If you look at an Erik Parker painting you will see hints of Henri Matisse, Francis Bacon, Robert Crumb and, dare we say, a hint of Lisa Frank. And yet the first thing that pops into your head is undoubtedly, "That's an Erik Parker." Electric vines, blood orange skies and vibrating fruits populate Parker's over-saturated color fields, showing how you don't need a plane ticket (or a psychedelic substance) to take a trip.
His new exhibition, "Bye Bye Babylon," takes us far from Parker's Brooklyn studio into the utopian and dystopian jungle wilds. Channeling Henri Rousseau's primitive eye with a touch of internet-addled intensity, Parker presents a tropical climate as an alternative to the current political one. Yet even the faraway leaves pulsate with the spirit of counterculture as Parker's history with hip-hop, graffiti and alternative music shines through. We spoke with Parker about his unusual palette names, reality TV and how his works may inspire you to revolt in just 5 minutes. Scroll down for a slideshow.
EP: I don't believe I was taught the proper way anyway. I kind of rejected that from the start. I didn't go through the proper channels of art school I don't think. I never did any figure drawing, or any life drawing stuff. It always seemed really terrible. It's something that I'm just drawn to, I guess.
HP: Are the images in your show places that you've visited, from your imagination, from the internet?
EP: I've never been to any of them, but a lot of them come from that desire to want to travel. Largely I think it is making something something that is both utopia and systolic at the same time. I don't really get out much so the idea that you can transcend space in your own studio was important for this exhibition. Also images were found on the internet. You have stuff in the paintings you can identify as real things, like a pear. But then it's taking that pear putting it in my language. Something that references the real to pull the viewer in, but then pushing in through that filter.
HP: In the video preview for the show, we see your paints. They have crazy names like "King Tut" and "Cool Rug Burn." What's the story behind those?
EP: That's a kind of tracking device that comes right out of the top of my head to keep track of the colors. I have people that work for me and I just grab stuff, paint with it, and as a way to keep track of it we created this system. It seems more interesting to me than calling it "42" or "006."
HP: Does each one have a story or is it more of a random association?
EP: It's pretty random, it's more like sound bites that happen throughout the day. It's like freestyle rapping almost. It doesn't have to rhyme, so it's even easier.
HP: There is a very youthful feeling with this exhibition, especially with the return to nature. Did you go through any rituals to help clear your mind?
EP: In the studio there was a lot of dub music going on, a lot of reggae. I haven't cut my hair since I started the show. There was a lot of surf, island vibes throughout the show. Since I agreed to do the show there have been no holidays, really. It's just been work, work, work. This is like the tenth summer where I'm like "I just want to go to the beach," you know? So I thought let's just bring the beach here. We listened to a lot of afrocentric dub tracks and there is a surf shop down the street where I'd hang out a lot. You can also trade virtually on the internet as well. You can google "the coolest beach ever" and be like, let's make our version of this.
HP: You've talked about your artistic and literary influences in your vision of the jungle. Did any jungles from film or literature play a role?
EP: Not so much, I tend to talk mostly in terms of paintings, you know? There is no time for movies. They are like two and a half hours. I also like terrible movies, the worst ones. I like reality television.
HP: What's your favorite reality show?
EP: …Bad Girl's Club. I came to the realization I haven't missed an episode in almost ten years. Before you mentioned a return to nature, what did you mean by that?
HP: It seems like your work invites us to a sensual oasis that is removed from politics, pop culture and real life I guess. It seems like we are escaping, maybe even going back in time.
EP: Yeah, yeah. I think I do follow politics. It's a 24 hour news cycle, it is just endless. We've been listening to NPR all morning and it's like "who cares?"
HP: It's an interesting time to have the show with the election right around the corner.
EP: Yeah I think so too.
HP: Are you telling people to turn off the news and take a look outside?
EP: No, I'm saying they should revolt! Don't accept any of the bullshit. They are trying to sidetrack what is really going on. Corporations put as much money as they want into campaigns, and someone has to talk about that. That is the biggest issue across the board, corporations funding campaigns under the auspices of being human. I don't know, it's just politics.
HP: When you started out you were an art world underdog. Now that you've shown in mainstream museums and galleries… do you still feel like an outsider?
EP: I just keep moving forward really, no matter what happens I don't think any artist will ever feel 100% appreciated. I'm a complete closet narcissist. There is never enough attention.
HP: What is a compliment you've heard about your work that has really stuck with you?
EP: Most people know it is mine right away, whether it is bad or good. That is kind of what I'm aiming for. They always tell me they can recognize it right away. The thing is, how do you claim your space in art historical terms and make something that is instantly recognizable.
HP: How long would you suggest someone physically interact with your painting, like stand in front of it in a gallery?
EP: All you need is like five minutes. That's pretty good, right?
Erik Parker's 'Bye Bye Babylon' will show at Paul Kasmin Gallery in New York until October 13th.
Check out Parker's works below and let us know your thoughts.