Wednesday, April 11, 2007

Art Space Talk: Tom Parker

(Tom Parker with drawing for “the WRATH” 2005 Photo by R. Miller)

I recently interviewed artist Tom Parker. Professor Parker is a Professor of Art and Art History, as well as the Art Department Chair at Drury University. He has taught a wide variety of art history courses at Drury including 19th Century French, Native American Architecture, History of Photography, Modern Art, Pre-historic Art, Ancient Art, Theory and Criticism of Art, and Art and Architecture History I and II.

Tom regularly exhibits his art both in solo shows and group shows. He has been the recipient of numerous prizes and awards. His work has been seen in major museums around the country, including the Whitney Museum, the Chicago Art Institute, the Nelson Atkins Museum, the St. Louis City Museum, and the Springfield Art Museum.

Q. You are a Professor of Art & Art History at Drury University. What is your personal philosophy about art education?

A. "I am a professor at Drury University, although I never really set out to be a teacher. I worked for about five years in the NY art scene in the early seventies and had some solid success, but ultimately felt that NYC was driving. I moved my loft from SOHO to a nice space in Chatham, NY and began to regain my bearings. Outside the NY market, teaching is the big patron.

Eventually, I drifted back into teaching (I had taught at University of Wisconsin-Whitewater and at NYU before abandoning the city) in order to pay the bills. It was my huge good fortune to step into a department chair position At Drury, where I had the opportunity to start an accredited school of architecture and rebuild a moribund Art and Art History department. Twenty-five years later I have no regrets.

My teaching philosophy has been simple. I try to do two things only. I help students uncover their own creativity and then help them evaluate the results. It has been worth doing and my own work has been supported both materially and intellectually by it. I much prefer it to working in NY. I find it easier to be reflective about the work that I make."

Q. At Drury University you discussed the Politics of Creativity. Can you go into detail about this issue?

A. "That was in a speech I gave at a Founder's Day Convocation. My point was that creativity basically subverts a dominant paradigm and is therefore a political metaphor. The art that interests me tends to be subversive."

Q. When did you first discover that art would be an important part of your adult life?

A. "When I discovered that life offered no other arena that I could think of, where“autonomy” was not only permitted, but also expected. It is a source of freedom in an otherwise compromised world. I discovered it very early on."

Q. How has society influenced your art? Are there any social implications in your art?

A. "I suppose I might admit that society has influenced my work, although I would prefer to think that I, in some way, influenced society. I am moved by much of what I see in the world, either politically or formally, and it certainly gets into mywork."

(“Homage to a Flayed Saint” fresco 12” x 12” 2000)

Q. On average, how long does it take you to create a piece?

A. "It is really impossible to say, because I have worked in a variety of media and with widely varying intentions. I have spent as long as a year (Personal Boom Boom, performance, 1998), but prefer to suspend time while involved with a particular piece. I usually am involved in a series of related works in a progression, possibly continuing for several years."

(“Site-State #8 & #9, The Harbor” acrylic 100” x 50” 2004)

Q. What was your most important exhibition? Care to share that experience?

A. "I suppose it is a cliché, but the answer is certainly ”the next one”. My favorite show to remember is the last one I had in New York at the 55 Mercer Gallery, where I did a collaborative sculpture installation known as “The Radio Show”. It included a wide assortment of other artists who carried out parts of the piece,including writers, musicians, actors and an electronics genius or two. It was called out by New York Magazine as the “best bet in Manhattan” It was a great show which left me nearly broke in the big city. Frightening!"

Q. Do you have any 'studio rituals'? As in, do you listen to certain types of music while working? What helps to get you in the mood for working?

A. "It always starts in “dream-time” when I am playing my old banjo. Then I get curious to see what an idea would actually look like. Next comes a period of veryfocused work which leaves my studio a mess, but generally doesn't stop until my curiosity is sated or the piece is done and leads to the next one. I don't remember ever having any sort of “block”."

“Barge” wood and stainless 96” x 28” 2000

Q. Discuss one of your pieces. What were you thinking when you created it?

A. "I would like to comment on “Twelve Days At Sea”, a large painting I did back in 1976. It was the first major painting I did after my loft in Chatham, NY burned to the ground, along with everything I owned, including all of my paintings and my slide records.
For me, it was a hopeful painting. It depicts the same ocean on twelve successive days, each being much the same but quite different. It suggested to me that, as things change, they might actually get better. There is always that possibility when a new day dawns. It isn't all that profound, but it helped me see the loft fire as cleansing, rather than as a tragedy. I've loaned it out several times for extended periods, but I wouldn't sell it. It is still useful tome."

(“Twelve Days At Sea” acrylic 72”x 50” 1976)

Q. Where did you earn your degree? How did that program shape you as an artist?

A. "I got my MFA from the University of Iowa in 1960. I learned a lot and worked with a fine painter, Stuart Edie, from the Phil Guston days. There was more than a little risk aversion going on in the department at the time but it really didn't slow me down much."

Q. Why did you choose the medium(s) that you use?

A. "Thomas Hart Benton introduced me to acrylic paint in 1959. I have used it since then, except when I make sculpture or do performance pieces. I recently had a good time making a short video about “The Wrath” of God with drawings of the Second-Coming that I did during a six month sabbatical in Volos, Greece."

