Vision Thing is a journal I write to share my experience and passion as an artist with my collectors,
galleries, friends and art enthusiasts everywhere. My goal is to offer a "behind the scenes" or
insider's view of what makes an artist tick...this artist at least.
I appreciate you sharing my journey.

Saturday, December 4, 2010

A Window Into the World of Michael Parkes

I recently had the pleasure of meeting Michael Parkes and spending a wonderful weekend full of gorgeous art, inspiration and conversation hosted by the Borsini-Burr Gallery in Montara, California. Michael made himself very available throughout the weekend, generously sharing technical information about his work, spiritual insight and providing all in attendance a glimpse through a window into his world.

Michael at work in his very clean, very bright studio

My own “window” into the World of Michael Parkes began in the mid 1980s in a used bookstore in Chico, California. In the Fine Art and Illustration section, I found a book lying on the floor, laid open with a large, dusty boot print stamped across the end-papers. Saving the book from further abuse, I picked it up, brushed the dusty print from the end-papers, thankful the damage was not serious. Closing the modest volume to re-shelve it I was immediately struck by the cover – a beautiful and fantastic image of a nude female somehow engaged with a dandified Dwarf, wearing a living swan hat and pulling on a ribbon held in the mouth of a powerful tiger. I had to know more.

“Puppetmaster” 1983 Oil on Panel 50 x 65 cm
(Cover for the Leo Duppen book)

Turning to the title page I noticed this particular edition was signed by Parkes in Basel, Switzerland in 1984 – at that point I knew I had found a treasure, I just didn’t realize how much it would mean to me. Flipping through the pages I was captivated by the images – strange archetypical creatures and characters from mythology seemed to play, dance and cavort through surreal landscapes of some magical dreamworld. It felt like home to me. This was the “Duppen” book (by Leo Duppen published in 1984), the second of many books to be published on Michael’s work and his magical world.

“Year 12 A.D.” 1978 Oil on Panel 60 x 50 cm

“Mars” 1978 Oil on Panel 60 x 75 cm

“Battle of Mare Imbrium” 1983 Oil on Panel 110 x 130 cm

Since that first fascinating view his work and spiritual imagery have been a major influence for me. Parkes’ early work was rooted in the Surreal tradition, an appropriate style for communicating his metaphysical concepts and imagery, but one always felt there was more to this world. The early work was beautifully drawn, composed and rendered with an appealing sense of story and positive energy. Later influences such as Rembrandt, Alma Tadema, and Klimt became important as his work developed, but Parke’s own vision and personal mythologies always shone through. Parkes is truly a contemporary Master of multiple artistic disciplines in drawing, painting, sculpture, and stone lithography. His elegant sense of composition, idealized archetypes and otherworldly tableau’s are filled with subtle power, grace and benevolent mystery.

“Diamond Warrior” 1989 Stone Lithograph 20.75 x 26.75 inches

I use the analogy of the window because Michael uses it himself when discussing his goal as an artist – to provide access to other worlds where we can glimpse something beyond ourselves…scenes of a timeless story that exists before and after our own. Parke’s primary interest is sharing and exploring his own spiritual journey through symbolic imagery and esoteric concepts common to human culture and experience. In an interview in “Stepping Out” magazine (1988) Parkes says,

…I paint things as beautifully as I can technically, and I paint things with love and affection so that there is a sense of beauty in the paintings. Then within that structure I can talk about almost anything I want, and people are attracted by the order and the sense of beauty in the painting. Through that, other things can come to them, with luck.”

“The Juggler” 1981 Oil on Panel 110 x 90 cm
(Michael says this painting is as close as he’s ever come to a self portrait)

Michael gave a fascinating and insightful presentation of his work at the Gallery on Sunday morning (last year’s presentation, “Symbols and Stillness” is highly recommended and available as a DVD from the Gallery: This year’s body of work focused on couples, relationships and companions, but not necessarily just human. In classic Parke’s fashion one could glimpse the story of an encounter between innocent, young girl and ancient iron angel, beautiful winged angel and her guardian spirit hawk, two lovers connected and suspended by a kiss or a creative Deva bringing snow leopards into the world and sharing a bit of her own spirit with theirs.

Here are a few of my favorites from the show:

“See No Evil” 2010 Mixed Media on Vellum 5 x 13 inches
“Iron Angel” 2010 Mixed Media on Vellum 25 x 18 inches

“Daybreak” 2010 Oil on Canvas 14.75 x 35 inches
“Deva’s Garden” 2010 Oil on Canvas 24 x 38 inches

A favorite comment from Michael’s presentation echoed the much earlier interview from “Stepping Out“ magazine and gave testament to his consistency and vision, “I try to paint a world that draws the viewer in, and once inside they look around and say, ‘I’m not in Kansas any more, but I like it here…I feel comfortable…I think I’ll have a look around.’”

