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Photographer Olivia Parker’s long career has been distinguished by her injection of fresh energy into the formal and venerable genre of Still Life. In work ranging from three decades ago to the present, Robert Klein is featuring Parker’s “Still/Life” work at his gallery on Newbury Street through January 31, 2015, in conjunction with “The Eye’s Mind”, probing the visual-verbal interplay of books, at Ars Libri in Boston’s SoWa gallery district through December 27th, 2014. In both exhibits, Parker arranges her frames of natural and manmade objects with a visual grace that stems from a breadth and depth of experience that is matched only by her remarkable ingenuity.
Parker suspects the still life has persisted across media and millennia because it depicts our most basic desires and despairs: food, shelter, sex and death. And while her work retains the most formal constructs of 17th century Dutch, Flemish and Spanish painting, such as vibrant and sharply focused fruits, vegetables and animals contrasting against a dark background, Parker introduces surprises. The buzzing insect here or a wafting tulip there engages and delights the eye, awakening us to the immediacy of everyday objects. Her juxtapositions of the animate and inanimate are a striking reminder of the co-existence of life and death.
The traditional still-life is known for a rather flat field containing realistically tack-sharp objects. One of Parker’s most notable departures from this format is her embrace of a pronounced depth of field. Her exploration of space and light reflects a strong Asian influence and is literally a breath of fresh air, as Parker opens up her backgrounds with unfocused views mostly to the outdoors. Often, these photographs include silhouetted figures that bring gesture into the frame, and further emphasize the dynamic contrasts – living v. non-living, light v. shadow, sharp v. blurry, hard v. soft, to name a few – that make Parker’s photographs so mesmerizing.
No less compelling is Parker’s foray into the world of the written word, “The Eye’s Mind”, appropriately housed at Ars Libri, the rare book dealer that serves as a satellite gallery for Robert Klein. In our verbal culture, the written word has undeniable authority. As objects, books represent the embodiment of both a work of art and of literature; they are graphic and tactile but also capture our imagination with ideas and pictures that transport us to places far and wide. Parker mines this visual-verbal dichotomy, picturing books both ancient and modern (some she created in order to be photographed) in a still-life context.
I think Parker’s work in “The Eye’s Mind” might well epitomize the way she balances “visual-intuitive mode and editorial-verbal mode”, the creative method that she describes as what she’s “been doing all along”. In this body of work, we can see the same implication of space in a sharply focused foreground with blurred background and Parker’s delicate touch in the balance of color and line. It is her use of text as picture and, conversely, picture as text that brings this work into the realm of very serious fun, demonstrating an unusual combination of intellectual curiosity, voracious experimentation and lyrical visual intuition. The allure of Parker’s photographs is that they have that rare ability to draw you in and reveal new meaning and beauty with every viewing – the very definition of sublime.
For more information about these dual exhibits, go to: http://www.robertkleingallery.com/index.php
To learn more about Olivia Parker, go to: http://oliviaparker.com/
Feature Image: “Passing, 2011” Epson Ultrachrome print from the series “Still/Life” by Olivia Parker (courtesy of the artist and Robert Klein Gallery, Boston)