Critical appraisal of J. Parker Valentine’s work tends to focus its basis in drawing. This perpetual focus on the graphic content presents a narrow view of the Texas-born artist’s work, is undoubtly failing to do justice to the complexity of her approach, as illustrated by Transients in the High Plains, her current show at Galerie Max Mayer, even though this ‘more’ cannot easily be captured in language.
The artist has covered the gallery walls with floor-to-ceiling swaths of unprimed, unmounted canvas, into which she has sewn four discrete works of thread, pencil, charcoal and ink on canvas. The works do not, therefore, hang on the walls but are instead embedded into a receptive background. Untitled (2018), from whose sides three strips have been torn off and reattached in different places, is with its faint traces of green reminiscent of so-called ‘provisional painting’. As in older works by Michael Krebber, the notion of a still life might be suggested here.
That this reading is mistaken, though, is evidenced by the nearby Untitled (2017). Valentine has draped a marked strip of muslin over a blank canvas, before folding it in two on the diagonal, meaning that the picture drawn onto it can only be surmised through the fabric. The focus falls on a delicately curved line that has imprinted itself from the muslin onto the underlying canvas. Mirrored in the muslin pulled back from the canvas, it creates the semblance of a semicircle. This shift of emphasis subordinates each composition to the production process, yet in a more fundamental way than David Joselit’s idea of ‘painting beside itself’ allows.
Valentine counters the integrity or immanence of pictures (if we can call them such) by treating their fronts and backs equally, refusing to physically set them off from their backgrounds, and by tearing up and reassembling them. Untitled (2018), a composition of red-edged shapes given depth through grey graphite marks, is a case in point. The abstract composition is so dominant here that one cannot help but think that Valentine deliberately resisted the beauty of her own work by ripping up the canvas.
Yet any talk of traditional composition in connection with Valentine seems misleading in the end. She defines geometric bodies with coloured lines and exposes surfaces with oil or graphite, but this seems to happen around a few pale, unintentional lines; as if everything that presents itself as composition had been created on the basis of traces that emerged while working on a different textile. This impression is reinforced by the pale shimmer of those lines and by the fact that in some works recurring forms can be found that seem to stem from the same template. Rather than standing for themselves, the works turn out to be different transitory states of migrating forms (maybe this is what the titular Transients refers to). One could look at this from a sober, technical perspective, yet the artist’s work, with its production of forms based on contact between two image carriers, also has a highly sensual dimension. It’s even possible to read this as a kind of social affiliation between elements, always comprising a trace of – or indexical connection to – the next, without which it would be inconceivable.
Parker Valentine: Transients in the High Plains at Galerie Max Mayer, Düsseldorf, 16 March – 5 May
From the May 2018 issue of ArtReview