From the Book ” Beyond the Brush “
Beyond the Brush
For myself, art is the pursuit of happiness; for not to create would be to deny who I am. My art is the integration of things seen and experienced, the record of my existence, the pursuit of perfection and the constant that will be developed to the end. Only time will tell if the vision within the work has meaning enough to enhance the lives of others in the future. Seeing the subtleties of life is my inspiration, to translate it onto canvas is my desire and to play with paint is my passion. The paintings in this book are a small reflection of who I am and what I have seen.
Randolph Parker, like many artists, can trace the influences of his art back to his early childhood. But, unlike that of many others, Parker ’s artistic path is direct and virtually unbroken. It starts where he grew up and leads with little or no detour to where he stands today as one of this country’s great landscape painters.
Parker grew up in Huntsville, Ontario, a small town of about 10,000 people,250 kilometres from Toronto and in the heart of Muskoka. Huntsville sits on the border of Algonquin Park, famous as being the inspiration to the Group of Seven. It was in Huntsville that Parker began his life as an artist.
In 1960,when he was six years old, his mother entered one of Parker ’s drawings in a competition. He won first place and had to appear on television to accept his prize. This posed a problem as the television station was 187 kilometres away and getting there meant driving through a snowstorm. His parents made the trip as a sign of encouragement, and when Parker entered the studio with all its lights and cameras he turned to them, “All this for a drawing?” he said. Today he credits that event with sparking in him an awareness that art is something of great importance.
In the early grades of elementary school Parker drew like many other young children. His images were flat and tended to float on the paper, but it was during this time and at an early age that Parker ’s first major artistic influence took place. It happened during Huntsville ’s “Cavalcade of Colours ” when marching bands joined floats decked out in autumn colours to parade through town. It was such a large and colourful event that the Ontario College of Art sent its students from Toronto to Huntsville to document the parade. It was then that Parker first saw artists at work. He was amazed by two things: how quickly they could render a scene and how they could make a flat piece of paper appear as though it were a window onto a three dimensional world. This led him to an exploration of how to create space and depth in drawing and painting using a single vanishing point linear perspective; a technique for rendering three-dimensional space that was perfected during the Renaissance.
Parker ’s artistic development in elementary school was not always easy. As a young entrepreneur in grade five, he ’d produce nude drawings and sell them to his school mates for 10 cents a piece. When this came to the attention of the principal, Parker was reprimanded and his business quickly shut down.
His teachers continued to encourage him to draw though. One of those who was particularly encouraging was Baden Johns. Johns was one of those exceptional elementary school teachers with a big heart and an innate ability to see where a student ’s strengths lay He would then focus on those strengths and teach in a manner best suited to that particular child. In Parker ’s case this meant learning Canadian history by doing many drawings, maps and projects.
By the end of high school, Parker was dedicated to becoming an artist. To pursue this dream he realized he needed a place that would allow him uninterrupted time to paint. The hunting camp of trapper Wes Wood with 100 acres of land bordering Algonquin Park provided such a place. Parker spent three months there, painting in isolation. The cost of rent was one painting.
Parker took a large body of very detailed work to Toronto where he met with Nancy Poole of the Nancy Poole Art Gallery. This body of work included the painting “Jocelyn.” Poole was impressed with the quality of the work and recommended that Parker apply to the Academy in Madrid or to Mount Allison University in New Brunswick. Parker chose Mount Allison in part due to the reputation Alex Colville had brought to the Fine Art Department there and in part because he wanted an opportunity to explore a new region of Canada.
David Silverberg was one of Parker ’s professors at Mount Allison University. Silverberg was an energetic and charismatic instructor with an international reputation in the graphic arts. He introduced Parker to various print making techniques including engraving. This influence can be seen in the piece “When You Live It You Go Insane ”(p.4). Silverberg also inspired the young artist to produce the highest quality work possible. Under Silverberg ’s inspiration, Parker worked day and night for two years. At the end of that period he was ready to move on to a new institution and a new region of the country.
