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Steven Parrino: 1958-2005

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The tragic loss of an important artist

Just scrolling through Team Gallery’s Web site to look at some of the images of Steve Parrino’s work made me sad.

Parrino suffered a fatal motorcycle accident in the first hours of the new year near his Brooklyn home. 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 mentioned something in the review about the baroque aspects of Parrino’s work 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 of Parrino’s and this was a piece of writing of which I felt particularly proud.

His paintings cross-referenced formalism with contemporary culture and philosophy, with references including Gilles Deleuze’s theory of the fold and The Velvet Underground. Black gloss paint, a constant in Parrino’s work for 20 years, traded on the dull sheen of motorcycle leather and the dark mirrored architecture of music clubs. His twisting paintings that torqued off the stretcher and the earlier works that had big holes in them seemed violent unless they were looked at closely. Then one discovered the careful preparation involved in constructing such an object.

But Parrino’s work was never about an attitude; it was more the expression 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 could have been perceived as very sexist to have appropriated that image in this way, but it was brave of him to go ahead and use it—indeed it was a ready-made Parrino.

Parrino also made films, drawings and installations. In his most recent show, he screened a semi-abstract homage to Kenneth Anger’s “Scorpio Rising” that was alluring and slightly repellent. I watched the entire 25 minutes of it. Parrino was the only other viewer that day. He sat in the small screening room, wearing his sunglasses 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-man 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 in Manhattan on January 20.

Parrino was the real thing.

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Updated 5:17 pm, July 20, 2018
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