Meet Me Halfway
From the exhibition catalog of the same name.
The title of this show asks that the viewer take an active part in the digestion of this work. I provide an abstract image that can be interpreted in a myriad of ways, all personal to the viewer. These are pictures that come from internal states and early sensoral memories. Color is personal, i.e. one person's red of love is another's red of fire. I don’t want you to experience the paintings on a literal level. Take them inside and try them on, see how they feel. Meet me halfway in your experience of this work and take your time as each is subtle.
Grady Turner in Art in America (Oct. 1998, pp. 140-41) wrote: “Among the abstractionists of her generation, she is a bit of an anachronism: though savvy about current trends, she paints like an old timer, unaffected by irony or academic debates about the end of abstraction.” He finishes the art review by stating “Moving from the ethereal to the physical, Parish conveys a rare unalloyed truth in the spirituality of abstract art.” The “subject matter” of my paintings come from nature, from the wonderment of childhood memories. When nature is the subject matter, there is an underlying element of the spiritual in abstraction.
The work is informed synesthesialy by smell and sound: the crunching of snow, the dripping of an icicle in the sun indicating that warmer days were coming, the fleeting smell of spring in the air. Kenneth Baker in Art News (Summer 1999, p. 159) wrote: “Indeed, many of Parish’s pictures refer to rain or the wind, as if these forces were allegorical parts of painting’s ancestry.” And for me, these are the parts that capture me in the works of JMW Turner, Fitz Hugh Lane, Martin Johnson Heade, Vincent Van Gogh, Albert Bierstadt, and Winslow Homer. As you can see many of my influences are American 19th-century Luminist and Hudson River School painters. I attribute this to the years I spent working at James Graham and Sons (now Taylor and Graham) in New York City as well as the now-defunct Lagagos Turk Gallery, a 19th c. American Gallery, in Philadelphia.
Grace Glueck wrote: "Optically, these luscious works are meant to vibrate as segments of larger patterns that extend beyond their borders..." (New York Times, Sept. 19, 2000). The paintings do not have a single focal point and extend well beyond the square, as the universe has no end. They play with the literal flatness and suspension of disbelief of pictorial space simultaneously. Through layering and transparency, there is the illusion of deep space, a Higgs Boson view of space. A flat piece of an abstract shape shows up to question the veracity of this practice and bring us back to the literalness and materiality of what is in front of us. My use of sequins is another way in which I draw attention to the surface and dispute the illusion I have set up.
Things, in my paintings as in life, are always in the process of becoming: the edge of things about to be, flux, impermanence, thawing, growth, and the change of the seasons. Spring was a most joyous time of year after a long white winter with low gray clouds and little sun in my hometown of Detroit. This touches on the Buddhist insistence on impermanence and how this resonates with me.
The change of the season from winter to spring is a specific motif. You will spot these paintings most easily through their titles, Spring Thaw, Inkling of Spring, the Day Between Winter and Spring, Evidence of Spring, Spring Thaw, The Uncovering of Spring. Other seasons are represented: Lost in Autumn, The Whited Air, Sunset Lounge Chair.
Other paintings are imbued in weather, which we can always count on to change: River at High Sun, July Birthday, Lemonade Sunrise, Land Ho/Horizon During the Storm, A Sudden Gust of Wind, Afternoon Drama, Clever Cloud Cover, What Happens in the Rain, Approaching Storm Narraganset Bay. These are “snapshots” of a moment in time.
Water is a long tim constant in my work: We will See Mt. Fuji from the Sea, And Onward Flows the River, The River is Never the Same Twice, Submersion, Horizon and On and On, Afternoon Drama, The Choral Master’s Saltwater Dive, River at High Sun, Daydreamer, Tonic, et cetera. What is interesting to me about water is its constant mutability of form and emotional implications. As Herman Melville states in Moby Dick "...as everybody knows, water and meditation are wedded forever."
Fire paired with night is a newer part of the of the catalog of my work, to the list of things I explore: Soliloquy on Fire, Fiery Sibling, The Shimmering of Heated Air, Scintillating.
For years I was a northern painter painting northern colors. Of late, after 12 years, the tropics have finally successfully appeared in my work: Tropical Night Drive, Bossa Nova, Jungle’s Edge, What do Moth's Dream.
