Just scrolling through Team gallery’s website to look at some of the images of Steve Parrino’s work made me sad. (In the first hours of the new year the artist had a fatal accident on his motorcycle near his home in Brooklyn.) I only met him once or twice but I reviewed his 2001 show. Often the process of reviewing brings one deeper into the work than just looking at it in the gallery and this was very much the case when I attempted to write about his “misshaped” (his word) paintings. I had mentioned something in the review about the baroque and the editor sent it back and asked me to be more specific. I did some research and discovered some remarkable similarities between the paintings and Bernini’s sculpture “The Ecstasy of St. Teresa.” I was already an admirer and this was a piece of writing of which I felt particularly proud.
His paintings cross-referenced formalism with contemporary culture and philosophy. Apparent references ran from Gilles Deleuze’s theory of the fold to The Velvet Underground. Black gloss paint, a constant in his work for 20 years, traded on the dull sheen of motorcycle leather or the dark mirrored architecture of music clubs. His twisting paintings that torqued off the stretcher or the earlier works that had big holes in them seemed violent unless you looked carefully. Then one discovered the careful preparation that constructing such an object involved.
But the work was never about adapting an attitude, it was more of a vocabulary that came quite naturally out of his interests. For one exhibition announcement at Team he used an image of Chloe Sevigny with black gloss tape across her chest from the film, “Gummo.” It was perhaps a rather sexist image to appropriate but it was brave to go ahead and use it if — as indeed it was — in fact, a readymade Parrino.
He also made films, drawings and installations. In his most recent show he screened a semi-abstract homage to Kenneth Anger’s “Scorpio Rising;” it was alluring and slightly repellent and I watched the whole 25 minutes of it. Parrino was the only other viewer that day. He sat in the small screening room in the dark with his sunglasses on the whole time. I regret that I didn’t bother to reintroduce myself.
Parrino’s work was never as widely accepted here as it was in Europe, where the majority of his 37 one-person exhibitions since 1984 took place. There will be a retrospective of his work at the Musee d’Art Moderne et Contemporain in Geneva in 2006. An informal commemorative gathering will take place at The Swiss Institute on January 20. He was the real thing.print