Two Heads, painted in 1959, is a masterwork by David Park, a work that renders existential the basic facts and realities of life. Park's portrait is not a specific one; it is liberated from the typical demands of portraiture and has been given life as a universal portrait of man and woman. Painted from memory or his mind's eye, Two Heads is timeless and mythic with a heavy materiality that adds credence to his vision. Park's paintings created between 1958 and 1960 are widely considered his most accomplished, these works are rare and round out the career of a life cut tragically short by medical illness.
Park uses broad areas of color and heavily articulated form to effectively render his subjects. His brushstrokes are gestural, bold and confident, like that of his Abstract Expressionist peers. He creates a composition in which space dramatically collapses and becomes compressed within the picture plane; the figurative scene instead becomes reminiscent of an aerial perspective. Park completely integrates color and form recalling Henri Matisse as well as Frank Auerbach, stretching and expanding the limits of representation.
The Bay Area Figurative group, including Richard Diebenkorn, Elmer Bischoff and Paul Wonner, as well as David Park, boldly explored the possibilities of a gesturally charged form of representation during a period dominated by abstraction. Willem de Kooning who re-introduced the figure into abstraction and melded it with gestural spontaneity is an early influence however the group also exists as a unique product of the west coast and the visionary ideas of the artists involved are unique to that time and place. Park's Two Heads references the grand tradition of portraiture and narrative in painting while also infusing the spirit of the San Francisco bay atmosphere. A rare triumph of representation, Two Heads demonstrates the authority of Park's reductive and thoughtfully elemental approach to his subject matter.
Richard Diebenkorn,David Park, pencil on paper, 1955. (c) The Richard Diebenkorn Foundation.
Photograph of David Park by Imogen Cunningham. (c) The Imogen Cunningham Trust, 2012.