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 David Park  (1911 - 1960)

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Lived/Active: California      Known for: Bay Area figurative painting, murals

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David Park
from Auction House Records.
Artwork images are copyright of the artist or assignee
This biography from the Archives of AskART:
The following biography is from Natalie Park Schutz, a daughter of David Park, who also credits her sister Helen Park Bigelow.

David Park's father was Charles Edwards Park, an esteemed Unitarian minister at the First Church in Boston (now called First and Second Church in Boston, and now Unitarian-Universalist) for all David's life.  It is in the Back Bay, where the family lived in a brick row house on Marlborough Street.  David had one older sister and two brothers, one older, and one 6 years younger, writer Edwards Park.  The family was close knit, with cousins on all sides.  Summers were spent at a house in the woods outside of Peterborough, New Hampshire.

David was determined from early childhood to become an artist.  Though his parents expected him to follow the family's New England tradition and achieve a proper education, he was an unhappy and reluctant student while at Loomis prep school, and didn't attend Yale as did his father and brothers.  At the urging of Edith Park Truesdell, the youngest of his father's five sisters and the only other artist among the Parks, Rev. and Mrs. Park decided to accept her offer of a place to live in California.

So at age 17, without having completed secondary school, David came West.  After his one semester at Otis Art Institute in Los Angeles, he came to Berkeley. While auditing summer session classes at UC he met Gordon Newell, who wanted to become a sculptor.  They rented an apartment on Telegraph Hill in San Francisco, where both worked in the Ralph Stackpole sculpture yard.

Gordon's sister Lydia came to visit her brother, and that is how my parents met.  They were married when he was only 19, and I was born a year and a half later, when he was 20. My sister Helen followed in 17 months.  We are his only children.

David and Lydia settled in Berkeley before my birth, and it was always their home of choice.  The five Massachusetts years when he taught at Winsor School in Brookline were an attempt to do the expected and take a proper job as a young husband and father.   I am certain that the job offer was arranged by Edith Truesdell.  But they had enough, packed us up, and returned to California.  As chance would have it, Pearl Harbor happened that year, and therefore David went to work for General Cable Company during the war.

Upon our return, he had no job, and no home.  We moved in with Lydia's parents, who had come to northern California when both their children settled there. (Gordon lived then in Big Sur.)  With no money, by lucky chance my parents found a wonderful spacious beautiful house in the Berkeley hills and rented it for a pittance as the house was in a slippage area and had cracks everywhere.  We had about 11 wonderful years there, until it became too unsafe.  By then my sister had married and I followed suit soon afterwards.  Thus David and Lydia, who had moved into an apartment, began their lives as parents of grown children before they were 45 years old.

David was employed by the Art Department at the University of California, although he had no secondary diploma and no college degree.  They found a small but lovely home and there they lived until his early death less than a year after his first one-man show opened the Staempfli Gallery in Manhattan.

Thus we will never know what might have become of his place in the art world.

1. Art in America, October 1987, by Bill Berkson, a big article entitled "David Park: Facing Eden" with color photos.
2. American Art Review April-May 1994, article entitled "David Park, Allegory of Music." No author listed. Article treats acquisition and restoration of panels in tempera, now owned by the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco. Color reproduction.
3. Arts Magazine, March 1962, column by Sidney Tillim, "Month in Review," about a David Park retrospective at the Staempfli Gallery.
4. ArtWeek, October 1997, section called "Making Art History" includes "A conversation with Janet Bishop and John Weber, curators" by Meredith Tromble, pertaining to a show at the SF Museum of Modern Art named "On the Trail of David Park." One reproduction, black and white.

This biography from the Archives of AskART:
A founder of the Bay Area Figurative School of painting, David Park was leader and teacher in the circle of artists, including Richard Diebenkorn and Elmer Bischoff, who both incorporated and rebelled against Abstract Expressionism as taught by Willem DeKooning and Mark Rothko.

Of Park, author Thomas Albright wrote: "His attempt to forge a new figurative art from the slags of Abstract Expressionism opened up challenges enough to occupy artists in the Bay Area and elsewhere for years to come" ("Art in San Francisco Bay Area" 62).

Some of his colleagues were shocked by Park's methods of excessive use of house paint with the theory that his forms would grow out of the medium.  He also violated prevailing attitudes about the picture plane by putting his figures radically forward along the edge of the canvas and running a diagonal line such as a fence in opposition.

He was born in Boston and came West to live with an artist aunt, Edith Truesdell, because his failure to graduate from high school was embarrassing to his Unitarian minister father in his circle of well-bred friends.  With his aunt's encouragement, Park attended the Otis Art Institute in Los Angeles from 1928 to 1929, but dropped out of school, and in the 1930s worked as a stonecutter for Robert Stackpool and for the Federal Arts Project.

