STEVEN PARRINO | Jerk Left, Jerk Right, 1989 | enamel on canvas
Sold for $722,500 at the Contemporary Art Evening Sale, 15 November 2012, New York.
"My paintings are not formalist, nor narrative. My paintings are realist and connected to real life, the social field, in brief: action… All my work deals with disrupting the status quo." - Steven Parrino (The No Texts (1979-2003), New York, 2003, p. 23).
Steven Parrino was a punk-rock avatar who, throughout his far too short life and career, re-imagined what the rules of painting could be. Emerging out of the downtown Manhattan scene of the nineteen eighties formed in rock clubs and East Village galleries, Parrino, like his contemporaries, fought viciously to overturn the conventions of music and life as well as traditional painting. His canvases, like his lifestyle, expressed a violently kinetic reaction to the status-quo, capturing the movement, excitement
and all too often loss of a generation that emerged in the shadow of both the gratuitously bawdy New York School and the cerebral minimalists that followed.
A contemporary of other visionary painters such as Christopher Wool and Peter Halley as well as so-called “pictures generation” artists like Richard Prince, Parrino sought to conquer painting on his own terms. An avid lover of machines, in Parrino’s paintings one can see the genuinely American dichotomy and tension between his dedication to finish and craft, and his appreciation of decay. Painting at the end of the “American Century,” one can see and feel the violence and hope in Parrino’s work, embodying the end of an epoch.
In his pulsating, violently violated canvases, Parrino declared his interest in painting as one he termed “necrophiliac” an interest in a timeless medium for which many had begun to write the obituary. Using bold blacks, silvers, pearlescent whites and colors, his iconic works seem battered and bashed though somehow always pristine. The canvas of these works is folded and undulating and the paintings seem to capture the momentum of a life lived on the edge and in the margins.
Jerk Left, Jerk Right, 1989, is comprised of enamel on manipulated canvas and is a singular example of all that Parrino lived and painted for. We see the arrested violence that so defines his best works; the canvas has literally been jerked from the stretcher, leaving a rippled and furrowed right half. A freeze frame from a snuff film about painting: as viewers we are unsure if the massive text reading “JERK” along the left side refers to us the voyeur, or the artist, the exhibitionist. Though the canvas utilized by Steven Parrino is thick and coarse through his treatment, it appears soft and malleable like a silken bed sheet roughly pulled from its corners by a sleeper in the midst of a night-sweat. The once pristine and painted canvas reveals its past as the raw canvas shows itself along the edge. Once he completes his process of pulling, yanking and gathering, Parrino has re-stapled the canvas to his liking, and it now appears as a frozen glacier and arrested moment in time. The silver enamel glows and radiates like the chrome on a well-loved motorbike, lending the work a sense of transient opulence as well as a greasy fury.
Through his active engagement with the canvas, Parrino re-imagines Jerk Left, Jerk Right, 1989, from its once two-dimensional state into a three-dimensional object. The canvas, classically rectangular, smooth, and contained, has been aggressively pulled and tugged from its once prostrate and monochromatic existence. The surface is now brutally present as it puckers towards the viewer with a hitherto nonexistent force from a two-dimensional object. It is this movement, this violation of the pictorial frame that sets Parrino apart and makes his body of work so important: he is literally pulling apart the painting in front of our eyes, yet, instead of this violence destroying the notion of painting as a practice, it manages to imbue it with new meaning and possibilities. While the accusation sits isolated in the upper left corner, the folds entice and inspire the viewer to approach, ignoring the affront etched in its surface.
Here, Parrino’s usual and casual play with the viewer is quintessentially captured in the tumultuous and soothing, rough and smooth, aggressive and enticing surface of Jerk Left, Jerk Right, 1989. In its nonchalant and effacing way it is a singular masterpiece for a time that was supposed to have destabilized the very possibility of those existing. In the years since his death in a motorcycle accident in the early hours of 2005, the legend, influence, and art historical importance of this visionary artist has begun to sink in. In addition to his masterful paintings, Parrino left behind both a swath of contemporaries and a younger generation who look to his legacy as one that allows for a reemergence of painting as the pivotal artistic medium in a post-digital era. In this single work, one can see all of these ceaseless possibilities strewing forth. For Parrino, the possibilities of painting were like a black lonely highway, ripe to rip down at high speed and with little regard.