In the late 1940s, David Park made a conscious break from the current Abstract Expressionist movement; with the decision to move from complete abstraction and fully commit to a return to figuration he laid the foundation for Bay Area Figurative Art. For Park, it was a logical shift: painting in a style that didn't come naturally to him felt contrived, and he turned to observe the moments and individuals he encountered in his everyday life, "I like to paint subjects that I know and care about" (N. Boas, David Park: A Painter's Life, Berkeley, 2012, p. 133).
Painted in 1954, The Concert, is immediately engaging. Executed in Park's iconic style, with larger-than-life figures in the foreground, the composition pushes the boundaries of the conventional picture plane. It is impossible not to be absorbed in the moment as there is no conventional compositional buffer between the viewer, the scene and the medium. We can practically feel our knees butting up against the theater seat before us as we peer over the shoulder of the person seated in front of us. We are enveloped in the soft glow of the stage lights and acutely aware of the hushed moment of a concert about to begin - or perhaps already in motion. Park often places the viewer as witness to such human moments, such as listening to music, reading a book, buying flowers, a practicing band, and people on the street. Although these subjects are anonymous, in The Concert only the backs of heads are portrayed, Park successfully evokes a sense of anticipation and presence.
There has been a long tradition of the concert as subject throughout art history, from early Greek frescoes, to masters such as Dutch Baroque Painter Johannes Vermeer and French artists Edgar Degas and Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec just to name a few. While Park may have had exposure to works by some of these artists, his depictions of performance were most likely informed by his own personal connection to music. In David Park, Painter, Nothing Held Back, Helen Park Bigelow, one of Park's daughters, recalls that her father played piano for as long as she could remember (Manchester, 2009, pp. 18-19). For Park, music was a release and a necessary compliment to the solitude of his artistic practice "I like to play Bach, Mozart and am quite willing to say that I render these superbly as long as no one is around to listen. And I play jazz with absolutely no competence and considerable energy with a group of amateurs who-fortunately for the "band"-play quite well. I've grown to prefer it to playing serious music-it's a better antidote to the solitary life of painting. It has helped me in painting to be extravagant with paint." (H. P. Bigelow, Manchester 2009, p. 68).
It is not only the choice of subject which conjures the feeling of immediacy in The Concert, but also the harmonious tensions between the objective and the abstract. The spatial composition is unconventional and the angle from which the viewer approaches the scene focuses on the figures, not what is at the focal point on stage out of view. The confident, thick brush strokes - reminiscent of what Parks' counterparts on the East Coast are doing at this time- form the figures, and a series of horizontal swaths of color, the backs of the theater seats; the figurative is based on these abstract components.
Initially, Park's peers were not receptive to his tendency towards the figurative. Early on, he found it hard to sell his work and he often found himself in conflict with fellow art school professors, most notably visiting professor Clifford Still. Regardless, David Park stayed true to his intentions: "attempting to get your ideas out may mean standing firmly on your own convictions regardless of how it offends the established tastes" (D. Park as quoted in C. A. Jones, Bay Area figurative Art: 1950-1965, Berkeley, 1989, p. 15). It was during this formative period as he explored the boundaries of his artistic practice, that Park visited a Henri Matisse exhibition at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art. The exhibition which had traveled from New York, to Chicago and Cleveland, eventually landing in San Francisco in 1952, was comprised of work he would have seen while growing up in Boston. In the artist's biography, Nancy Boas, writes "Matisse's influence had come at a crucial moment in Park's transition from his early to his later figurative workIn particular, Park must have been impressed by Matisse's paintings with a continuous plane of color in which forms, distant and near are embedded" (N. Boas, p. 163). The connections between The Concert, and L'Atelier Rouge, painted in 1911, are apparent between the ubiquitous red tones and the abstracted treatment of the objective on a flattened picture plane.
In his short, but prolific career, Park took American Post-War Art in a new direction. As is evident in The Concert, Park approached abstraction from his own perspective where the person was an essential part of the equation - Henry Geldzahler phrases it well: "[Park] remade the human presence for his generation" (exh. Cat., New York, 1987).