By 1935, he was achieving recognition as an artist and had his first one-man show at the San Francisco Museum of Art.  His painting at this time featured musicians and dancers in a hard, dry, distorted scale, and toward the end of the decade, became increasingly cubist in style.

He returned to Boston where he taught at a girls' school but moved back to California in 1941. He spent the war years working nights in a cable factory in Emoryville, and in 1944 began part-time teaching at the California School of Fine Arts, a job he subsequently resigned out of protest when his friend Hassel Smith was dropped from the faculty.  By this time Park's work was smaller and more subdued with figures presented like pieces of jig-saw puzzles.

In 1955, he joined the art department at the University of California, and he and his wife Lydia bought a house in the Berkeley hills.  During this time his painting was freed from the constrictions of his mosaic-like compositions, and gave the appearance of his figures being able to move and breathe.  With restlessness and seeming lack of resolve, these figures expressed his horror at being constrained or fenced in.

He died in 1960 from cancer at the age of forty nine. The last year of his life, his frail health had kept him from doing the large-scale painting that he liked, and he changed to smaller works on paper with gouache, often focusing on the studio nude.

Thomas Albright, Art in the San Francisco Bay Area, 1945-1980

This biography from the Archives of AskART:
David Park was born in 1911 in Boston, Massachusetts, one of four children of Charles Edwards Park, a Unitarian minister.  David was determined from early childhood to be an artist.  At the age of seventeen, without having completed secondary school, he went to California and enrolled at the Otis Art Institute in Los Angeles.  After one semester, he went to Berkeley where he audited some classes.  There he met Gordon Newell, a budding sculptor, and the two worked together in the Ralph Stackpole sculpture yard.

Park met Newell's sister, Lydia, and when he was only nineteen they were married.  They had two daughters and lived most of their family life in the Berkeley area except for the five years he taught at the Winsor School in Brookline, Massachusetts.  He returned to California the year Pearl Harbor happened and spent the war years working for a cable company.

Park was associated with a group of painters that included Richard Diebenkorn, Elmer Bischoff and Hassel Smith.  Eventually he landed a position with the Art Department at the University of California, although he had no secondary diploma and no college degree.  It was there that he experimented with Abstract Expressionism.  Later his work revolved into a figurative period and during the last year of his life, he changed to smaller works on paper with gouache, often focusing on the studio nude.

Far removed from the New York avant-garde and its politics, Park could never claim a place on the cutting edge of art history.  The taste of fame and the energizing sense of being the cause of controversy came to him only in the five years before his death at the age of forty-nine in 1960.

Sources include:
Nancy Grimes in ARTnews, March 1989
Time Magazine, April 27, 1962
From the Internet,

Written and submitted by Jean Ershler Schatz, artist and researcher from Laguna Woods, California.

This biography from the Archives of AskART:
Born in Boston, MA on March 17, 1911. Park dropped out of high school at age 17 and enrolled at the Otis Art Institute in Los Angeles. One year later he settled in San Francisco. In 1930 he became an assistant to Ralph Stackpole and worked with him on the monumental stone figures in front of the San Francisco Stock Exchange. During the Depression he painted murals for the Federal Art Project. With a family to support, in 1935 he took a teaching job at the Winsor Girls School in Boston where he remained until 1941 and then returned to San Francisco. In 1944 he began teaching at the CSFA and in 1955 joined the faculty at UC Berkeley. Park maintained a rustic home in the Berkeley hills until his death of cancer on Sept. 20, 1960. His work progressed through Realism (1920s), Cubism (1930s), Abstract Expressionism (1940s), and the richly painted figurative works (1950s) for which he is best known. Most of his paintings are unsigned. Exh: SFAA, 1931-55; Oakland Art Gallery, 1932-57; Berkeley All Arts Club, 1934, 1935; SFMA 1936, 1939, 1940 (solos); CPLH, 1946; Mass. Inst. of Technology, 1953; Museu de Arte Moderna, Sao Paulo, Brazil, 1955; Staempfi Gallery (NYC), 1959-66; UC Art Gallery (Berkeley), 1964 (solo); Crocker Museum, 1966; Maxwell Gallery (SF), 1970s; Oakland Museum, 1978 (solo). In: John Muir School (SF) Auditorium (mural); SFMA; Oakland Museum; Zellerbach Hall (UC Berkeley); Orange Co. (CA) Museum.
Edan Hughes, "Artists in California, 1786-1940"
Interview with the artist or his/her family; SF Chronicle, 7-21-1935; Who's Who in American Art 1936-62; Painters & Sculptors in California: the Modern Era.
Nearly 20,000 biographies can be found in Artists in California 1786-1940 by Edan Hughes and is available for sale ($150). For a full book description and order information please click here.

