Steven Parrino (1958-2005)
STEVEN PARRINO (1958-2005)

Sinsational Sinthia

STEVEN PARRINO (1958-2005)
Sinsational Sinthia
signed, titled and dated 'ST. Parrino 1991 "SINSATIONAL SINTHIA"' (on the stretcher)
enamel on canvas
84 x 60 in. (213.3 x 152.4 cm.)
Executed in 1991.
Private collection, acquired directly from the artist
Anon. sale; Sotheby's, New York, 15 November 2007, lot 401
Private collection, Belgium
Acquired from the above by the present owner
New York, Daniel Newburg Gallery, Steven Parrino, October-December 1991.
Sale room notice
Lot 474A is not illustrated in the printed catalogue.

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Lot Essay

Running headlong into the divide between Minimalism and Abstract Expressionism, Steven Parrino’s practice sought to reinvigorate painting in an era when many were lamenting its demise. Sinsational Sinthia belongs to his most recognizable formats, and was completed at the zenith of his short, yet influential, career. Pairing cool monochromatic canvases with physical destruction and tactility, the work seethes with an abiding energy. “When I started making paintings,” Parrino bellowed, “the word on painting was PAINTING IS DEAD. I saw this as an interesting place for painting … death can be refreshing, so I started engaging in necrophilia … approaching history in the same way that Dr. Frankenstein approaches body parts” (S. Parrino, The No Texts, New Jersey, 2003, p. 43). This rather curse proclamation is a perfect illustration of the artist behind these disrupted canvases. Existing in a limbo between the art world of Pop sensibilities and the hard knock realm of the Hells Angels, Parrino brought a pulsing energy to his practice that remained vital long after the pieces left the studio.

Monumental in scale, Sinsational Sinthia was completed at the peak of Parrino’s examination of the picture field and the two-dimensionality of painting. What at one time was a large black canvas is transformed through artist intervention into a writhing, voluptuous mass of surface and form. Separated visually into two discrete sections, the work exhibits a tangible divide between its upper and lower strata. The bottom is a rich, black expanse of taut canvas pulled over the stretcher. Light glints off the enamel at points, giving it a sultry sheen. The top portion retains some of this luster, but has been completely manhandled by the artist. Vigorously tugging at the surface itself, Parrino has pulled the back and edges into view where the unprimed canvas is at striking odds with the black paint of the front. Around the edge of the formerly flat plane is a stripe of white primer. A few drips of black fall down into this neutral expanse, revealing the process. The entire section has been effectively wrenched into three-dimensional space as the wrinkled canvas creates folds and valleys that ripple with light and shadow to varying degrees. Parrino wanted to make work that existed in a very human space. This bodily presence makes itself known in the visceral deconstruction present in works like Sinsational Sinthia. “By thus violating his painting surfaces, Parrino adds a conceptual twist to the purity of the monochrome, infusing the work with a sensual suggestiveness” (S. Harris, “Steven Parrino at John Gibson,” Art in America, April 1995). Never one to merely rely on formalist concerns alone, this intellectual physicality became a key component of the artist’s practice.

Born in New York, Parrino received a BFA from the New School in 1982. During his time in school, the artist began to stage performances that were known for their impromptu qualities and high energy (including Disruption from 1981 in which he smashed a television with a sledgehammer). This early anarchic streak can be seen in his later paintings as he struggled with his work being categorized under the Neo-Geo label alongside artists like Peter Halley. Trying to balance his engagement with the history of art alongside an abiding love for the No Wave and punk rock scene in Manhattan, Parrino was constantly pushing his own practice in various directions. This confluence is readily seen in works like 13 Shattered Panels for Joey Ramone, 2001, which Parrino made in memorial for the musician and consisted of black monochrome walls that he systematically destroyed with a sledgehammer. Art critic Jerry Saltz argued that Parrino’s crushed canvases were less about sculptural qualities or any hybrid state, and were in fact an evolution of questioning the nature of modernist two-dimensionality. Quoting the artist, Saltz posits, “[Parrino] was radically dedicated to his narrow idea of what painting could be… Parrino didn’t want to annihilate painting. He came of age, he said, when ‘the word on painting was ‘Painting is Dead.’ I saw this as an interesting place for painting… and this death painting thing led to a sex and death painting thing… that became an existence thing…’ [Parrino] vividly demonstrates that no matter what you do to a canvas – slash, gouge, twist or mutilate it – you can’t actually kill it” (J. Saltz, ‘The Wild One’, New York Magazine, 28 October 2007). Furthermore, this note connects to the idea that Parrino was not trying to destroy the canvases, per se, but rather deform and reform them until they went beyond their initial spatial configuration. By doing so, he was able to maintain a visual connection to the history of abstraction in painting while also pushing into new territory.

Parrino’s literal hands-on approach has analogs elsewhere in the annals of art, something which the artist readily noted. Manipulating, mauling, and otherwise defacing the clean canvas has obvious links to the Abstract Expressionists and their energetic application of paint, but one can also regard Parrino’s practice in tandem with Lucio Fontana’s slashed canvases or even the sculptural compositions of John Chamberlain. Sometimes working with paintings he had deemed as failed attempts, Parrino revived his past work by twisting and pulling the very structure we so often read as two-dimensional into the space of the viewer. “My paintings are not formalist, nor narrative. My paintings are realist and connected to real life, the social field, in brief: action. All my works deal with disturbing the status quo” (S. Parrino, op. cit., p. 23). The artist was quick to establish the fact that his work did not exist in some sort of art bubble, but was instead connected directly to his daily life. Intimately insinuated into the various and diverse cultures that thrived in New York’s Lower East Side in the 1980s, Parrino was part of several electronic noise music groups and had an abiding love of motorcycle culture. Sadly, the artist’s career was cut short in 2005 by the latter when he was involved in a fatal accident. When works like Sinsational Sinthia are viewed in conjunction with knowledge of the artist’s day-to-day, a poignant illustration of a primal artistic energy comes into view.

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