Erik Parra has exhibited internationally in alternative spaces, commercial galleries and museums in Berlin, Brazil, Los Angeles, London and New York. He was born and raised in El Paso-Juárez and currently resides in San Francisco.
His solo show, “History by Choice” explores interior spaces and how the history of design informs our emotional response to the environments we inhabit. The majority of the works in the exhibit were made during the Liquitex Research Residency located within the Minnesota Street Project Art Studios.
Maybe it is a good thing for us to keep a few dreams of a house that we shall live in later, always later, so much later, in fact, that we shall not have time to achieve it. For a house that was final, one that stood in symmetrical relation to the house we were born in, would lead to thoughts–serious, sad thoughts–and not to dreams. It is better to live in a state of impermanence than in one of finality.” ― Gaston Bachelard, The Poetics of Space
Parra grew up in a home that was full of carefully selected Modern furniture chosen by his parents. Parra’s interest in design and the history of architecture stems from his childhood.
The title of the exhibit, ”History by Choice” comes from the book “Design by Choice” by Reyner Banham published in 1981. The book collects essays published throughout Banham’s career. In “Design by Choice”, Banham addresses the shift in modern architectural practice and thinking during the middle of the twentieth century in the United States. Architects in the 1920’s-1930’s designed both the outside and interiors of their structures, often including the furniture. This holistic approach to design created a clear narrative relationship between the exterior and interior space and also points to the authority of the architect as the consummate decision-maker when it came to building a new home. The client wasn’t the one choosing beyond initial first strokes, the architect was the force behind design direction and creative choices.
By the middle of the twentieth century a confluence of events caused that trend to change and brought about “Design by Choice”. The widespread introduction of mass production and mass consumption created a cultural shift allowing a democratization of choice that did not exist before. This allowed interior design to become a more diverse practice without the limitations and connotations of the past; anyone could decorate.
Democratizing choice begins a dialogue about how we choose the environments we build for ourselves and the associations we have with our own staged interiors. There is an intrinsic purpose or potential of individual piece of furniture but in many cases they are chosen for more emotional reasons.
The paintings in “History by Choice” are created from Parra’s memory of staged interiors using sources such a architectural design books and catalogs of contemporary furniture. He selects images for compositions based on visual interest or relation to art historical compositions. Parra thinks of the choice of objects in the paintings as having a set of potential, rather than fixed allegorical connotations. The viewer brings the meaning to the objects. Objects within each image are chosen for their potential for symbolic form, simultaneously loaded and banal. His interiors play host to a range of potential conversations related to aesthetics, politics and history. Parra is interested in an examination of postwar historical narratives; such as white flight and the American space program and their challenging effects on contemporary society. Parra says, “I am interested in drawing on our collective cultural memory as informed by the histories of painting, film, aggressive underground music and radical politics in order to paint a critical, collective self-portrait of our time.”
The paintings physical qualities present a range paint handling. Parra’s edges are sometimes precise using stencils and in other areas in stark contrast appear completely loose and “of the hand”. Parra uses lots of layers of sheer varnishes to achieve depth in certain areas of the works juxtaposed with areas of matte color. He uses chiaroscuro and high contrast in many of the compositions to create a homey steam of light or a nightscape with moonlight but almost always imbued with an elevated sense of drama or staginess. The over-the-topness of the compositions throws us out of the narrative and points to the other conversations he is trying to present.