I certainly was aware I wasn’t in Kansas any more…it was a wonderful weekend hosted by Dianne Borsini-Burr and partner Mark Eaker and one I will always cherish. The world of Michael Parkes is truly a magical place, I hope you will take a look through the windows Michael has created and enjoy your visit to some “other” Kansas.

For information on available works, future shows, Books and DVDs contact Dianne at the Borsini-Burr Gallery in Montara-by-the-Sea: Toll free: (877) 712-211 or visit the website:
“Angel Study” Grano Lithograph 14.5 x 17.5 inches

For more information on Michael including the latest news, appearances and very interesting videos on his techniques and ideas please visit his website:

Friday, August 14, 2009

Heroes & Inspiration: An Overview

At a recent one-man show I had a pleasant conversation with a couple and the topic of my art heroes arose. Specifically I was asked if I was influenced by Georgia O'Keefe, "Absolutely!" was my reply and I thought this would make a good topic to share. There are quite a few artists and teachers that have inspired me over the years and I will post more in-depth bios on them in the future. This first "Heroes" article is an overview and introduction to the artists and teachers that have influenced and shaped my creative process (in no particular order).

Georgia O'Keefe

As mentioned, she has been an influence mainly for her imagery and focused design. In her simple, almost meditative compositions she raises humble objects and the beauty of nature to the status of icons. It is clear in her work that she loves organic forms whether they be a ram's skull or a delicate flower. Her almost zen-like compositions tend toward an informal symmetry and I have always been drawn to the same treatment of simple subjects, skulls, stones, driftwood, insects, etc. I identify with her fascination for the elegance found in nature and her reverential treatment of her subjects.

Ronald Davis

I first came across Davis' work at Shasta College in the form of a one-man show poster in the office of one of the theater instructors. I could see it from the window and I would just stand outside and look at it - I would go out of my way to walk by that window on occasion. I never wrote down his name, which I eventually forgot. Years later I ran across a used book with a collection of california artists from the seventies - there he was! I wrote down the name. Davis was born in Santa Monica, California in 1937 but raised in Cheyenne, Wyoming. He eventually found his way back to California and attended the San Francisco Art Institiute from 60-64. In 1963 he began working in a geometric, hard-edged style with a focus on spatial illusion. It was in the mid seventies that he created his "Snapline" series. These were very large scale, illusionary paintings based on geometric forms set in what seemed to me to be deserts or planar landscapes. I don't really know why I respond to them with such interest, sometimes it is just enough to feel it, part of the mystery I think. As much as I love his Snapline Series it his geometric illusion pieces that influence my geometric and illusionary work.

Alan Magee

Magee was born in 1947 in Newton, Pennsylvania. He began a career as an editorial and book cover illustrator in 1969. In the late seventies he began to concentrate on his personal work and had his first solo show at Staempfli Gallery in New York. He became quite popular in the early eighties with his realistic paintings of beach stones. His delicate, "trompe l'oeil" paintings of bones, carburetors, stones, and other simple objects, like O'keefe, raise them to a place of reverance. I often think of his work when I make a connection with the humble object - whether organic like a stone or man made like some interesting part of a machine.

Ruben Heredia

Ruben is a figure drawing instructor at Butte College near Chico, CA. He primarily works in graphite and colored pencil developing beautiful, elegant and fascinating compositions. His approach to the figure is fresh and unique and seems to represent ideals and concepts hidden within the forms. His drawings are less about portraiture and more about spirit and connection with life, nature and the cosmos. Much of his work focuses on the female torso interwoven with graphic and organic forms, merging into a complex composition of elements; hair becoming tentacles, an arm becoming a gauntlet, a head taking on aspects of a knights helm. He will often play with surface illusion as well, defining water droplets or small spheres sitting on the surface of the paper or even floating just above the surface and casting shadows. The playful, humorous aspect of his work is an echo of Ruben's personality as well, full of both wisdom and humor he is always willing to share with his students. Ruben's exploration and vision of the figure resonates deeply with me and is as close to my own vision as I've ever encountered.
(Scroll all the way to the bottom to see a slideshow of some of Ruben's work)

