David Park

(1911 - 1960)

About The Artist


Painter David Park was a central and leading player in the Bay Area Figurative movement, along with Richard Diebenkorn, Wayne Thiebaud, Elmer Bischoff, and Joan Brown. As the elder artist and a widely respected teacher at the University of California, Berkeley and the California School of Fine Arts, San Francisco, Park had a great impact upon younger artists, especially in regards to Diebenkorn and his figurative works from the 1950s-1980s. As respected art critic Roberta Smith intoned in the New York Times: "No other artist approached the singular achievement of David Park. Having started it all, he remained the painter for whom rendering the world as he saw and felt it had the greatest necessity and yielded the most impressive results."

Park’s influential career was unfortunately cut short due to illness, but his achievements began early. A native of Boston, Massachusetts, Park exhibited with the New England Society of Independent Artists as a precocious 15-year-old. He had been attending high school in Windsor, Connecticut, when, at 17-years-old he decided to quit the formulaic educational path to pursue his dream of painting. His first stop was the Otis Art Institute in Los Angeles, but after one semester, he moved to the Bay area and was essentially a self-taught painter.

Like other painters in the Bay area at the time, including Clyfford Still and Mark Rothko, Park began working in Abstract Expressionism, but, in 1949, Parks made a decisive break with what he viewed as being a cult style. Packing up as many paintings as he could fit in his car, he dropped his canvases off at the Berkeley dump. Canvases that were spared would eventually be painted over in his new figurative mode. This was the beginning of the Bay Area Figurative movement, as friends and colleagues including Bischoff and Diebenkorn followed suit soon after in his footsteps.

Park’s paintings of everyday scenes, bathers, and nudes feature languid figures rendered in strong, bold brushwork, applied in a manner that seems almost casual, but wholly capable and deft. The paintings entrance with their composition and subtle narrative powers. His 1950 work, Kids on Bikes, could not be more charming or simple in its subject matter, and the viewer is pulled into the scene as the children mill around on their wheels. In the San Francisco Museum of Art’s Two Bathers (1958), one woman casually places her hands on her waist and looks off the picture plane, perhaps surveying the scene or waiting expectantly for someone to appear. Examples of Park’s work can be found in the collections of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, Whitney Museum of American Art, the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, the Laguna Art Museum, and more.

“SFMOMA Acquires Important Work by David Park. Museum's Largest Acquisition of Work by a Bay Area Artist.” News Press Release 7 April 2008. SFMOMA.org. The San Francisco Museum of Modern Art. Web. 14 Nov. 2014.
“David Park, Art: Berkeley and San Francisco Art Institute.” University of California: In Memoriam, April 1962. Web. 14 Nov. 2014.