Born 1958 in New York, Steven Parrino appeared on the scene at the end of the 1980s with his unmistakable painting style of monochrome canvases which, following the painting process, were dismounted from their frame and subsequently restretched into a scrunched, three-dimensional form. The painting juts, relief-like, from the wall and is thus given differentiated opacity and light refraction, suggesting in Robert Nickas’ words “the crumpled body of a car after an accident (...) a clear sign of violence being served cold.” Another way of materializing his sentiment of violence and existential disrupture is the use of physical holes in his canvases, functioning as a ‘shifter’, connecting painting to real life and social environment.1 Alongside this, the artist used aluminum honeycomb panels used in airplane manufacture and canted them in such a way that they protruded into space as concave or convex three-dimensional objects.
Formally, his approach to his work seems to have evolved logically from colour field painting, with the crucial difference however, that the final form of Steven Parrino’s painting is owed to a radical gesture of destruction.
When I started making paintings, the word on painting was PAINTING IS DEAD. I saw this as an interesting place for painting... death can be refreshing, so I started engaging in necrophilia... approaching history in the same way that Dr. Frankenstein approaches body parts...2
While Steven Parrino relates above all to the achievements of the historical avant-garde, which found a temporary culmination in Frank Stella’s Black paintings (1958-1960), he is nevertheless no stranger to the dark world of Electrical Chairs (1964) or Disaster Paintings (1962-64) by Andy Warhol, whose provocative leaning on American mass culture and factual registration of medial reality is reflected in his own work. However, as mentioned above, Steven Parrino’s creative production, despite its formal severity, breaks with artistic self-referentiality and bases itself on a fundamental occupation with life’s reality as it has marked the American underground culture of the past decades and, in its radical entitlement, repeatedly challenged the bourgeois order. “My paintings,” Parino wrote, “are not formalist, nor narrative. My paintings are realist and connected to real life, the social field, in brief: action... All my work deals with disrupting the status quo (and the history of like disruptions- mainly focused on the USA between 1958 and the present time)- my lifetime.”3 What interests the artist is, among other things, the rock and punk scene, motorcyclists and the Hells Angels, the dark abyss of occultism and Satanism, underground comics and underground films.
Like no other, he took the end of the historical avant-garde, and especially the repeatedly cited death of painting, as inspiration and interpreted it as a mental starting point for his own creativity. With his highly individual ‘necrophilic’ approach Steven Parrino became a trailblazer for artists who- chastened by the never-wanting-to-end-art-
1 Bob Nickas, ed. The Art of the Real, Geneva, Galerie Pierre Huber, p. 28.
2 Steven Parrino, The No Texts (1979-2003), Geneva, Editions JRP Ringier, p. 43. 3 Lionel Bovier, from an unpublished fax interview, 1994.