Silverberg encouraged Parker to apply to the Banff Centre ’s winter program. In his letter of support, he wrote, “ I have rarely had a young man so dedicated, so serious, so accomplished and so much in charge of his efforts as Randolph. The results of his labours have proved to be very personal works of art — works that are moving as well as technically proficient. He is in short a terrific student.” This letter, combined with a strong portfolio, opened the door to Banff for Parker.
On his way to Banff in the autumn of 1978 Parker crossed the Canadian prairies for the first time The vast space and the colour had a profound effect on his way of seeing. Parker had been living and painting in Ontario, Canadian Shield country and the Maritimes where rocks, forests and lakes are close at hand. Suddenly, as he passed through the prairies on his way to Banff, the landscape offered open skies where Parker could observe subtleties of changing light on a vast scale. Even the wedges and ribbons of colour that made up the distant fields seemed more purely optical and less about texture.
These observations influenced Parker and made their way into his work as his painting took on more subtleties and less tactility. This was reinforced by the impact of Takao Tanabe, director of the Banff program at the time, who had a colour field approach to painting the prairies and foothills that dealt with the drama of light and space. Colour field painting uses broad areas of flat colour stained or thinly painted onto the canvas to express a relationship between colour and form. It is a style that reinforces the integrity of the two-dimensional surface of the painting, an idea developed from American abstract expressionism of the 1950s.
Tanabe brought to Banff a number of artists and critics from across Canada and the United States to talk about their art and critique the students ’work. It was a unique opportunity for the 10 art students in the Winter Programme to have the individual attention of such national figures such as Gordon Rayner, Claude Breeze, Vera Frenkel, Terry Fenton and the Californian Joseph Raphael.
Raphael ’s paintings had a strong influence on Parker.
When viewed from a distance Raphael ’s large-scale paintings were photographic looking, yet the areas of the painting that made up the image were spontaneously painted with drips, splatters and stains. An example might be the eye of a frog that, seen from eight feet away might look perfectly real, but at close range looked like a cosmic world of drips, stains and smears of paint. It was the realism and the love of the natural that attracted Parker to Raphael ’s work, it was the paint handling that excited him and it was the way Raphael ’s paintings mingled realism with abstraction that would lead Parker on and have him re-examine his thoughts on what a painting could be.
Parker ’s breakthrough came when he realized that he did not have to rely on a predetermined image but could break out of that confinement and allow the paint and the painting process to be the work of art. This also allowed his emotions to guide the painting process, and, as a result, his paintings became more creative and less illustrative. It was during this year that his work changed from outdoor landscape painting in the style of the Group of Seven, to a fluid abstraction.
These early paintings were treated like windows looking into a cosmic world of painterly activity. During this transition, Parker ’s artistic philosophy changed to: The closer you get to the object that you are painting the less you see it and the more you see the cosmic structure that makes it up.With this new approach to painting Parker headed off to York University in the autumn of 1981 to study advanced painting with Paul Sloggett and art criticism with Ken Carpenter. Although he had studied European and North American art history. Parker had not been exposed to a critical understanding of art. Carpenter introduced him to the ideas of numerous critics and philosophers, especially Clement Greenberg, Herschel B.Chipp and Immanuel Kant.
Through the writings of Clement Greenberg, art critic and one of the most important observers of contemporary trends in painting, Parker became aware that there were theories of modern art and that although a painter might accept or reject those theories, one could not deny their influence. One of those theories states that from the Renaissance to Courbet an artist ’s first task has been to create the illusion of space on a flat surface. Modern painting, through generations of artists, has rendered that illusion of space shallower and shallower until the painting has become flat. The painting no longer depicts a space in which we live but has come to occupy the space in which we live. The painting itself has become a work of art.
Parker began to follow the idea of enhancing the two dimensional aspects of a painting ’s surface in order to make it more of an object. Abstraction dominated his painting throughout this period and his work took on a decidedly flat characteristic. The surfaces were highly textured, carved into and over-sprayed with paint to enhance their texture and give them an illusion of light and shadow. Strangely enough, rather than denying the illusion to space, Parker’s paintings during this period began to actually create a far greater space. The paintings resembled satellite photographs of Earth.