My work begins with an Impressionist and Expressionist color influence. With respect to my use of color, few paintings that happened before Van Gogh are relevant to any conversation about my work. I have an undying love for Vermeer, Giotto, and Hokusai. However, the influence these artists have on me does not go as deep. In looking at Monet's water lilies, I don’t see a misstep in color choices or structure. The use of simultaneous contrast is one of my favorite devices in the pairing of colors, albeit subtle. However, I need more than pure color interaction. I need movement, history, time, flux, the sense that this painting or that painting is a snapshot of a moment. The only constant is change and this is behind the non-static position that drives my works.
I give you the visual and you are open to interpret it as you feel. One person's sunrise is another sunset, half full/half empty. Blue is one man’s meditative and curative color and another’s depressed mood; yellow can be the joy of the sun on your skin or feel, were you unfortunate, like jaundice; green is the verdancy of a summer lawn, and also the cool dark depths of a lake. You must decide for yourself what these colors represent to you. The viewer must make the “narrative arc” between the elements of the paintings, between what is showing and what one can only glimpse as it is nearly hidden.
The under-paintings are usually chaotic, and order is brought through the stabilizing force of the later layers. I like to paint freely, from the subconscious when starting a painting. I do have a vision in my mind that I catch in the mind’s eye of before and during the making of the work. I build up layers of pigment and take a sander to the surface to break through to earlier layers, when necessary.
The layers on top of the under-painting give it the illusionist and physical depth that are central in my work. A little chaos is visible, and so is it in our daily lives as we continue to move forward, pay the bills, bear the children, strive for more.
Circles are the primary means by which I create the illusion of space. I use resin to give a literal separation and space between the circles. These stem from the microcosmic atoms and cells that make up everything on the round planet of ours. This is the first geometric form and it stems from nature. Striped and grids and triangles come from the imagination of man. The layering of these shapes creates a sense of space. The transparencies create other leaf-like shapes through their overlap to further dramatize the picture plan and move the views eye across the painting. These are segments of a larger universe or view under the microscope. I employ a microcosm, macrocosm aspect in their sizing in relation to the viewer.
Abstraction is the most personal of expressions. Work that deals with the emotional and spiritual aspects of life are akin to the wordlessness of these human experiences. It does not have the device of representation on which to rely. The associations span the entire life of the viewer. Experiences from childhood are as valid as those that appear in more revered arenas. It is a vocabulary of implication and open-mindedness to have 50% of the input from the viewer, to meet me half way.
As a child, my favorite artist was Joseph Cornell. To say I was exposed to art at an early age is an understatement. My mother and her wife, and my father and his wife are all artists. I grew up in the 70’s when TV was the boob tube and was thought to rot your brain. I went to a very alternative school, called the Upland Hills Farm School. We witnessed animals being born and got to know nature on a first name basis, though I lived in Detroit. The animals all had names and vegetarianism was the norm. We were encouraged to ask questions and remain curious.
As a kid of divorced parents, I saw my dad on the weekends. We went to art openings, and he took me to the Detroit Institute of Art on a regular basis. Some that has worked it’s way into my subconscious. They have a beautiful Martin Johnson Head, one of my favorites today as well as an important Van Gogh portrait.
During the week I wasn’t allowed to watch more than 30 minutes of TV after school. Drawing and painting supplies were always available, so when not engrossed in a book, this was what I was up to. My mother encouraged my creativity at Christmas one year when she gave me an electric potters’ wheel. “Toys” of this sort were the norm. I didn’t have much use for balls or board games, especially as an only child.
My mother, named Susan, and her then partner, now wife, also named Susan and I moved to Southern Indiana. We lived on a hippy commune without running water or electricity. We had an outhouse and used gas lamps and a wood burning stove. I have many sensorial memories of this time that speak to my work. Much of my work is about the experience of nature, the sound of the silence of the woods, the smell of spring in the air. One would think, in retrospect, that I had found my nirvana. However, I am a city person. I went to stay with my dad for the summer in his 6,000 square foot loft in the downtown Detroit. My dad and step-mom, both painters, gave me my own studio, the first one. I have never gone without one since this time 38 years ago.
The studio is my palace, my kingdom. I reign.
