Park, Maria: Acrylic Science Fiction

“Crystal Leisure” by Maria Park; through January 31, 2008. Toomey Tourell Gallery, 49 Geary Street, San Francisco, 94108, Phone: 415-989-6444, Tuesday through Friday: 11:00 a.m. to 5:30 p.m., Saturday: 11:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m.

Alerting all closet Sci-Fi fans! Maria Park’s recent work on view at Toomey Tourell, “Crystal Leisure,” is inspired by the quintessential science fiction movie 2001: A Space Odyssey. Here, Park has meticulously recreated closing scenes from the classic Stanley Kubrick film. Roger Ebert, who was present in the theater on the night of the 1968 premier, summed it up: “The closing sequences, with the astronaut inexplicably finding himself in a bedroom somewhere beyond Jupiter, were baffling.” Park’s paintings should allow an outlet for those who still want to talk about Kubrick’s intentionally opaque treatment of Arthur C. Clarke’s novel.

Park has been interested in science fiction- and this movie in particular- since she was a child. The overarching theme in the body of her work is the impact of science and digital technology on society. As the daughter of a physicist and sibling of computer scientists, expressing scientific concepts through her art seems like a natural course for this artist.

The first paintings in “Crystal Leisure” are faithful reproductions of that enigmatic bedroom somewhere near Jupiter. Park explains: “This current body of work arose out of a former series titled “Stasis” (2005), which was inspired by the final scenes of 2001… these scenes depict a man secluded in a strangely pristine interior where the only evidence of human culture and history resides in furnishings and art, perhaps most strikingly in the series of rococo-like paintings depicting people at play.”

In this series, Park appropriates images from the work of Nicolas Lancret (1690-1743), which is similar to the paintings in the 2001 bedroom. Lancret was a second-rate peer of Watteau, whose work, along with that of Bouchet and Fragonard, is synonymous with French Rococo. That style of painting can be described as frivolous, excessive and confectionary, with an element of PG-13 scandal thrown in for good measure.

The majority of the pieces in the show leaves the 2001 bedroom behind and riffs on three of Lancret’s paintings that feature the Rococo sport of banqueting. The figures that are alternatively preening or posing are, in Park’s words, “frozen forever in a state of mirth… revealing the weight of guilt and pain often hidden under displays of wealth and certitude”.

The Lancret characters are painted in reverse underneath a sheet of polycarbonate and the surface is covered with swirls of thickly applied paint. Transfers and letraset lines on mylar depict the mechanics and gears behind the figures, like a blue print.

Finally, thick opaque acrylic paint is applied to the outside of the clear plastic frame and coats it like shaving cream, billowing off the surface and swallowing up that last evidence of human culture from the bedroom walls in Kubrick’s film.

Park’s exhibition is noteworthy because this is a homecoming of sorts for her. Though Park is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Art at Cornell University, she started her career as an artist here in San Francisco.

Park graduated with her BFA from San Francisco Art Institute in ’95, showed her work in group shows for a few years, and then directed her efforts toward graduate work. She was awarded a scholarship to study painting at the MFA program in Painting at Washington University in St. Louis in 2000. In 2002 she came back to San Francisco to enroll in the SFAI MFA Painting program. After her first year of studies she was awarded the prestigious Murphy-Cadogan Fellowship, given to Bay Area MFA students who are nominated by their teachers.

Toomey Tourell Gallery discovered her work in 2003. “We found her at the SFAI Vernissage,” says Nancy Toomey. Vernissage is the name of the annual opening reception for the SFAI Master of Fine Arts Graduate exhibition. When asked what quality most distinguishes Park, Toomey pays her a high compliment: “her concepts are as strong as her execution.”

After graduating from SFAI, she left California and returned to Missouri to teach art at the University of Missouri, Kansas City, and then in 2006 joined the teaching staff at Cornell. Park has exhibited her works nationally and internationally. “Strange Passages,” an installation at the Kemper Museum of Contemporary Art in Kansas, in 2005, was her first solo museum show. This is her third show with Toomey Tourell.