Eventually this enhancement of the painted surface would lead to objects being added to surface of the work as seen in the constructionist piece “Kandinsky Plus ” (p.6). At the same time Parker produced some brilliant paintings reminiscent of works by Miro, Kandinsky, Gorky, Rothko and Picasso.
But, as good as the paintings were technically and intellectually, Parker felt that they lacked an identity of their own and that they utilized theories that were already well worked out. He made a list of outstanding Canadian artists that he admired. These artists did not fit into any one particular style but covered a broad spectrum of approaches to painting from the abstractions of Jean-Paul Riopelle, Jack Shadbolt, Harold Town and Jack Bush to the works of Tom Tompson, E.J.Hughs, William Kurelek, Ivan Eyre and Patterson Ewen, and on to the realism of Alex Coleville and Christopher Pratt. What they shared for Parker was not a single idea of what modern art was about, but rather their unique and individual styles, which reflected in their paintings who they each were. Through this exercise, Parker realized that his own artistic personality had diminished during his study of modern art.
The idea of an art for art ’s sake held little interest for him. Parker now needed a source, from life, to inspire him and to awaken his own artistic identity. That source was the land.
The Growing Years
In 1992 Parker moved to Ottawa. The Gatineau Hills and the Ottawa Valley brought him back in contact with the countryside and inspired him to take a fresh look at landscape painting.
The paintings done at this time were in oils and very different from his earlier landscapes. The earlier work had the specific details of a place and the texture of the paint was carefully controlled and limited so as not to interfere with these details. In Parker ’s latter work the surface of the painting became as important as the image itself. He experimented with texture as a means of simultaneously making the paint and the object one and the same. Monet created this effect in his Water Lily series.
An opportunity to teach water colours opened at the Ottawa School of Art. Parker had been working primarily in oils and had no water colours to show the selection committee. Instead he presented two oil paintings done with thin washes on water colour paper. It was a technique he had borrowed from Emily Carr. The head water colour instructor at the school was brought in to verify the quality of Parker ’s work and, after close examination of the paintings, said, “I don ’t know how you achieve these effects but these water coloursare terrific.” With that endorsement, Parker was hired to teach. He immediately went to the library to find out how to paint in water colour. For the next 10 years, Parker taught water colours and Canadian art history in.
Water colours began to dominate Parker ’s work, and the Ottawa Valley became his source for imagery though the paintings were not necessarily site specific. An old building might be take from one location, animals from another and a sky from a different day. These were detailed paintings of the landscape, but included old farm houses, barns and animals. The work became reminiscent of the paintings of Andrew Wyeth.
At their essence, these paintings allowed Parker to create a visual space with light, shadow, atmosphere and a sense of reality. His work started moving towards the creation of space rather than the depiction of a place, and were as much from his imagination as they were from experience. His interpretation of the land represented his consciousness as an artist as much as it represented a particular place.
In 1990 Bill Mayberry of Winnipeg ’s Mayberry Gallery became Parker ’s art dealer. Although Parker ’s water colours had been a great success, Mayberry pointed out that the strength of the work lay in the power of the landscapes, and that the animals and farm structures were merely touches of nostalgia. This observation reinforced something Parker already knew and liberated him to progress in new directions.
Soon he was painting panoramic vistas of the Canadian landscape based on his travels across the country. To facilitate the change he shifted to working in acrylics and on large scale canvasses.
In 1991 he finished his first major work. “Capital Farmlands ” (p.10), a sweeping vista of a corn field being harvested, measured four by 16 feet and sold within a week of completion to the Canderal Corporation. Spurred by this success, Parker launched into a series of large scale paintings. These paintings were pure landscapes and took the viewer on a visual journey.
In 1992 Parker and his family moved to Salt Spring Island, British Columbia where he ’d been hired to instruct at a new art school. Parker taught at the Salt Spring School of Fine Art for two years, but by 1994 the demand for his paintings had grown substantially. He decided to stop teaching and focus solely on his work. This decision was made easier because in 1992 a second gallery, the BAU-XI in Vancouver, had begun to take his work, and in 1994 Parker had his first exhibit there. Endless Visions reflected his way of seeing the Canadian landscape.
