December 16, 2012


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Lot 21: David Park

Lot 21: David Park

Figure Playing Violin

Gouache on paper
Signed "Park 60" lower right; retains partial Staempfli Gallery label verso; retains Maxwell Galleries label verso; label "16. Figure Playing Violin" verso
Sheet: 14" x 11"; Frame: 20.75" x 17.75"
Provenance: Maxwell Galleries, San Francisco; Private Collection, Los Angeles (acquired from the above circa 1965)
Estimate: $18,000 - $25,000
Price Realized: $62,500
Inventory Id: 3928

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In September 1960, after a painful bout with cancer, Bay Area Figurative painter David Park (1911-1960) died in his Berkeley, California home. This final summer, however, was marked by an output of remarkable paintings that explored the themes of his career’s work: groups of people, rowboats, musicians, heads, and figures in landscapes. Park’s daughter, Helen Park Bigelow, spent each day with David during these final prolific months, and in 2009 wrote a biography of her father. Park experienced such extreme pain that he was unable to climb the steps to his studio, paint while sitting up, or stand back to gain better angles of his expansive oil paintings. Determined to paint, Park decided to use gouache on paper, a considerably lower impact process that would allow him to produce at least one painting a day while laying down on a chaise lounge recommended by his doctor. Though when Park first tried the chaise, it was too low and flimsy for his fragile body, so Richard Diebenkorn and Elmer Bischoff, close friends of Park, secured it to a homemade platform, complete with an improvised easel.

Totaling over one hundred paintings, the group of works from 1960 is markedly vibrant and uplifting, filled with an array of delicate colors and smiling faces. One of these paintings, Figure Playing Violin (1960), depicts a woman in a blue dress with thick lines of purple outlining her fingers, arms, and face, suggesting intense concentration. The woman seems to be plucked right out of the crowd in one of Park’s last masterpieces from his final summer, a massive work of felt tip markers on a roll of paper. Filled with images of his childhood in Boston, the scroll, now owned by the University of California, Berkeley, stands as a final scrapbook of memories. Previous works by Park lack such direct emotional depth, and according to art historian Paul Mills, “In the presence of the reality of disease, suffering and death, Park’s figures stir into wakefulness and consciousness; they descend into the arena of human feeling and become an expression of Park’s own struggle with mortality.”

Bigelow, Helen Park. David Park: Nothing Held Back. New York: Hudson Hills Press, 2009. Print.
Mills, Paul. The New Figurative Art of David Park. Santa Barbara: Capra Press, 1988. Print.