Parker Ito was my second favorite living painter until 2011, when Cy Twombly died. Now he's my favorite living painter.
I guess my learning in the area of aesthetics is pretty elementary. It’s at least not advanced enough (or close enough to a particular kind) for my excitement with the painting medium to be renewed frequently. Every once in awhile, something comes along, like a Christ Pantocrator image painted with the feathers of tropical birds in central Mexico in the 16th century or a ten-painting series based on the Iliad, to interrupt my ongoing quiet tirade against the arbitrariness of the artistic tradition. Parker’s paintings represent a serious problem for my infantile philosophy.
Try to explain “Air to Surface” to your mom. Ito’s paintings for the collaborative show with Helen Johnson both mimic pointillism and “approximate the method of operation of an inkjet printer,” a tool that proved to be somewhat important for some of Ito’s previous works. Parker also likened the style of these paintings to the way that images are presented on computers using pixels. The result is more than just Monet.bmp, it’s a series of works that are visually unique, thought-provoking and, unpredictably, actually beautiful.
Try to explain “The Agony and the Ecstasy” to your mom. This solo show at STADIUM is my favorite work of Parker’s. Even now, the scope of the paintings shown seems monumental despite an almost shocking visual simplicity. Regretfully, the method is still a bit confusing to me; I know that he used some reflective material from 3M to create the works, and I know that he (his assistants?) painted on it. Parker himself describes the work as commentary on the emancipatory potential of the era’s social technology paired with the inescapable fragmentation of intimacy over the networks many of us use to communicate. The works are beautiful and undocumentable. To take a picture of one or even to change the lighting in the gallery or the angle from which you are viewing one presents the work in a new form. Parker makes a science out of painting, creating a uniquely curious feeling in the gallery that is replaced in online documentation by a different feeling entirely, more haunting and confusing. Even as the works themselves can appear muted and calm, their emotional resonance is rhapsodic and their interaction with the painting medium feels progressive.
Try to explain “Anime Bettie Page Fucked By Steampunk Horse Warrior” to your mom. The show’s titular painting can only be called such in that it displays painterly qualities; the image itself was assembled by Parker and friends by appropriating imagery from deviantART and other websites and getting a custom lycra print made of the finished picture. The method of making the “painting” seems to speak more effectively to Parker’s evocative goal in creating the work. Paired with the other works in the show (including video and sculpture), the painting comments with immediate humor and bold sexual directness on the relationship between counterculture and “fanboy-ism”/fringe communities on the internet. This painting renews my excitement in painting because of its work in challenging the boundaries of the medium and its markedly current and provocative employment of imagery.
I wonder what Parker’s new paintings are about, and what they will look like. After asking me to write this, he sent me a reference image that I immediately recognized from his most recent solo show, “Parker Cheeto: The Net Artist (America Online Made Me Hardcore)”, with its colorful and light-sensitive play between elements (reminiscent of “The Agony...”) as well as its saturated and seemingly nonchalant juxtaposition of recognizable motifs with illegible content, including typed words and Parker’s handwriting. The idea of these words becoming illegible in the service of one of Parker’s paintings is exciting to me, not discouraging; it makes me want to keep typing forever. His paintings are exciting to me in that they comment in a visually beautiful way on the feelings most of us share now. Our understanding of these feelings is at best ethereal, but our experience of them is infinite in Parker’s work. His paintings are firmly grounded in knowledge of the internet and holocene emotional phenomena. For that reason, he’s no Twombly, but I guess for the same reason you could also argue that Twombly is no Ito.
- Will Neibergall
Parker Ito – the Artist as Network
Parker Ito is a net artist. Parker Ito is an Internet artist. Parker Ito is a post-internet artist. Thus speaks Parker Ito himself. Parker Ito does not defy categorization. He loves categories and he loves to apply them to himself. This is why he is hard to pin down. The labels stick to him just as they peel off. Or maybe they simply cover each other archeologically like posters on a billboard. Maybe this is why people call him nicknames instead. Parker Ito loves that, too. When people call him nicknames, he adopts them. Therefore, Parker Ito is not simply a net artist, an Internet artist, a post-internet artist. Parker Ito is no longer simply Parker Ito. Parker Ito thus reappears as Parker Burrito. Parker Ito exhibits as Parker Cheeto. Parker Ito works in the name of Deke2 and Olivia Calix. Parker Ito tweets in the name of Parker’s Poetry LOL: “If I wasn’t me… I wouldn’t be me.”
