Ray Parker



Not on display

Ray Parker 1922–1990
Oil paint on canvas
Support: 1778 × 1800 mm
frame: 1816 × 1837 × 45 mm
Purchased 1961

Technique and condition

The painting is in oil and oil-modified alkyd paints on commercially primed canvas with a white priming. The artist may have been using oil and oil-modified alkyd tube paints, or may have modified his oil tube paints by adding a non-pigmented alkyd medium. Oil-modified alkyd paints might have been selected since they dry faster than oils.

The painted image comprises of three bold rounded forms in red and pink that have been painted using a large brush. A bright red slightly matte paint was initially used for the uppermost shape, and then a darker red was worked over the bright red to darken the colour. Confident zig-zag shaped brush strokes are visible in the upper shape, which suggests the painting was executed with some rapidity. The middle red shape appears well bound, medium rich but matte, with a slight tinge of white – traces of titanium white were detected in the red paint of the middle shape. The lower pink shape appears very bright, but it has a chalky matte appearance in places. Chalking of the impasto in small localised regions of the pink paint may relate to the use of titanium white which was mixed in with an organic colourant. Having completed the three shapes, the artist used white paint to paint around the two lower shapes, and generally the lower half of the canvas. This has the effect of making the lower half of the painting look brighter, and emphasises the transition in tonality from the dark red upper shape to the bright pink lower shape. There is some wet-in-wet blending of the white paint with the edges of the red and pink shapes. The primed canvas is left unpainted around the uppermost red shape.

The painting is in excellent condition, however the red passages that comprises the two large red forms are water sensitive. Water sensitivity is frequently observed in unvarnished twentieth century oil paintings, and is an area of ongoing research (see the Cleaning Modern Oil Paints project). The red paints are a combination of cadmium sulphide and an organic azo red colourant, while the pigment used in the pink passage is a mixture of titanium white (that also contains zinc oxide) and an as yet unidentified organic pigment. Calcium carbonate and barium sulphate extenders were identified in the paints, which is consistent with the use of commercially manufactured tube paints. Zinc soaps were also identified in the red paint, which may be present as an oil paint additive, used by paint manufacturers to modify the paint rheology (the flow behaviour of paint, e.g. its viscosity), or may have formed in situ as a result of reactions between zinc oxide pigment and the binding medium. Whilst the formation of zinc soaps has been implicated in the development of flaking paint, this painting does not show any signs of this type of deterioration. The painting is currently unframed and unglazed.

Further reading
‘Ray Parker (1922-1990)’, Artnet, http://www.artnet.com/artists/ray-parker/, accessed 13 February 2017.
Karen Wilkin, Color as field: American Painting, 1950-1975, New Haven, Conn. and London, 2007.

Judith Lee
February 2017

Research on this work was carried out as part of an AHRC funded Collaborative Doctoral Award at Tate, 2013–2016.

Catalogue entry

Ray Parker born 1922 [- 1990]

T00441 Untitled 1959

Inscribed 'Parker 7/59' b. centre (the diagonal stroke is part of the inscription)
Oil on canvas, 70 x 70 7/8 (178 x 180)
Purchased from David Gibbs & Co. Ltd. (Grant-in-Aid) 1961
Prov: With David Gibbs & Co. Ltd., London (purchased from the artist through the Kootz Gallery, New York)
Exh: Contemporary Paintings, Bristol City Art Gallery, June-July 1960 (no catalogue); Modern American Painting, Laing Art Gallery, Newcastle upon Tyne, April-May 1961 (34); USIS Gallery, American Embassy, London, May-June 1961 (35)
Repr: It is, No.4, Autumn 1959, p.21, pl.7; Ronald Alley, Recent American Art (London 1969), pl.19

This picture has sometimes been incorrectly known as 'Orange and Orange and Magenta', but the artist prefers to leave his works untitled.

He has written of this picture and of this period of his work in general (letter of to June 1975):

'The Tate Gallery painting of 1959 is an early example of the kind of work I referred to at the time as "simple painting"; it was an important turning point. I had always painted improvisationally in abstract forms - from the imagined unidentifiable subjects of the late forties, through the calligraphic paintings, to paintings like the one the Whitney Museum invited to their 1951 Annual, a fully developed "stroke painting".

'Bradley Tomlin and Ad Reinhardt, both admired friends, had been using brushes moving from the calligraphic to strokes and just spots into what we used to call "all-over" painting. The idea that the painting tool (or other ways of using paint such as pouring) made the forms and their shapes, characterized then the expressionist abstract wing of New York painting: de Kooning, Brooks, Pollock, Kline. For the other wing, form was known beforehand, arranged as a relatively unimportant container for important color: Albers, Rothko, Newman. This way, form was so simplified and cleared of other gestures of painting that it seemed to free color to be on its own, its content undisturbed by the action of painting. As the idea developed into the 1960's it came to be called variously. "minimal" or "color-field" painting, in some of its manifestations.

'Anyway, I had been holding a left hand full of a dozen or more color-loaded brushes from which my right hand made selections for color strokes in multiple shifting all-over rhythms. But this many-color obsession got stopped suddenly between 1957-8 by the thought: If you want color to have meaning, why not color all by itself? (Is it possible? There cannot be color without shape). Paintings like those of Matisse or Bonnard have their subject to hold together numberless areas, touches and nuances. When Rollin Crampton came by my loft and saw the above mentioned Whitney painting, he went to it holding up fingers and thumbs to frame just two strokes out of my ambitious hundreds, and said: "Wouldn't this be a beautiful painting?". Though he was a stroke painter himself then, he predicted at that moment much of the future for painting, including some that we are seeing twenty-five years later.

