“The woman asleep on the couch is dreaming she has been transported to the forest, listening to the sounds from the instrument of the enchanter,” Henri Rousseau wrote of his enigmatic painting, The Dream (1910) . The setting for the musician and the reclining female nude – a moonlit jungle full of exotic foliage and wildlife – was inspired by his visits to Paris’s Jardin des Plantes, a combined botanical garden and zoo. “When I am in these hothouses and see the strange plants from exotic lands, it seems to me that I am entering a dream,“ he once said. Entirely self-taught, Rousseau worked a day job as a customs inspector until around 1885, when he retired on a tiny pension to pursue a full-time career as an artist.
Photographed in the Museum of Modern Art in New York City.
A toll clerk by profession, Henri Rousseau only began to paint seriously in his forties. Critics lambasted the untrained artist’s unsentimental images of faraway places (he never traveled outside of France), yet the Parisian avant-garde celebrated his unique style. Executed only two years before he died a pauper, The Football Players (1908) illustrates Rousseau’s quirky attempts to depict modern times with a new sport, rugby. The active, albeit stylized athletes present a rare exception from Rousseau’s largely static compositions.
A self-taught artist, Henri Rousseau (1844 – 1910) was a sensation in the early 20th century among progressive artists and critics, who appreciated the directness and originality of his imaginative, naive, but deceptively sophisticated paintings. Here, the roads passing through space appear to swoop playfully upward as much as they recede into the distance. For The Banks of the Beivre Near Bicetra (1909), the artist identified the subject of his painting, a working class communist on the southern edge of Paris, in a handwritten note affixed to the reverse side of the work. The Arcades de Buc, an aqueduct built under Louis XIV to supply fountains at Versailles is recognizable at the right, and confirms the subject of the painting.
Photographed at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in NYC.
Summer may be quickly fading away, but German-born artist Erik Parker has brilliantly immortalized the feeling of the endless summer in his new series of paintings, Bye Bye Babylon, up now at Paul Kasmin Gallery on 10th Avenue. On view in the gallery are eleven of Parker’s 2012 still-life and jungle-landscape paintings, which all incorporate vibrant, fluorescent colors and fun, almost cartoonist shapes. Some of Parker’s images reminded me of the wildly hallucinatory animation on Adult Swim’s subversive series, SuperJail. If you’ve seen that show, and see Parker’s work in this exhibit, you will know what I mean by that comparison
Updating these traditional art-historical genres through the pictorial idioms and sly humor of satirical cartoons, psychedelia and underground comic books, Parker’s paintings provide vistas into brilliantly colored worlds of semi-sentient flora and idiosyncratic geometries.
For Parker, creating the jungle paintings provides him with a way to escape into custom-made exotic locales without having to leave his Brooklyn studio.
New Bimini Trail
He draws inspiration from the imaginary landscapes of Henri Rousseau — who never left his native France, and Joseph Yoakum — who mixed his memories of his own travels into his visualizations of unknown cities and countries. In Parker’s fantastical scenes, fleshy, claw-like leaves and snaking vines part to reveal panoramas of placid rivers and distant mountains.
Detail from New Bimini Trail
Lending a sense of tongue-in-cheek surrealism to Parker’s compositions, the leaves and vines cast unrealistic shadows onto the sea and sky behind them. Following the logic of cartoons and dreams, these jungle scenes and still-life paintings feel seductive and eerie; visually sensible but also askew.
Trust me that photos cannot fully capture the intensely bright colors of these canvases. If you’re intrigued at all, do make it over to Paul Kasmin while the show is up.
Erik Parker’s Bye Bye Babylon will be on exhibit through October 13, 2012 at Paul Kasmin Gallery, Located at 293 Tenth Ave, Street Level, New York City. Gallery Hours are Tuesday – Saturday, 10:00 AM – 6:00 PM.