Richard Wilson

Richard is an important person in my journey as an artist. Richard ran the art department at Shasta College in Redding, California and is where I got started in the early 1980's. Richard's work is minimal, geometric abstraction and while not a direct inspiration, his work ethic, energy and knowledge of art were very inspiring. He was the first person "beyond the nest" to recognize that I might have what it takes to follow the artist's path. I recall the department as being fairly casual and close-knit at that time and I became Richard's "Assistant", hanging the gallery shows, organising this and that, prepping and clean-up the classrooms. It was a great experience and I'll never forget handling and hanging some of the "important" pieces in the permanent collection - Picasso, Warhol and Lichtenstein lithographs come to mind. It was here under Richard's encouragement and in this atmosphere that I began to form many of my mature ideas about fine art that I am still exploring today. I must also mention that Richard taught Art History with passion and knowledge, bringing such a sense of life to both individual artists and cultures that one couldn't help but be inspired. For his encouragement and example I will always be grateful and I hope to inspire the same passion and vision within my students.

I hope you have enjoyed this bit of "hero worship" and that it gives you a little insight into my inspiration. Best Wishes for the New Year!


Thursday, August 6, 2009

One Man Show

"Spirit Gate" Acrylic on Aluminum

Hi everyone...

I'm having my first one man show for the new aluminum and digital work Saturday, August 8th, 5-9pm. I will be at Infinite Designs Gallery (a cool little shop that specializes in custom laser etching and has done some work for me). If you live more than 1,500 miles away I don't really expect you to make it...though you will win something if you do! Seriously, it will be great to see you if you can make it to the reception.
[Note: unfortunately Infinite Designs is no longer...links have been removed]
Hope to see you there!
"Cosmic Fox Machine" Digital

Monday, July 27, 2009

Visual Tension = Vital Energy

What gives a piece of art its energy? What makes it engaging to you as a viewer?

Last week I watched an excellent interview with children's author/illustrator, Chris van Allsburg, a long time favorite of mine. He mentions the idea of "cognitive dissonance" as an important aspect of his work. Cognitive Dissonance is a psychological theory which basically states that feelings and thoughts in conflict cause action which resolves them and returns an individual to a state of equilibrium. This same concept is often used in visual art to set up some form of tension or dynamic interest that forges a connection between the work and viewer. This visual tension energizes the art and makes it engaging...imbuing the piece with the "vital energy" the artist intends.
Rene Magritte "Time Transfixed" 1938
Visual tension is an important underlying principle in art and can be developed in many ways; composition and arrangement, color, scale, direction, surface, subject, etc. Often it can be as simple as the juxtaposition of two very different elements, or a subject in an unusual or unfamiliar context. In other aspects it can be very subtle such as the broken color and powerful brushstrokes of John Singer Sargent painting the edge of a stream. The Surrealists, particularly Rene Magritte, made very compelling images simply by taking two ordinary things, a fireplace and a locomotive for example, and putting them together in an usual way. Contemporary painter, Michael Parkes, known for his "magical realism" employs these principles throughout his work. Parkes famous painting "The Juggler" is an excellent example as the juggler defies gravity while walking a circle of rope suspended in the sky...the stuff of dreams.

John Singer Sargent "The Chess Game" 1907

Michael Parkes "The Juggler"
"Destiny's Angel" Digital

As I thought about van Allsburg's work I realized that I am drawn to art that explores these concepts and I use the same principles in my own work; Leonardo DaVinci wings on an astronaut, soft, feminine forms set against machinery, organic, natural forms such as a fox skull set against industrial textures or technical diagrams. My aluminum work explores the idea of visual tension and energy in a different way. This work relies more on dynamic surface qualities of the metal as an industrial material juxtaposed with natural forms such as stones, clouds, dragonflies, etc. I enjoy using a "tromp lo'eil" approach with these pieces to further enhance the illusion and sense of tension. Again, the conflict between the natural and the industrial, the realism and illusion provide the work with the interest and vital energy I enjoy sharing...and I hope others find engaging.

"Aviatrix" Digital
"Ritual" Acrylic on Aluminum

Saturday, July 18, 2009

Connections: Music & Art

How do you paint sound? How do you "see" music? How do you capture something that takes time, a musical piece, in a single image...or can it even be done? The connections between music and art fascinate me. Music is crucial to my life as an artist; it inspires me, it moves me, it complements every aspect of my creativity. To give you an idea, the position of my stereo and CD collection in my studio is more important than where I paint (of course, where I paint has to have plenty of room to hit those big air guitar windmills).
Luminous Horizon Digital/Aluminum
In this piece I was exploring musical concepts such as rhythm, repetition, linear progression and the waveforms of sound

