Warren Parker‘s work is deceptively modern.

He makes watercolors of ballet dancers, bullfighters, and women of the night, lounging in opulent bedrooms. There is a 19th century vibe to all of it, including Parker’s own self-portraits. And yet, these traditional entertainers, in their spectator-like arenas (the stage, the brothel), strike┬áposes that are rife with identity politics.

Parker is an African-American artist, born in D.C., but having lived most of his life in NYC. His ballet dancers, in particular, evoke the sensuality of Degas and the primitivism of Matisse, yet they also glow with a kind of alternative spirituality… a voodoo, an ecstasy. His toreador portraits are abstracted to the point of being collage-like. They sparkle with fantasy and ride the line between exegesis and propaganda, often looking like ’60s travel agency posters.

Reality is the key to Parker’s subtle work. The inauthentic postures of professional life are a window to the soul. A man’s fate is a mystical conceit that falls far short of what’s truly on the inside. Look past it, Parker’s work seems to say. See me. (Brian Chidester)