until 06.07. | #3942ARTatBerlin | Galerie Esther Schipper presents from 8. June 2023 the exhibition If nobody wants you you’re free of the artist Sojourner Truth Parsons.
The vividness of everyday experiences, but also the strangeness of existence, form the basis of Sojourner Truth Parsons’ work. Her paintings have an astonishing atmospheric intensity. They combine bright colours, silhouettes of bodies and black surfaces that simultaneously function as architectural elements and framing. The compositions move on the threshold between abstraction and representation, oscillating back and forth, whereby recognisable forms such as bodies, but also flowers, streetscapes or landscapes can never be definitively fixed in one register or the other. The iconography composed of overlapping elements – layers of colour alternating with thin washes, matt surfaces with slightly shiny and iridescent passages – constructs an inner world that is more psychic landscape than forest or city block, embodying an emotional truth.
Exhibition view: Sojourner Truth Parsons, If nobody wants you youʼre free, Esther Schipper, Berlin, 2023, Courtesy the artist and Esther Schipper, Berlin/ Paris/Seoul, Photo © Andrea Rossetti
Urban landscapes with skyscrapers, hints of river views and window frames found their way into Parsons’ work after she moved to New York from Los Angeles in 2018. The new paintings on display in If nobody wants you you’re free are informed by her extended stays in rural upstate New York and show her renewed engagement with nature. Speed of earth, 2023, for example, creates a rhythmic pattern of black verticals with irregularly curved and deeply notched edges reminiscent of tree trunks or carved beams. For the artist, the work embodies a fleeting but intense impression: the feeling of being in an icy landscape, its hard-edged shapes and its crackling sounds.
At times, the association with the outside world is simply anchored by a luminous round shape – sun or moon – that makes the image switch instantly between abstraction and representation. Or gentle hills and upward curves suddenly reveal their eroticism before rejoining a compositional whole of abstracted patterns. Other works play with the memory of seeing – for example, the sensation of an image shrinking or spiralling – and capture such visual effects as a lived experience.
Parsons’ paintings incorporate influences from the art of the post-World War II years, but also an abstraction that draws from everyday life and other traditions of making objects. Her work is influenced by the appropriation of collage techniques, which has left traces in her painting process, compositional structure and formal vocabulary. References to the communal activities of African-American quilt-making in the American South provide access to the charged subtext that emerges from Parsons’ abstracted scenes. In particular, quilt-making in Alabama’s Gee’s Bend, with its uneven forms and kaleidoscopic central structures at its centre, but also its ethos of inventiveness and solidarity, remains an important point of reference.
The colours in Parsons’ paintings are linked to formal and emotional associations: Bright colours like pink and bright reds allude to the unreality of artificial lights in an urban setting, a sunset framed by the Manhattan skyline, or a bright summer day. And while the browns in some of the new paintings are reminiscent of forests, the light greens bring spring into a wintry landscape. A series of 15 small-format paintings takes up an almost monochrome colour palette and uses different shades of black, created by changes in viscosity and gloss, reminiscent of the black-on-black paintings of Ad Reinhardt.
Compositional structure and colour, however, have a wider significance in Parsons’ practice. As the artist noted in 2022, “I find borders really beautiful. When I experience the world, I can’t help but see everything as an edge, as a colour alongside a texture alongside a flatness. And as a white person of colour, this ‘edginess’ has been part of the way I’ve interpersonally moved through the world all my life. On the edge.”
Sojourner Truth Parsons (born 1984 in Vancouver, Canada) is an artist of Afro-Indigenous and Settler heritage. She holds a Bachelor of Fine Arts from Nova Scotia College of Art and Design, Halifax, Nova Scotia. The artist lives and works in Brooklyn, NY.
Parsons war Artist in Residence in Denniston Hill, Glen Wild, NY (2021), dem Santa Fe Art Institute, Canada Council for the Arts International Residencies, Santa Fe, NM (2014), Terra Nova National Park, The Rooms, Neufundland (2014) und dem Ross Creek Center for the Arts, Bay of Fundy, Nova Scotia (2009).
Her solo exhibitions include: Sojourner Truth Parsons: Holding Your Dog At Night, Oakville Galleries, Oakville, Canada (2017); recent group exhibitions include: Summer ’22, Esther Schipper, Berlin (2022); The New Bend, curated by Legacy Russell, Hauser & Wirth, Somerset (2023) Los Angeles (2022), and New York (2022); L’Invitation au voyage, Esther Schipper, Berlin (2021); This is America, Kunstraum Potsdam, Potsdam (2021); This Sacred Vessel (PT. 1), Arsenal Contemporary, New York (2020).
Parsons’ work is represented in the collections of the Museum Voorlinden, Wassenar, the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts, Montreal, and the Long Museum, Shanghai.
Opening: Thursday, 8. June 2023, 6pm to 9pm
Exhibition dates: Thursday, 8. June – Friday, 6. July 2023To the Gallery
Image caption: Sojourner Truth Parsons, Life knows how to live here, 2023. Foto © Jörg von Bruchhausen
Exhibition Sojourner Truth Parsons – Esther Schipper | Zeitgenössische Kunst in Berlin | Contemporary Art | Ausstellungen Berlin Galerien | ART at Berlin