It is not because Parker Ito has multiple identities. He does not have a second life. He is not – to use a much used word in art speak - schizophrenic. Nor is it because he seeks anonymity. On the contrary. “Yeah,” he says, “I’m into transparency.” He wants to exhibit, display, pose, collaborate – he wants to be present so he can participate. His names are more like the codenames you use when locking onto your netbank, your youtube account, your website. His characters are more similar than different. Ito is his given name, but the other names have also been given to him. A name is not something that sets him apart, but something that makes him take part. Parker Cheeto likes to exhibit the work of Parker Ito who likes to exhibit the work of Parker Burrito. Parker Ito, Parker Burrito, Parker Cheeto, and Deke2 like to show their works within each other’s works. Parker Ito is not simply part of a network. He has become a network. He is a network in a network where the first becomes difficult to tell from the latter. Parker Ito also exhibits with people who are not Parker. He shows online and offline with Body by Body, together they are known as Aventa Garden. He is part of and behind the digital platforms Paint FX and JstChillin. He collaborates with himself in the way he collaborates with others. He himself invented Deke2, when he started to work with the artist duo Body to Body, whom in turn invented the art critic Julia Rob3rts, who in turn wrote about Body By Body and Deke2. With ease Parker Ito lets himself go into a network because it is not other but also him – just as anybody else using the Internet today. This is also why it is difficult to say when he is creative and created, curating and curated – just as the title of his film America Online Made Me Hardcore with all his peers suggests, itself an echo of Mark Leckey’s film Fiorucci Made Me Hardcore.
The Internet has always been social and inclusive. This has always been the idea underpinning its development, but today in the age of Web 2.0 it is no longer just an idea. It has become so easy to use, that anybody can participate creatively. It is a playground that is developed by geeks and nerds in such a way that you no longer have to be a geek or nerd to use it. And this fact is something Parker Ito makes a virtue of because he is not a geek or nerd. In his own words, he is rather the opposite: “I'm not an Internet artist – I'm just a hipster on the Internet who makes art. DOI.”
Of course, Parker Ito does no consider himself anybody. But he likes to include anybody, for instance in his project The Most Infamous Girl in the History of the Internet, which he also calls Parked Domain Girl. A project, which serves as a reminder, that the moment anybody participates, anybody is no longer anybody. It is mass culture that is no longer mass culture since it is not made by an anonymous mass, but rather a lot of different people. The project started in 2010 and it is still running. It started when Parker Ito took over the probably most known stock photo of a woman on the Internet at the time. The photo was that of a smiling school girl who greeted all visitors, amidst various ads and links, to so-called parked domains bought by the company Demand Media – a company which had acquired thousands of domain names in order to resell them. Parker Ito asked the Chinese company orderartwork.com to reproduce the photo in oil. In turn Parker Ito would paint and manipulate the oil reproductions which he again asked orderartwork to reproduce while simultaneously making the resulting images tour the internet, inviting others to join in. The default image quickly became a meme, produced by a variety of people from the copists who try to stay as close to the original as possible to amaterus on the Internet who most often try to do the opposite. The girl got “parked” on more and more sites – by Parker and many others. In the process various of her qualities were enhanced. While Parker painted her over, others undressed her. Some made her younger, others older. And while she gradually changed into many different things, it started to look as if this was what she was about all along. To some she looks innocent, a nice girl - to others beautiful, an object of desire. In the end, her innocence also became the object of desire that more and more people wanted to touch and retouch. The more people who joined in, the more she became the artist-as-network’s. The more she got parked, the more Parker’s she became. No wonder the girl’s brother, who took the photo and uploaded it to iStockPhoto, felt strange about it. No wonder he wrote Parker Ito an email, explaining that though he ceded the rights to the photo for 60 cents to iStockphoto, he had not predicted the direction it would all take. The girl on the brother’s photo looks both like a kid and like a teenager. She is caught between two things which are rather similar - close to one. As the project developed she has became more and more what Parker Ito is becoming.
