Among the most admired painters in this region, Portland-based Lucinda Parker has forged an impressive career that includes ambitious public projects in Oregon, Washington and California. “I start with form,” she has always insisted, and this exhibition presented no exception—though the nine large paintings (2013) and 24 gouache studies (2010-13) were all landscapes. Their generating form was Mt. Hood, the 11,000-foot volcano that graces Portland’s eastern horizon. Parker eschews Albert Bierstadt’s scenic approach in his 19th-century paintings of Hood, as well as such distant, yearning vistas as Cézanne produced of Mont Sainte-Victoire or O’Keeffe of the Pedernal. Instead, Parker travels on and around the mountain, mining the cubistic possibilities of its chiseled geological features. In her gallery statement, she asserts her desire to treat the mountain “as a single mass articulated by multiple planes.”
She does this with expressive mark-making and painterly effects, along with a surprising palette that yields pink glaciers and yellow-orange skies. Parker saves her brushes for select passages; she prefers the knife or trowel, and her masonlike procedures find a happy subject in solid masses of rock that pressurize the picture plane and climb up her canvas like Braque’s houses at L’Estaque. One feels in Ridge up Barrett Spur a certain vertigo in the forceful ascent of earthy brown, tan and white wedges packed and layered on top of each other in a vertical scramble toward a midnight blue sky. At the base of the rocky trapezoid, a variegated orange-and-brown slope provides a toehold and a bit of spatial relief. Catchment comes nearest to a conventional landscape format, a peaceful lake defining a foreground, frozen peaks a middle ground, and deep-blue ether as background, with celestial phenomena one struggles to name: pink and white dashes emanate from the mountain while a burst of bright white and concentric pink arcs crowns its apex.
Hand-painted, color-coordinated frames add a decorative note to these powerfully dynamic compositions, just as Parker’s wit can occasionally be seen to complement her imposing artistic authority. Peak, for example, is assertive, playful and erotic, a phallic tree trunk in the foreground straining vigorously upward to point at the suggestive conjunction of mountain peak with a voluptuous pink-and-gray cloud. Parker explores that charged relationship between solid and vapor, stability and flux, in other paintings of the cloud-capped Hood, taking up the challenge of how to capture such dramatically disparate states and substances. Her concerns are formal yet her pictures open up, like Chinese landscapes ever juxtaposing crags and rivers, to philosophical ruminations about permanence and change. Just as her overall practice balances a commitment to abstraction and a nimble responsiveness to the demands for legibility that accompany her public mural commissions, in this series she achieves a consummate synthesis of natural observation and post-cubist methods of pictorial construction.