After it was decided that I would stay in Detroit, I was in no rush to get back to the country and its spiders and snakes and trudging through virgin snow over a quarter mile to get to the school bus. My education as a Rudolph Steiner student began at this time. I feel fortunate to have had this experience, especially the small classrooms and the encouragement of my teachers.
Also important were my violin studies. I began to practice and play on a daily basis. The instrument gave me the discipline to get “it” right, whatever it is. You can’t fudge on a violin; you are either in tune or out of tune. Everyone from 8th grade on in my school was in the orchestra. There was no option to not play an instrument. It takes intense focus and a team spirit to play classical music.
The classical music themes of refrain, melody, and harmony, are in my paintings. These structures I got from the inherent pattern in each work of music. I repeat shapes that echo other shapes that all relate together like the separate parts of a musical score. I often think that my violin teacher, Mr. McNair, was the best painting teacher I’ve had. He demanded perfection from me, as did the task itself. From him, I get the stamina to keep fighting forward to make the best painting possible.
I also get my work ethic from my parents. I have seen my dad sit for hours over the decades with a 6 foot by 6-foot canvas and a tiny paintbrush. He always paints in an additive motion, moving towards his goal. I have seen my mom master many media and grapple with the problems each brings, to see her persevere to make something and take it apart if it isn’t right. Her work tends to be three- dimensional. She also taught me to use power tools. My dad took me to see the Mona Lisa.
After my years at the alternative style of Steiner education, I seamlessly move into Bennington College. I felt at home immediately with the small class size and necessity for self-motivation. The professors weren’t there to babysit. You could do the work or you could not. You got out of it what you put into it like you will with this exhibition and publication. I was fortunate enough to be recognized in my first semester as someone who should start taking more advanced painting courses in my freshman year. I already had a good grasp of art history and the major players of the day.
I painted every day throughout my four years. As I said, my studio is my paradise, so why would I want to be anywhere else? I did spend one term abroad, influence by my favorite painters at the time, Kiefer, and the other Neue Wilde painters, in then West Berlin, before the wall came down. Even today, 30 plus years later, I continue to be wowed by the majesty of Kiefer’s vision. Hindsight being 20/20 it was an invaluable experience to see a city that soon would change so much. Much is the same with the New York City I fell in love with.
I dove right into graduate school at Queens College in Queens, NY. Those two years sped by. I was a teaching assistant and was an artist’s assistant for Kenji Fujita and for one of my professors, Robert Birmelin during this time. I had had some jobs as a studio assistant during the non-resident terms required at Bennington. For ten weeks per year the college shut down, mercifully during the deep winter, and we all spread across the globe to work in our intended professions. Some of the places I worked were at the New Museum Contemporary Art, the John Good Gallery and for Marilyn Minter, James Hyde, Moira Dryer, David Reed, Michele Zalopany, and George Negroponte as a studio assistant. I always went to New York City.
I spent twenty years in New York City. I felt I was a dyed in the wool New Yorker. Somehow I have found myself in Miami Beach. My husband and I sublet our loft in Manhattan for three months and took up temporary residence in Miami Beach, and that has turned into a decade plus. I think it partially has to do with the fact that the seasons don’t change in South Florida, so it is still our first season.
I would be remiss if I didn’t include Yayoi Kusama, Beatriz Milhazes, Agnes Martin and Susan Rothenberg as important to the discussion of my work. Their “overallness” and simultaneous attention to materials and space has influenced me for years and given me encouragement on an internal, silent level. Of late I add the Cuban artist Lolo to this roster.
With the increasing speed of the world and immediate gratification possible, we don’t spend much contemplative time. These paintings are slow reads. It takes longer to “feel” the painting, and one needs to go inward and plumb one’s depths for association. People are forever exclaiming how they see new things in the work after owning them for years. This is immensely gratifying, and, in fact, is the point. All is not revealed in a short viewing. Ideally, I would include a meditation cushion or an easy chair with each of the paintings.
I have long wanted to show the paintings on black walls with room to sit and am grateful that this is possible at Art & Art Gallery. It is my hope that people will come and stay for a while and let the paintings talk to them. This catalog should impart a similar experience, though on another scale. They span many of the years during which I’ve had over 30 solo exhibitions.