In 1995 Parker was commissioned by the Wawanesa Insurance Company to create a major painting for the company ’s 100 th anniversary. While talking with Parker, one of the directors said,
“Here on the prairies we can see until tomorrow,” which inspired the title of the painting “Seeing Until Tomorrow.”
In 1997 the Master ’s Gallery of Calgary began presenting Parker ’s work. It was the keen eye of art dealer Peter Ohler who helped Parker broaden his vision. Ohler arranged a tour for Parker that took him through the foothills and Rocky Mountains by air and land, and, by chartered helicopter, around South Western Alberta. The experience not only gave Parker new sources of material, but also fired up his appreciation for the Canadian landscape and ignited his national pride.
“Imagine yourself sitting in a chair 1,000 feet above a river that flows under you to the Rockies in the background. Then imagine that the chair can drop, pivot and rise to change your point of view.
Leonardo would have loved it.” Essence of the West ,a solo exhibition of works derived from the experience, was arranged by Ohler in 1998.Since that time, Parker has had solo exhibitions at the Master ’s, Mayberry and BAU-XI Galleries.
Life on Salt Spring Island
Since 1992 when Parker moved from Ottawa to Salt Spring Island his paintings have shifted in ways reflective of that move and the differences in landscape from central Canada to the West Coast. Today Parker lives in a house with a 180 degree view of the sky, ocean and Gulf Islands.
From his studio he looks toward Active Pass and can see ferries plying the waters between the Gulf
Islands. Galiano Island stands like a mountain coming out of the sea directly across from his studio while another group of islands, the Three Sisters, are at the mouth of Ganges Harbour.
The vastness of the view is reminiscent of the prairies and a great source of inspiration for Parker’s work. Each day he watches an ever changing array of clouds pass overhead and bank up against the Coastal Mountain range while shadows cast by those clouds play on distant islands. The effect of light on water and on the landscape is reflected in Parker ’s recent work and provides inspiration that goes directly to his soul.
This inspiration has caused a shift in the subject matter of his paintings. His prairie landscapes have given way to rolling hills, islands, mountains and the ocean. With the ocean, the West Coast Trail and the mountains so easily accessible, Parker ’s repertoire has increased constantly since his move to the coast. The visual journey Parker likes to take his viewers on through his paintings is also found outside his door. His inspiration from landscape to canvas is direct and immediate. From this environment Parker still travels out to different regions of Canada in order to find further inspiration. Parker still marvels at the diversity of the land, and it is this and his love of landscape that continues to drive him.
The Painting Process
Art and music go hand in hand as Parker creates a painting ona clean white canvas. As finely detailed as his paintings are when complete, they start off very loosely and almost abstract. The large scale canvasses are first painted, all over, using house painting brushes. To match this stage in the painting process and the exuberant energy of the artist, Parker applies colour in broad intermingling brush strokes while the music of choice is jazz or rock ’n roll.
As subsequent layers of paint are added and the brush strokes become more deliberate and shorter, the accompanying music become smore contemplative and yet still fused with energy. Jessie Cooke’s guitar music with its heavy percussion is one example of what works well at this stage.
With each layer of paint a new aspect of the landscape is revealed. Slowly the undulations of the land start to appear. Other layers suggest areas of light and shadow, and the overall structure of the
image becomes set over time. As the subtleties of the work become more important and Parker ’s focus becomes more intense the music of Bach or Mozart creates an atmosphere to enhance this creative stage.
Only when the painting is developed over all to a level of 85 to 90 per cent does the coordination of every element in the painting begin. Each brush stroke, line, space and touch of colour has to be considered in relationship to each other and the painting as a whole.
The spiritual overtones of Gregorian or Buddhist Chants work nicely at this very contemplative stage. During the painting process Parker works on an intuitive level with the image. At times he allows the accidentals of brush work to guide the process and at others he listens to what the painting needs to bring it to conclusion. The best work is never forced. It is simple, visited by grace and reflects the interaction between the artist and the work itself.
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