be, Parsey finds humanity still somehow redeemable.
Parsey’s work both celebrates and subverts the corporate culture that the media now unashamedly purveys through life-style magazines and advertising. Through a knowing alignment of the glossy/ matt, the real/contrived, the still/ moving image, and their
potential situation within her own concerns, Parsey creates a theatre or field of action united by an intense graphic curiosity and a matching painterly gift. Characteristically, her performance sees tradition mating with chance: a beguiling combination of the aleatory and the intended.
Much of the potency of her work resides in the tense and carefully orchestrated interplay of figure and environment. She tends not to paint specific interiors or exteriors, but settings containing elements of one or the other; for example, foliage or white road lines. This is the sort of visual magic to be found in a film studio or on a stage set: the world of illusion. In “Under the influence” (ill. 1), her breathtaking new work for Frankfurt art fair 2003, a living room is suggested only by the pattern of a wallpaper and a table with a cup of tea and an ashtray on it, but it is never fully described as a living room. Parsey relies upon the evocative effect of props like Hitchcock, once being a film director herself.
In this recent painting, the images of three woman handling with drugs is like a still from a Hitchcock movie. But Parsey is quick to qualify the suggestion: “I think the reference to film is not so much to film stills but more in the idea of what I’m doing. When there’s more than one figure in a painting, the way I compose it is a bit like a film scene. I think of who my central characters are and how they relate to the other characters in the painting”.
These relationships exist, however, primarily on a visual level, rather than on a narrative one.
The idea and habit of drawing from photographs and other reproductions is crucial to Parsey’s thinking and the concept of the Gallery Jarmuschek und Partner. Both see reproduction and mere surface as our contemporary reality – the world in which we live – which has to be questioned.
In her work, the traditional discipline of drawing is re-applied to today’s primary visual currency. By way of balance, a deep awareness of the history of Western picture-making informs Parsey’s art, which, though it may not be evident, is fundamental to her practise. The old meets the new in surprising synthesis: a rich mix which brilliantly reflects our pluralist culture. Martha Parsey, in the quality of her attention to past art (as can be seen in the Gainsboroughian quality of the portraits and clothes in “Under the influence”) and its continuing relevance for today, and in her shrewd investigation of contemporary mores, offers an altogether more substantial reading of the human condition, without giving easy answers to the fundamental questions of today’s life.