In the 1940s and 1950s the San Francisco bay area was developing its own unique relationship to the art world at large. The California School of Fine Arts began to attract leading figures like Clyfford Still to teaching roles, lending a major influence to a developing Post World War II art community ready to push beyond the lessons of Picasso and other European abstract artists. Additionally, the works of Rothko, Motherwell and Jackson Pollock were being shown in the San Francisco area around the time of 1946-1947. The confluence of these events helped to develop the scene in San Francisco and assisted in the formation of the Bay Area school whose active members would grow to include David Park as well as Richard Diebenkorn, Hassel Smith, Elmer Bischoff, Paul Wonner and James Weeks.
In the early 1950s David Park employed devices such-as telescoping perspective to create an intimate, compressed, and, more often than not, anecdotal interior space in which multiple figures would relate in social settings. In the later 1950s Park opened up this compressed space into powerfully evocative larger scale pictures that fuse a less modest and more overtly fluid paint handling throughout the entirety of the picture. It is at this point that Park's pictures become more formally and narratively significant. Woman Reading was painted at the beginning of this later period, one of his final genre paintings on par with the often illustrated and exhibited Interior also painted in 1957. The brushwork in Woman Reading is unencumbered and confident-it is around this time that Richard Diebenkorn and David Park simultaneously begin to shape the look and feel of what would become widely known and recognized as classic Bay Area Figuration.
The roots of Park's mature works from the late 1950s stem from the lessons he absorbed during his nearly twenty year period as a working abstract artist. It is by way of this long involvement with the ideals of abstraction that Park became a powerful figural painter with a hard-won ability to invoke the existential power of Rothko, the isolated calm of Edward Hopper and the psychological isolation of Emile Nolde. It is around 1956 that Park "completed his move from ordinary and locatable subjects to figurative symbols that can allude to universal conditions...Park had finally gained sufficient faith in the representational powers of his imagery to begin incorporating gestural abstraction as an almost equal force in his work" (R. Armstrong, David Park, exh. cat., New York, 1988, p.39).
Woman Reading is a full and luscious picture composed with urgent paraphrased brushstrokes seeking not to render the subjects specific features or characteristics but alternatively providing the viewer with a familiar scene to contemplate; summoning what appears to be the vision of a collective memory. In Woman Reading the artist has transcended mere fiction and has produced a supreme work that in its excellence connects directly to the viewer on a profoundly human level.