Edward Lucie-Smith

Art Historian & Critic

Going Beyond the Real


Anthony J Parké describes his paintings as ‘hyperreal’. This is a term that has become increasingly familiar in discussions of contemporary realist art. It designates images that seem to transcend the realism of the photograph – which deliver an experience of seeing and experiencing the external world that is markedly more intense than anything the ordinary spectator can manage for himself. Images of this kind seem to project us into the very essence of what is portrayed – flowers, fruit, butterflies, hummingbirds.


The impulse to produce images of this kind is of course deeply rooted in the history of Western art. One can see it at work in the images that serve as decorations in the margins of medieval books of hours. We also encounter it in both Dutch and Spanish still life paintings of the 17th century. If we look at the literary tradition, we can trace it still further back, There is, for example, the story of the rivalry between two leading Ancient Greek artists, Zeuxis and Parrhasios. Zeuxis painted grapes so realistic that the birds came down to peck at them. Parrhasios went one better. He produced a work seemingly covered with a curtain. His rival tried to draw this aside, only to discover that the cloth was a fictive, painted version.


This famous, much-repeated anecdote has a sub-text that is relevant here. The point about both the paintings produced by these two rival masters is that they produced work that invited physical engagement with what was shown, yet at the same time fended it off. Parké does that here, by enclosing the fictive items he shows with an equally fictive containers of clear glass. In his most recent compositions the objects are seen in what he calls ‘portals’ – “entirely sealed within, as though trapped in amber.”


There are several layers of significance here. First, and most obviously, the sealed glass enclosing perishable things alludes very directly to art’s power to bring time to a halt, and give near-eternal life to things that are transient. One of the portal compositions illustrated here is duly entitled Eternity.


Secondly, there is an element, not just of the hyperrealist, but also of the surrealist. These are entirely convincing representations of things that we could never in fact encounter in the same form in what we are pleased to describe as real life. They are visionary art - humbler cousins of compositions such as Salvador Dali’s famous Christ of St John of the Cross.


Thirdly, there is a personal, autobiographical element. In his introduction to the work, Parké describes the unhappy circumstances of his childhood, spent in the shadow of his older brother’s mental illness:

“The ‘voices’ came and demanded his destructive actions, He destroyed all things related to glass: windows, mirrors, ashtrays, light-bulbs, televisions, bottles, even the family aquarium – and one other thing which has come to be seen as glasslike: his family.”


The paintings can perhaps be read as attempts to restore what his brother destroyed, and to render it impervious to further attack.


The paintings, especially the more recent ones, are exercises in metaphysics, not just examples of extreme skill in representation. While it is hard to think of a painter whose work is more distant stylistically, there is a distinct echo here of some of the best known lines in William Blake’s Auguries of Innocence:


To see a World in a Grain of Sand,

And a Heaven in a Wild Flower,

Hold Infinity in the palm of your hand

And Eternity in an hour.





Catto Gallery

Catalogue, May 2014

Artist Anthony J Parké makes his solo Catto debut


In one of the most moving and beautiful exhibitions we've ever presented. It's tempting to look at his glorious still life's and assume that Anthony sees himself as part of a grand artistic tradition that goes back over four centuries. But it's not the case.


Anthony admits he's uninterested in the preoccupations of those 17th century Flemish pioneers - not for him the challenge of composition or the hidden meanings buried inside certain objects.


No, Anthony's singular fascination is with the aesthetic beauty of natural forms: insects, leaves, fruit, shells, sea life, flowers. It's an obsession he has cultivated from a young age, when he would hunt for the objects in the wild terrain of a disused railway line at the back of his North London garden.


Today, he paints these same objects as if they're treasures - which, of course, they are. And to extend the metaphor he even puts them behind glass.


Yes, all of Anthony's hyper-real visions sit inside glass vases or crystal balls. There's a triple purpose to this. First, the glimmer of the material emphasises the miracle of what's inside. Second, bundling up those shells/ leaves/ berries inside glass saves Anthony from decision-making around composition: everything is contained.


The third reason is psychological. And also biographical. Anthony grew up with a very tormented older brother James, who would destroy glass objects when his temper flared. He remembers well the terrible violence of a fish aquarium shattering, and this dramatic contrast between beauty and destruction has stayed with Anthony ever since.


Knowing this lends an extra poignancy to exquisitely delicate works such as Flourish and Suspension. Anthony says of these paintings now: "I wanted to invert that (destruction) and use art as a way of preserving the beauty of objects.





Camden New Journal

John Evans - May, 2014

Anthony Parke makes his solo Catto Gallery debut


Highgate-based contemporary realist Anthony Parké frames his subjects in a captivating way - literally.


On show at his solo debut at the Catto Gallery, are 18 of his delicate oil paintings, still lifes, with the focus on "the aesthetic beauty if natural forms: insects, leaves, fruit, shells, sea life and flowers".


Yet all are contained or framed by glass, a vase, bowl, or even a crystal ball, and presented with evocative, if ambiguous titles such as Suspension, Celestial, Ocean, Sinew, Symbiosis, and so on.


Catto says it's tempting to assume that the artist sees himself as part of the tradition going back four centuries to the "Flemish pioneers"; but apparently he does not. His passion for these objects they put down to "an obsession" of Parke's from an early age.


His "hyper-real visions" being inside glass, they say, not only enhances the miracle of what's contained but also "saves" him from decision-making around composition.


Part of the story, they add, is that his older brother "would destroy glass objects when his temper flared"!


Parké himself says of that destruction: "I wanted to invert that and use art as a way of preserving the beauty of objects."


And he writes: "The glass vessels begin as compositional devices... [and] also act as a metaphorical means of capturing and preserving objects of beauty. Like specimen jars at the Natural History Museum preserve organic forms, my 'jars' preserve objects of beauty and fascination".


This is an innovative and visually pleasing exhibition of his still lifes [....]