Erik Parker's "Bye Bye Babylon" exhibition opens tomorrow at Paul Kasmin Gallery's 293 Tenth Avenue location. We spoke with the artist just before the opening of the show about his paintings, inspired by things like Henri Rousseau and the Google results from searches like "great beaches".
WHITEWALL: Where does the title “Bye Bye Babylon” come from?
ERIK PARKER: I was just kicking around different phrases and "Bye Bye Babylon" stuck. I wanted the title of this show to have a wanderlust vibe to it. There were a lot of Lee Scratch Perry tunes on while I was making this show and I think his music fed a lot of this tropical imagery. Plus, I like the alliteration. It sounds like it could be a title for an album too.
WW: Was there a work that was a starting point for this group of paintings?
EP: Paul Kasmin gave me the dates of the show and it was like boom! Ha! Really, this body of work is built up on variations of themes I have been working on since around 2010. The “tropical beach” painting pretty much evolved over the last three months. So, in 2010 I was tackling the still-life and that turned into this, just by pushing it.
WW: Henri Rousseau was an inspiration for this series. Why were you interested in painting the jungle?
EP: I learned by looking at Rousseau's jungle scapes that the jungle is the perfect starting point to create my own world; to sort of make something that has to be made. I also wanted to update it, to take it out of the analog world and bring it into the Google, 24-hour news cycle world; make them chatter with color and information overload.
WW: I read that you some of the images you worked off of were from googling "great beaches", like Maya Bay in Thailand. Does each piece draw from googling travel destinations?
EP: Right, for sure! Not each piece, but many of them. I used Google searches to find a departure point. Like buying an airline ticket online, then I invented the final destination.
WW: All of these paintings were done from your studio in Brooklyn, not from actually visiting these exotic locations. How do you think that affected what you created?
EP: I think it made it more alluring and foreign. It helped me make them stay strange.
W: Do you want to visit these places? Or is researching images and creating your images enough?
EP: I would love to but am too pumped on making things to get it together to go!
WW: In your recent interview with Modern Painters you talked about how little you travel, that you may go to Hong Kong but you're there for an art fair - sort of like it's the same thing different city, no matter how far flung?
EP: Ha! It's true in a way but looking back on a trip like Hong Kong I did get to meet some great people and see really amazing sites. The downside is, that with my schedule I can only stay about 72 hours, not including time on the plane. So the journey is really compressed. I am not complaining though. I am super fortunate to have had the opportunity to go.
WW: Is there a particular work in this exhibition that was especially personal or challenging for you?
EP: All of them challenged me in one way or another. There is an oddball one though that I really love called "Analog Babylon." It is the only painting with a figure in it. It's a nude, and every time I paint a nude chick it ends up looking like my wife. Ha, what does that mean?
WW: Now that you've painted the jungle is there another non-urban setting you're looking at?
EP: I like cactus so maybe I will consider the desert-like mix of Arizona with Africa and see what happens...
"Bye Bye Babylon" is on view through October 13, 2012. Parker will do a book signing at the Paul Kasmin SHOP on Sept 6, 2012 at 6pm for his new monograph Erik Parker: Colorful Resistance published by Rizzoli. His solo show remains on view at The Aldrich Contemporary Art Museum in Ridgefield, CT through February 24.
For a slideshow of Erik Parker's new paintings, visit whitewall.com