Biography from LewAllen Galleries:
"Art ought to be a troublesome thing, and one of my reasons for painting representationally is that this makes for much more troublesome pictures." - David Park

Father of the Bay Area Figurative Movement, a group that includes fellow artistic luminaries Richard Diebenkorn, Elmer Bischoff, and James Weeks, David Park was born in 1911 in Boston, MA. Like many Bay Area artists, Park’s journey toward figuration began in an unlikely place: Abstract Expressionism, a style he abandoned in 1949. Spurred by his dissatisfaction with the egocentrism of Abstract Expressionist artists, Park destroyed all of his nonobjective paintings.

Park exhibited his first figurative composition, Rehearsal, in 1951. Nevertheless, it was the narrative painting Kids on Bikes that publicized Park’s defection from Abstract Expressionism. Park’s colleagues characterized his return to figuration as nothing more than a “failure of nerve.”

The following year, in 1952, Park left his position at the California School of Fine Arts. Alarmed and dissatisfied with the school’s stylistic direction and colleague Hassel Smith’s impending termination, Park and fellow artist Hassel Smith quit. In his decade with the school, Park would see his relationship with fellow Bay Area artist Richard Diebenkorn grow: from student, to colleague, to friend. He would also witness the rise of Sam Francis, who cited Park as his most influential teacher.

Throughout the 1950s, figuration became Park’s preferred method through which to experiment with shape, color, and texture. His work is characterized by unconventional spatial relationships, a flattened picture plane, imaginative color choices, and a liberal use of paint. Though based on existing subjects, Park’s imagery is not painted directly from nature, but rather from memory. He paints based on the theory that his forms will develop organically through the medium. Throughout his career, Park continued to emphasize the relationship between abstract and figurative painting as well as the artist’s freedom to move between the two. From a rigid compositional form and strong sense of narrative, Park’s works became a search for universal feeling and experience, in which light serves as a suggestion of psychological conditions rather than a visual descriptive.

Although he never earned a high school degree, Park held teaching positions at the Winsor Girl School, Brookline, MA, (1935-41), and the University of California, Berkeley (1955-60). In 1989, Park was honored posthumously with a solo exhibition at the Whitney Museum of American Art, NY. His work can be found in such prestigious institutions as the Museum of Modern Art, NY; Museum of Fine Arts, Boston; the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, Washington, DC; the Smithsonian American Art Museum, Washington, DC; and the Sheldon Memorial Art Gallery, NE, among many others.

Biography from Hollis Taggart Galleries (Artists, P-R):
A leading figure in the San Francisco art scene in the 1940s and 1950s, David Park is considered the founder of the Bay Area Figurative School, which included painters Richard Diebenkorn and Elmer Bischoff.

Born in Boston, Massachusetts, in 1911, Park moved to Los Angeles in 1928 to attend the Otis Art Institute. The following summer, while auditing classes at the University of California, Berkeley, Park met aspiring sculptor Gordon Newell. The two shared an apartment in San Francisco and worked as studio assistants to American sculptor Ralph Stackpole. Park married Newell’s sister in 1930 and moved back to Berkeley.

Like other artists of his generation, Park found employment with the WPA’s Federal Art Project. Until the mid-1930s Park’s work reflected the dominant trend of American Scene painting, but his style would move between figurative work and abstraction throughout his career.

Park began experimenting with abstraction in the late 1930s, and he painted pure abstract, nonobjective paintings between 1946 and 1949. That year, Park packed his recent abstract works in his car and drove them all to the city dump to destroy them. Shortly thereafter, he returned to the figure as his primary subject. With the figurative work of 1949 and 1950, Park made a decisive break with the then-dominant Abstract Expressionist movement.

Ill health forced Park to abandon oil painting in 1959; instead, he began working with felt-tip markers and gouache. During the summer of 1960, David Park completed almost one hundred paintings in a burst of creative energy before his death from cancer at the age of 49.

© Copyright 2008 Hollis Taggart Galleries

Biography from William A. Karges Fine Art - Beverly Hills:
David Park was born in Boston, Massachusetts, in 1911, and moved out to California after his failure to graduate from high school caused embarrassment to his father. At his aunt’s urging, Park attended the Otis Art Institute in Los Angeles in 1928-1929.

Park found work with the Federal Arts Project, and by 1935 was gaining recognition as an artist. Park’s work was a constant evolution of styles, ranging in chronological order from, genre Scenes, Cubism, Abstract Expressionism, and richly expressive Figurative works for which he is best remembered.

Park died at his home in the Berkeley Hills in 1960.

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David Park is also mentioned in these AskART essays:
California Painters

Explore Other Interesting Artists:
Richard Diebenkorn
Elmer Bischoff
Frank Benson

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