Often in Parker Ito’s works the artist juxtaposes two things – two things which might have been opposites earlier on, but are becoming more and more similar. It could be the real and the virtual. Or a photo and painting. It could also be Parker Ito’s incessant use of the language of abstract painting juxtaposed with or enmeshed in flowers. The latter is even where all the above comes together for Parker Ito. On the one hand we have flowers in the still life tradition from Spain and the Netherlands in the 17th century, which equals hyperrealism, today redubbed photorealism. On the other hand, abstraction, which in the 19th and 20th century grew out of a negation of figuration, of a realist representation of reality. Parker Ito walks in the tracks laid out by these two traditions and then again he is the heir to neither. Or rather, he is the heir to Edouard Manet, who in the words of Georges Bataille treated still life as “a pretext for the act of painting.” Nowhere is this idea more convincing that in the syphilis-ridden and partly immobilized Impressionist’s last paintings, a large bulk of which where mere flower paintings. If he was by then still a painter of modern life, modern life was by then but a composition of colors. Later, in the 1950s Clement Greenberg would trace modernist painting back to this man for whom painting was nothing but paint. But Parker Ito can also be backtracked to this sort of painting where paint is not simply painting but modern life. The flower Parker Ito likes the most is a flower, which is in itself like a bouquet, a composition of different colors. It is the rainbow rose, whose stalk is split in order to draw up different colors. It is a flower that is split to become one, just like Parker Ito is made up of Parker Ito, Cheeto, Burrito, Oilvia, Deke2, and so on. In this rose the painter, the painted and the painting become one. It is thus a flower which does not look more or less unreal when Parker Ito exhibits it as such, reworks it in Photoshop, with the gradient function, screen prints it onto reflector fabric, rephotographs it and leaves it circulating on the Internet. It is a flower, which does not only blossom one time, but continues to blossom – whose process of dematrialization is accelerated by being split just as its process of rematerializations. If the flower is an abstract painting, it is not because it can be reduced to pure paint. It is rather abstract because it cannot be reduced to one thing. And this is probably why it makes sense that Parker Ito has written in a press release that he doesn’t “believe in pronouncing GIF the right way,” nor ”in wearing all black”, nor “in press releases” – but rather “me… The Internet and me.”
As Parker Ito’s presence on the Internet grows, his presence in the art world also grows. But his presence in the latter is more than just a presence, because the Internet not simply expands the art world, but also supplants it to a certain extent. It not only enables and facilitates, but also habituates artists to take matters into their own hands. At a time, when the art world has become professionalized and specialized, Parker Ito is among a bunch of new artists who move in the opposite direction. He sometimes writes his own press releases while claiming he does not believe in press releases. On his iPhone he translates his PR into the language of picture characters, emojis, which he in turn reintegrates into a painting, which is sold to a collector while also circulating as an image on the Internet. On various websites he curates shows. Sometimes he also sells the works online. On the Internet he shows photos of himself posing in front of his own works, making selfies, which imitate his own self-portraits. He exhibits pictures in gallery spaces, which are made to be multiplied. The professional art photographer might shoot his photos, but Parker Ito might change them – either afterwards or preemptively. He makes reflector paintings which shortcircuit the idea of one good photo per work. These paintings change according to the light and the position of the viewer. Though they are flat, sealed with a layer of vinyl, they behave as sculptures, which are experienced on the move. Except now it is no longer the body of the viewer, which is on the move, but the image itself. It looks in many different ways in the gallery room. It looks in still more different ways when photographed. And as it travels from camera to Photoshop to various websites, it keeps changing. Parker Ito takes on the role of all the other agents in the art world. He can be the curator, the art writer, the dealer, the photographer. He can even be the collector who commissions works. And yet, Parker Ito does not replace all these different players. He simply plays them in order to play with them. He is not interested in institutional critique. If anything, he is into institutional change. In this way, he becomes an art world onto himself – an art world within an art world just as he becomes a network within a network where the former becomes difficult to tell from the latter. It might seem a complete mess. But it might also simply be another order.
Toke Lykkeberg, March 2013
In the beginning man made paintings on the walls of caves. Then perspective was invented and that was cool. Then people tried to paint light (which looked really good). Then men created things called computers. We taught these computers how to paint with light and take really high res photos of cave paintings. And now in the year 2013 it’s all about making paintings on canvas (mostly) (not on cave walls) that look like they are painted with light, that look like paintings not painted with light but sorta like the paintings in the caves. It’s all very confusing because it’s hard to tell what is what and who is who. What am I looking at? What is the thing? Where is the thing?
These are all things.
There is no thing.
But this whole time we’ve been arguing about painting and you just realize that it’s just some dirt on a canvas, on a wall, or on a computer screen. - by ME