With his latest Plain Song works, J S Parker continues one of New Zealand’s most notable and extended series of paintings. Inspired both by music and by the light and landscape of Marlborough, the artist has been creating a symphonic tone poem in paint for the last few decades, with bold, heavily impastoed canvases which nevertheless have both subtle delicacy and a rigorous use of geometry.
The impact of nature on Parker’s latest works is most noticeable in his large canvases, such as Plain Song: Light Through Pine Green Darkness, with its blocks of rich modulations of green placed against a mottled sky blue. The land and air are distilled into pure qualities, the depths of the green shifting and breaking into depths of hidden colour. Applied with Parker’s trademark deft palette knife strokes, the canvas is completed by a shaft of sunlit brushwork bisecting the canvas. The juxtaposition of the light stroke with the mysterious breathing dark becomes almost spiritual in nature. Parker’s works reach for the soul of the real New Zealand, and often come up tantalisingly close to this intangible essence. Despite this, there is a universality to them that transcends location.
It is perhaps not surprising that these works follow on almost directly from a major and personally important work for Parker, 2016's Plain Song for Ralph (the Hotere canvas), dedicated to the artist’s late mentor. (1) That work, as with many of Hotere’s own, also features darkness split asunder by a shaft of colour. The theme has been retained and become a significant part of this new group of Plain Song paintings, though there remains an essential difference between Parker’s works and Hotere’s in that the latter often appeal more to the intellectual brain whereas Parker’s works aim to produce a direct response from the heart. The depth and subtleties of colour and the vitality of the knife strokes produce a strong emotional resonance.