Permanent Galleries

Untitled, 1959



Ray Parker
Untitled, 1959
American (1922–1990)
oil on canvas
71 x 82 inches (180.3 x 208.3 cm)
Acquired with funds provided by the Humana Foundation Endowment for American Art
1997.031

In the arena of American abstract art after World War II, Ray Parker developed a style that was exceptionally personal and innovative. Parker’s single-minded attention to a refined and distinctive use of color can be traced back to Henri Matisse and American painters such as Patrick Henry Bruce and Stuart Davis. Although his paintings may at times resemble the more famous works of Mark Rothko, Ellsworth Kelly, or Morris Louis, Parker’s goals and particular use of colors, brushwork, and forms set his work apart from both Abstract Expressionism and Color Field painting.

By 1951 Parker had become acquainted with the New York Abstract Expressionist group and had resettled in New York City. Even at this early date, his work was compelling enough to be included in important exhibitions at the Museum of Modern Art, the Metropolitan Museum of Art, and the Whitney Museum of American Art. In reaction to Abstract Expressionism, during the late 1950s Parker began to develop a style in which he allowed a few discrete painterly forms to coalesce on the surface of the canvas.

From 1958 to 1965 he created a group of paintings that are among the most beautiful and accomplished of the period. He called the works “simple paintings,” but although they may at first appear simple, they are actually complex, sophisticated, and rather daring in their unique devotion to exploring a set of purely formal problems. In a varied range of dark and bright hues on a neutral background, the simply ordered, cloudlike forms seem alternately to float, hang, rest heavily, bump, or touch one another.

The Snite Museum’s untitled composition, dated to 1959, is an early and archetypal example of the artist’s directly painted color abstractions. A large rectangular area of taupe dominates the lower section of the canvas, and three somewhat square areas of muted lavender and terra-cotta hover above, nudging one another. In two critical articles that appeared in a 1958 publication called It Is, Parker discussed his ideas about artists who prepare mentally before allowing the image to be realized and those who intuitively let the image evolve in the process of painting. Interestingly, he inscribed on the back of the Museum’s painting, “For Denise because of It Is.”