Untitled 2012 is an oil painting by the artist Vicken Parsons. It comprises two rectangular shapes on a pale blue background, the shapes appear to be angled as if their right edges recede into space. The second rectangle, which stands behind the first, has a bright orange edge. This composition seems to depict two screens akin to those used to segment a room in an art gallery or studio setting. The muteness of the pale space is contrasted by a flash of bright orange running down the right edge of the painting, a glimpse of a further space out of reach. This is one of a group of small oil paintings by Parsons in Tate’s collection, dating from between 2005 and 2012, which suggest pared down architectural interiors (see Tate T13940–T13942, T14110–T14112).
Parsons’s interior paintings of borders and edges tread a fine line between representing a place and painterly abstraction. Her compositions are articulated by spare charcoal line drawings overlaid with washes of thinned oil paint, often in a muted palette. They usually have little extraneous details and use a vocabulary of ambiguous corners, passageways, doorways, tilted floors, tipped planes, apertures, screens, tunnels and low ceilings. Shifting perspectives challenge the stability of perception and simultaneously invite and occasionally prevent the viewer from imaginatively exploring the rooms depicted. The rooms are a combination of fictional and partially recalled places, including the artist’s studio but Parson’s omits any objects, inhabitants or recognisable features concentrating instead on the essential architectural skeleton of an interior. However, a sense of presence is conveyed through the use of light and shadow, although they are emitted or cast from unseen sources. These elements lend the paintings an atmosphere of intimacy and mystery as well as pictorial depth. The luminosity and translucency of the muted tonal range of the thinned oils which Parsons uses, accentuated by rare bursts of intense colour, and the thick plywood supports give the works a sculptural quality.
Until the late 1990s Parsons primarily made figurative paintings, yet despite the absence of objects or people in this series they still reference the body. The spaces depicted are those that might be inhabited. Parsons is interested in the idea of a room as an extension of the self, as a chamber for feelings and sensations and she often draws comparisons between physical and mental spaces. The art historian Anna Moszynska has gone as far to compare Parsons’s rooms to bodies, writing that:
The walls are comparable to skin; they breathe, resonate and contain the feeling of being inside them. While the body is always in a fixed place, the mind roams free and cannot be contained. Thus, the space which appears in the paintings is not a representation of a real room but an abstraction which pays tribute to the imagination and the power of memory to absorb and filter experience. What we find in the work is always a sensation of the room, felt through the body and altered beyond recognition in the act of its [re]creation as painting.
(Moszynska 1999, unpaginated.)
Concurrent with this group of work Parsons has also painted sparse land and seascapes, often dominated by high or low horizon lines (for example, Untitled 2010, reproduced in Alan Cristea Gallery 2012, pl.14). Inspired by barren Icelandic environments and the ambiguous qualities of northern light, these works are expansive and without borders. They share with the interiors the sense of an ambivalent place for the projection of personal feelings and thoughts.
Anna Moszynska, Vicken Parsons, exhibition catalogue, A22 Gallery, London 1999.
Michael Archer, Other Places: Vicken Parsons, exhibition catalogue, Tate St Ives 2001.
Darian Leader, Vicken Parsons: Here, exhibition catalogue, Alan Cristea Gallery, London 2012.
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