David Park was born on March 17, 1911 in Boston, Massachusetts. His father, Charles Edwards Park, was an esteemed Unitarian minister at the First Church in Boston. David had one sister, and two brothers, one which was writer Edwards Park. As a child, David was determined to become an artist. Although his parents were unhappy with his decision not to achieve a proper education, David decided to accept an offer to move to California with his aunt Edith Park Truesdell.
From 1928 to 1929, Park attended the Otis Art Institute in Los Angeles, however he dropped out going on to work as a stonecutter for Robert Stackpool and for the Federal Arts Project. By 1935, he was receiving recognition as an artist. In the same year, he had his first one-man show at the San Francisco Museum of Art. During this time his paintings featured musicians and dancers in a hard, dry, distorted scale. Towards the end of the decade, his painting style became increasingly Cubist.
David Park was part of the post-World War II alumnae of the California School of Fine Arts, which is now called the San Francisco Art Institute. Here he grew an interest in figurative art. Along with Richard Diebenkorn and Elmer Bischoff, Park formed what would later be called the Bay Area Figurative Movement. Their influence may be seen in the work of artists such as Paul John Wonner, Nathan Oliveira, Manuel Neri, Henry Villierme and Joan Brown, all of who were later members of the Bay Area Figurative School. Park eventually landed at position with the Art Department at the University of California.
Artists in the Bay Area Figurative School began painting in an objective style, using abstract shapes in large space. However, they soon migrated to using the physical world and representative subjects to experiment with color, texture, shape and temperature. David Park believed that concentrating on principle and abstraction drew attention to the painter rather than the painting. He also felt that it was important to develop responses to nature.
David painted in the figurative style from 1950 to 1959, when he became ill with cancer. He started out painting from memory the things in which he saw. This included kids playing in the street, musicians, his friends, and people in their homes. However, toward the end of the decade he painted classical studio nudes and bathers in a monumental style. Park became too ill to paint with oils, and then moved on to painting with watercolors until his death.
From 1988 to 1989, David Park had a retrospective at the Whitney Museum of American Art in New York City. He died on September 20, 1960 at the age of 49.