David Park (1911-1960)
Property from the Steinmetz Family Collection
David Park (1911-1960)

Red Bather

David Park (1911-1960)
Red Bather
signed and dated 'Park 58' (lower right)
oil on canvas
54 x 49½ in. (137.2 x 125.7 cm.)
Painted in 1958.
Pasadena Art Museum charity auction
Acquired at the above sale by the present owner, 1966
Newport Beach, Newport Harbor Art Museum and Oakland Museum of Art, Highlights of California Art Since 1945: A Collecting Partnership, September 1977-January 1978, n.p., no. 103.
New York, Whitney Museum of American Art and The Oakland Museum, David Park, November 1988-August 1989, pp. 92 and 150, no. 44 (illustrated in color).

Lot Essay

While the New York art community of the 1950s was dominated by the momentum of the Abstract Expressionists, a small group of California painters led by David Park radically departed from that mandate and returned to a figurative style. This was the birth of the Bay Area Figurative Movement.

Along with his students Richard Diebenkorn and Elmer Bischoff at the California School of Fine Arts in San Francisco, David Park applied the painterly techniques of Abstract Expressionism to figurative based imagery, looking to "life not art" for inspiration.

Painted in the seminal year of 1958, two years before the artist's early death at the age of 49, Red Bather is a superb example of Park's radical and visionary art. It powerfully and vibrantly fuses the vitality of the Ab Ex style with the psychological resonance of the human subject. Park often painted figures looking out to the viewer with haunting eyes; eyes that don't seem to look out as much as allow us to look in. Park's Red Bather has such a gaze, and the artist captures him gloriously in a snapshot of a painting. His face is rendered in just a few strokes, and has the power of an African mask. The boy's tremendous presence emanates from the red paint that describes his mood, and the light sparkling off the water behind him.

"Light is his catalyst; it dissolves and recreates. It cuts, shapes, and contours within his figures which are surprising, but plausible. This illumination gives them an uncanny electric charge" (P. Mills, David Park Memorial Exhibition: The University Years 1955-1960, exh. cat., University of California Art Gallery, Berkeley, 1964, n.p.).

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