The painter Richard Diebenkorn once said that representation and abstraction were like the opposite ends of a stick: he commented, “I’ve found myself all over that stick.” Siddharth Parasnis—a painter whose recent work depicts a parallel universe of architectural forms and fantasies—is interested in working that same range. Parasnis’ elegant inventions mix the energy and spontaneity of abstraction with a feeling for cityscapes that the artist has gleaned from his international travels. His paintings invite viewers to enter into a world that opens up their imagination while still providing tantalizing whiffs of experience and culture.
Born in India and currently residing the in San Francisco Bay Area, Parasnis is a citizen of the world who has visited Guatemala, Costa Rica, the Honduras and, most recently, Greece. The places where Parasnis travels tend to include areas that look rather like his paintings: beach towns, villages and marketplaces. One way to frame the artist’s inclinations is to consider the kinds of locations and subjects that he is not attracted to. A partial list would include capital cities, tract homes and skyscrapers since he is seeking character, not monumentality. Parasnis is attracted to buildings that cluster and lean, providing architectural metaphors for life’s social energies and fragility.
Parasnis tends to leave out human figures: he avoids including them in his invented scenes to keep them from coming across as specific or literal. One of the artist’s consistent goals is to keep his works “open” both formally and imaginatively so that their sense of possibility and mystery will not be extinguished. Leaving out the figure—which can be so demanding to paint and contextualize—let’s Parasnis feel free with his brushes (and palette knives) to generate fields of color, variations in scale and firm edges. That formal vocabulary—combined with a feeling for pattern—contributes greatly to the dynamism of his compositions.
Looking over a Parasnis cityscape can provide a glimpse of just how much energy and variety the artist can conjure. One recent canvas features a converging city of bright polygons in contrasting warm and cool tones—for example burnt orange and pale aquamarine—the composition is enlivened by surprising intersections and traces of brushwork. What might seem at first, to be an abstract approach is moved towards credibility by cast shadows that suggest solidity and times of day. Bits of what might be power lines and antennas add detail as do random stripes of color that peek through as if to remind viewers that what they see is painted. Never a fussy painter, Parasnis knows that leaving traces of the “accidents” that happen as he moves towards completion will add to the character and vitality of his painting.
Parasnis is a hybridizer whose artistic influences are eclectic: they range from Edward Hopper to Abstract Expressionism to Indian miniatures. Interested in the traces of life he detects across time and culture but never overbearing, Parasnis avoids firm symbols and cultural cliches. Instead Parasnis concentrates on how he feels about the places he has been and let’s the soul of those places come through him as he paints.
It’s a generous approach to painting and that has resulted in a sustained and engaging body of work that continues to offer aesthetic revelations. Memories of the bold colors and lively chaos of his native India are still there, layered beneath the revelations of travel and the considerable formal intelligence of a painter who is on a spiritual and artistic journey.