Steven Parrino (1958–2005) was a modernist mannerist master with an instinct for annihilation. His graphic oeuvre, which brings something of the high energy of hardcore punk music to the delicacy of drawing, seems to hail from a lost golden age when an artist could still inhabit a mental space separate from mainstream pop culture. Loevenbruck’s modest batch of works on paper from 1989 onward highlight Parrino’s melancholy aesthetic and unique sensibility, which mingled the cynical with the transcendent.
Parrino, who came of age in a late-1970s art scene dominated by the rhetoric about the death of painting, was interested lay in historical reference, not abstraction. As with many of the artists associated with Gallery Nature Morte, the 1980s-era neo-Conceptualist East Village haunt where he first showed, Parrino began playing with insincere signifiers that he eventually came to love. In his graphic work, a semiotic suspicion, consistent with Guy Debord’s Society of the Spectacle—from which Parrino nicked a phrase for his 2003 book, No Text—took on a kind of subdued hysteria. Parrino relished the confrontations that could be created by injecting campy elements into serious high-art and/or punk references. The black rectangle in Black Flag, 2003, which appropriates and rotates a kitsch drawing Raymond Pettibon made for a Black Flag band flyer, can be read as a Pierre Soulages canvas. Besides the obvious nod to Malevich’s famous 1915 painting, the black square in Untitled, 2003, also suggests La Monte Young’s Black Album record cover from 1969. Through these nested references, Parrino made it clear that an artist does not work in a vacuum, but in a field of dead clichés.