"I'm detached from the paintings when I'm doing them, they're not about personal feelings. It's more like, can you blame nature for using destruction, and is that destructive, or, is it just the way nature is? If a volcano erupts, is that a bad thing?"
Steven Parrino (b.1958-2005) emerged from the punk scene in New York in the 1970s, known for his radical and uncompromising practice, with the process of painting at its heart. In Parrino’s folded canvas works, we see his ability to inhabit a unique space somewhere between punk and minimalism. Parrino aimed to bring his monochromatic canvases closer to the condition of noise and improvised music, bending, twisting, and destroying their pristine surfaces. He knowingly critiqued the idea of the 'death of painting' and challenged preconceived notions of beauty and ugliness. Parrino’s “mishappen” paintings are ripped from their stretches before being stretched back, folded, and distorted, making the violent process of their destruction a frozen moment in time.
Achieving little recognition during his lifetime, Parrino was known to destroy unsold paintings and reshape them into new works - which since his death have now gone on to have seminal significance in the canon of western painting.
Excerpt from Nature Morte Vivantes by Vincent Pécoil, 2007
Parrino’s paintings seem to have resulted from nothing but accidents. In Parrino’s own terms, his painting is a type of “deformalism,” featuring “deformed” canvases: “By unstretching the canvas, I could pull and contort the material and reattach it to the stretcher, in effect misstretching the painting, altering the state of the painting. The painting was, in a sense, deformed. This mutant form of deformalized painting gave me a chance to speak about reality through abstract painting, to speak about life.” Unstapled, folded, and restretched, brutally underscoring their own materiality, Parrino’s paintings disrupt the perfection of their initial state through a process of voiding or the shattering of the picture plane
Parrino envisaged painting as an “assisted readymade,” a preexisting object endowed with a second life. Assisted survival, artificial or nonnatural life. The paintings went from natures mortes to natures mortes vivantes: from dead nature to living-dead nature.
Excerpt of interview with Steven Parrino by Marc Olivier-Wahler, 1998
You don't destroy but rather make something with violence.
When I first started, I saw the work that I was doing as social, in that, it may have had potential connotations, in terms of my witnessing what goes on around me. As I get older-maybe this is because I'm getting old and cranky- it's getting away from the social and I feel that it might be more of a natural thing. I'm detached from the paintings when I'm doing them. they're not about personal feelings. It's more like, can you blame nature for using destruction, and is that destructive, or, is it just the way nature is? If a volcano erupts, is that a bad thing?
It's a normal thing.
Right, and creation comes out of that, a cataclysm can create an island and it can generate life. I'm dealing with aesthetics in the tiny world that is my studio. I see disruptions or damage as a means to an end. I have made pieces that are before-and-after: one panel is as pure as possible and the other panel as damaged as possible-almost like a comic book reading. I still do them from time to time. Everything you do is political whether you like it or not. I choose to deal with it in a very detached way.
Sometimes you use this plastic. which looks like sperm or something.
It's silicone. It was meant as glue to hold something together. ,t's the same material used for breast implants To me it became a kind of Pop material because of breast implants, and this absurd idea of what we do in our culture. So I decided to try to make the painting as ugly as possible. The painting is like a non-painting because I was fighting with the material to get it to stay in place. I did a show in New York, all black paintings. A friend saw the show and said. I didn't realize how elegant your work is, how beautiful and pretty."
Do you fear that your paintings are not ugly?
Well, I did a series of elegant paintings to see what would happen if I went in the opposite direction. It wasn't a fear, it was more trying to do the contrary. You have all these intentions for yourself as an artist, but people are still going to read into it. I've had people say, it looks like this or that. And to me it's still painting, that's all I see, just painting, I can't control what people think about it, I just want to proceed and I have certain starting points like trying to make something ugly or trying to debase something or trying to throw the viewer off guard.
Steven Parrino: Little Anal Annie, OFFSITE: CHALET, August 11 - September 15, 2019
Organised by Greg Bergner and Marc Jancou at OFFSITE: CHALET in Rossinière, Switzerland, Marc Jancou Contemporary is pleased to announce Little Anal Annie, an exhibition of works by this seminal American artist. Given Parrino’s close ties to Switzerland throughout his career, Bergner and Jancou felt it imperative to stage an exhibition in the country where the artist's work was most warmly received during his lifetime. On view from August 11th through September 15th, Little Anal Annie is a truly Swiss-made show in honor of Parrino’s cross-Atlantic collaborations with so many Swiss artists, musicians, writers, and curators.
Bringing together thirty-eight of Parrino's drawings, collages, and paintings, Little Anal Annie explores the artist’s interest in art history and theory, alongside his fascination with Pop iconography, subversive countercultures, the occult, and punk-rock music.