'To begin my simple paintings (color alone) I unrolled blank canvas, tacking it on the wall bigger than needed. No format: stretchers, size, and shape were made later only if the painting looked good enough to present. From staring at that blank canvas a color would come. I spread the pigment slowly to fullness. If it got too big the canvas usually had to be discarded because the evidence of second thoughts and corrections would be visible on the ground.

'The ground had to be neutral - a priming coat, not white or any color causing "color-relations", and not naked cloth: the least possible associations from ground to color except that of a palpable surface painted as is a wall, not woven. The idea of neutrality was inherent in those days in other aspects of painting, too. As regards format, many painters began to arrange their color forms in symmetrical, totemic or centrifugal bands, and there was an increasingly severe use of geometry. They avoided any arrangements suggesting obvious tasteful judgements of amounts, placements or balances of color. Geometry also cleansed any evidence of touch of the hand. This followed out either a kind of Mondrian Platonic ideal of an esthetically perfectible world, or a European Constructivism avoiding anything painterly (therefore personal and Romantic) in favor of a look admired as plastic industrial modern. I first heard of D. Judd when he was a reviewer who complained that the forms in my work bulged, so I understood him when I saw his modular factory-made sculpture. He could also have objected as did other artists (minimalists who thought that they were revolting against Abstract Expressionism) to the fact that my forms were not "faired and trued". But I knew that to get the right amount of color you sometimes came to the end of its area with a clear or else a fuzzy edge. I could not settle for a Bauhaus kind of resolution about how much was correct, and then nail it down.

'Nor could I bring myself to order a painting by rules external to my direct empathic response. I wanted an area of color to become real, but not because it was noticeably round or square or in any way a non-neutral identifiable shape. Critics of the time came up with funny words in trying to describe my forms for their readers: loaves, lozenges, clouds, boulders, blobs, shmoos, among others; and Stonehenge, which last brought up the whole matter of arrangement and numbers. When there are three areas of color, one over two, there is the post-and-lintel association. Other threes are various triangles, or else vertical in a stack, or else in a row side by side. Two forms can be diagonal, stacked, or side by side. Possibilities of arrangements get more complicated with more than three areas. This topic also came under close scrutiny because of the prevalent wish for neutrality, for innocence from design.

'There were few "color field" painters who discovered how to use more than three colors unless side by side, such as stripes straight or concentric. The size of areas, choice of colors, contrasts and strengths, all bring up questions of relationships of parts of the painting which, in their being designed archly, or hierarchically arranged would not only remind one of earlier modes of painting, but would distract from the primariness of color by itself.

'Then I realized that for a color to have presence, to be convincing and real, didn't result only from its specific hue, or from the effect of adjacent colors, but instead it came from some combination of all the aspects of pigment on ground. Beyond the different inherent qualities of pigment such as hue, value, texture, etc., there are the questions of weight, light, density, glow, radiation, transparency, illumination. These color characteristics are as much a matter of fact as are the studied and hopefully empirical works of the Constructivist school who reduce color to flat impersonal technology, or the Bauhaus uninflected design of an ideal perfection. My own fact is that art is human and, inescapably, it is behavior - whether or not it will eventually prove to be in the mainstream of history, or be "correct".

'It has become clear that the question of quality in art as related to the study or the meaning of color is academic - no colors are good or bad or even articulate by reasons that are known or can be assigned. If the color in a Picasso is striking because it is impulsive, or beautiful in a Monet because it catches our nature memory, or haunting in a Rembrandt for its illuminated light within dark, the equivalent is true in abstract painting. Only the "subject" cannot be identified. In abstract painting the impact and powerful sense and presence are as great, and the painter can make any kind of image given by his wishes, whether or not it could have been seen, even in a dream.

'The simple paintings of 1958-9 were made then with the thought that cutting out everything else but pigment on ground would let color tell the whole story. I found images that floated, rested heavily, hung, nudged, bumped, touched, hovered in vast voids of separation, were many, were few, isolated, single, alone. Today these paintings are still quiescent, bound by the gravity that makes bodies in orbit hang in a stillness where the slowest movement marks the space from one to another. The fiction of writing about my own work is possible perhaps because it is at a distance of seventeen years and this is the first time I have tried giving any explanation.

'I do want to give a hint of what followed. From 1962, occasionally, and for good in 1965, I got over the inborn American distaste for shape consciousness and the fear that drawing could be corny, which caused us to use anything but the traditional means to put paint on the canvas. I had made the simple paintings by applying the paint with rags. Quitting the myth that a painter must be innocent of the artifice of art freed me of the limits and rules I had made for myself for color and field. Now I could make a screwy shape, even a line! Color, yes! Field, yes! Elaborate shapes, lateral movements, changing speeds, multiple rhythms (once more) Yes! Anything, yes! And withal, these new paintings are still simple and direct.'

Published in:
Ronald Alley, Catalogue of the Tate Gallery's Collection of Modern Art other than Works by British Artists, Tate Gallery and Sotheby Parke-Bernet, London 1981, pp.580-2, reproduced p.580


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