(“Personal Icon” acrylic 48” x 50” 2000)

Q.Where can we see more of your art?

A. "Most all of it is in my studio except for a few pieces owned by museums. I have a good painting in the Springfield Art Museum. Since I have avoided the market, I never built a website, but maybe I should. Some people might be interested.
Several years ago with two other artists, I did a performance piece on the web. It was an elaborate simulation of a new museum called SMOCA-Mo., which someone archived and it can still be found. It has a large exhibition of my work in two of the galleries."

(Sculpture installation at SMOCA-Mo mixed media 2002)

Q. Are you represented by a gallery? Do you have any upcoming exhibits?
A. "No, I have chosen to avoid any exclusive gallery representation since I left NYC.The fact is, I don't really get much of a kick out of selling my work. I much prefer to simply show the work and am generally traumatized when someone starts offering me money.
I have earned that luxury by teaching for the past twenty-five years. I have a show of new painting scheduled at the Pool Art Center(Springfield) next year."

(“Island in a Green Sea” acrylic 36” x 36” 1992)

Q. What galleries have you exhibited in? Can you provide links to their sites?

A. "I was in the first show at 55 Mercer in SOHO (NYC) and had three one-man shows there before 1975. Since then, most of my shows have been in non-commercial spaces; art centers, university galleries, etc. I still have an occasional show in a local gallery that is clean and bright."

Q. What trends do you see in the 'art world'?

A. "Most of it is trivial, sophomoric and trendy, although there are some stars out there. I have two former students who are in the middle of it and doing some very interesting things.
Karen Gunderson is painting important work in NY, and Jack Dolhausen is making incredible electronic sculpture in Pullman,Washington. Then, of course, there are the art stars, some of whose work I greatly admire."

Q. Any tips for emerging artists?

A. "Don't become a “studio monk”. Your work will lose touch with the world and without context, become irrelevant."

Q. Has your work ever been censored? If so, how did you deal with it?

A. "No, I have never been personally censored, however, I was once in a faculty show at Wisconsin State-Whitewater when the board of trustees censored a painting by Leanne Shreaves, called “Events”, which had also been censored at the Chicago Art Institute´. We closed the show and most of the faculty, along with the president of the university, resigned in protest. Leanne stayed put."

Q. What was the toughest point in your career as an artist? Have you ever hit rock-bottom?

A. "It was certainly the inability of the arts, except for rock-and-roll, to make any relevant statement whatever about the Viet Nam War. I include myself in that category.
I began to seriously question the validity of the entire enterprise we call“Art”. I don't know that I actually considered giving it up, but I think I must have at its worst.
My solution was to consistently make things that couldn't possibly be hung on rich people's walls. It was a successful statement but somewhat detrimental to my ability to survive selling paintings.
Not only was I frustrated by the prevailing critical mode, I was slowly going broke living in the city and needed out for the sake of my tender and sensitive bearings."

Q. In one sentence... why do you create art?

A. "It is an exhilarating rush to make something that didn't previously exist, and at the conceptual level, something that might never have been imagined."

Q. What can you tell our readers about the art scene in your area?

A. "I reside and have my studio near Springfield, Missouri. The local art scene is humble and about right. There are some respectable local artists, a museum, an Art Center, and a dozen local galleries that actually try to varying degrees.
It isn't unusual to have a couple of thousand people on the street, gallery hopping, on the first Friday of the month when new shows open. I have frequently shown locally because it is fun and keeps me in the game."

Q. Has politics ever entered your art?

A. "It absolutely has, but my early training as a “Modernist” and in the dictum that“content resides in form”, tended to make me adverse to any didacticism. It then becomes a tough needle to thread, since I am often highly motivated by what is going on in politics."

(“Crossing” mixed media 18' x 8' 2007)

Q. Does religion, faith, or the lack thereof play a part in your art?

A. "Like many others, I am fascinated and awed by the power of natural calamities, but find myself annoyed when evangelicals lay claim to such events as proof of divine retribution and mortal accountability. That is not to say that natural catastrophes are never directly related to human “sin.” Indeed, they may occasionally be linked and the pious constituency should consider, as they warn us of the almighty consequences of abomination, whether making the planet too warm for life to inhabit would also count as “sin” and that their “good Christianman” president might be held accountable.

My drawings are often random musings on the subjects of sin, consequences,wrath, tribulation, retribution, the Second Coming and other catastrophes."

Q. Is there anything else you would like to say about your art or the 'art world'?
A. "Yes, indeed, however, that is best accomplished in the studio."
I hope that you have enjoyed my interview with Tom Parker. Feel free to critique or discuss his work.
Take care, Stay true,
Brian Sherwin


Anonymous said...

When Tom Parker performs, "Ramona" on his accoustic guitar it will make you want to snort a line just to keep from falling off the cliff. But in a good way. Sort of. He'll understand.


Anonymous said...

Tom Parker's Friday afternoon jam sessions in the art gallery inspired many would be musicians to become art students. The music department tried having stick figure drawing sessions in the auditorium, but they simply could not compete.