This is my first "Connections" article on the subject and I would like to explore the language and terminology music and art have in common. Music and art are often called the "sister arts" and there are many ways in which they are inter-related; the commercial aspect of album covers and visual marketing, the imagery music inspires, the "Mtv" phenomenon, the language they share, etc.
"Senses" Features Study Composition
Charcoal on Toned Paper
Why are music and art sometimes called the "sister arts"? To understand why they are so connected I feel it is important to consider where they come from. I believe music and art are tied to our two "primary" senses, hearing and vision. At first these two senses, and the quality of their respective "input" or information do not seem at all related - one sees things - one hears things. Indeed they are separate in that regard, however, the language and vocabulary used to describe things we see and hear are often the same language - "Wow! That color is loud!" or, "I think I'll sing me some Blues"..."Excellent us of tones in that drawing" or, "That painting has a nice sense of rhythm." Some of the most fundamental aspects of music and art use the exact same language: composition, movement, tone, color, harmony, arrangement, passage, rhythm, note, structure, texture, etc.

"Rosetta Signal" Acrylic on Aluminum
(In this piece I was trying to convey the concept of a radio signal  from space
...a "cosmic song" and the key to understanding a galactic civilization).
Many artists, particularly in the modern, abstract realm where concepts such as painting music can be considered, have explored this theme or the idea of painting music. They have used color, composition, arrangement of elements, shapes and forms to attempt to capture the "feeling" music inspires in two dimensions. Kandisnky had a lifelong passion for music and explored the idea of painting music in his "Composition" series. He formed a longstanding friendship with the innovative Viennese composer Arnold Schonberg who had amjor influence on his concepts of composition. In fact it was perhaps his deep interest in music theory and its connection with art that led Kandisnky to a more free expression in his work.

Kandinsky Composition VIII
Oil on Canvas 1923 551/8" x 791/8"
I find it fascinating to translate what seem to be such different experiences or senses in an attempt to unite them in some common expression. This comes out very strong in my aluminum work because the physical grinding process is very rhythmic and feels a great deal like "playing" an instrument. I try to incorporate these concepts into each painting in some way, whether it be through, rhythm, composition, tone, texture, etc. I always try to bring some "music" into my art - my hope is that you can "hear" my paintings.
Swann's Lament Digital
(An homage to Led Zeppelin for a friend)
My goal is to be able to paint the way Pete Townsend plays guitar...I'm working on it!


Next week: On Cognitive Dissonance (maybe...not as hard as it sounds...honest)...stay tuned!

Monday, July 13, 2009

Name Theory

Are you ever disappointed upon discovering a piece of art is "untitled"? I simply miss this concept as an artist. In reality, I believe it is either of two things; a lack of interest in one's own work or an affectation intended to further distance the viewer - perhaps both.
"Artifact 9"
(this sculptural piece, with moveable wing vanes,
seemed very much like an artifact from
some future time or culture, hence the name)
The names of things have always been important to me: a character name, song title, place name and of course, the name of a piece of art. It seems obvious that people, in an effort to understand and discuss something must be able to refer to it by name or title - the more descriptive and accurate the name, the better it suits the subject. The name provides insight and clarity to the subject. The Sciences are a great example of the importance of name theory. I believe this is as true for art as it is for the taxonomy of dragonflies.
I spend a great deal of time thinking about name theory in my work. This is not to say that I agonize over names for particular pieces - they generally come like bolts from the blue - sometimes the challenge is to sift through the names for the one that feels right. I often have multiple names for pieces; a rock and roll name, a funk name and a "real" name - the name the work gives itself.
"Diamond Star Halo"
(an "homage piece inspired by the "false Maria" robot from "Metropolis.
A "rock and roll" title from the T. Rex [Marc Bolan] song "Bang A Gong")

I have numerous books on naming theory, as well as some very esoteric science books loaded with fascinating concepts and ideas that always kick-start my imagination. A random example from a favorite source, The Dictionary of Theories: Detonator Theory. Well, there ya go. It will be showing up as a title for a piece in my next show, guaranteed.

"Energy Fossil"
(a "physics" title inspired by the intriguing idea
that energy can leave a physical imprint)
I know my artist friends and I have spent many hours discussing naming our work. I would love to hear from others about their naming ideas or if anyone can shed light on the concept of "untitled" work. I would particularly appreciate insight from non-artists on their feelings and reactions to the names they have encountered when viewing art. Are they even important at all? Do they add any insight into the work or enjoyment of the piece?

Personally, in my own creative expression, a work is not finished until it has a name. Once named, it is freed from my influence, it can stand on its own...long after I'm gone. In a way this is its final "tempering" and is an integral part of its character. The name I connect with a piece may further illuminate its origin, it may provide insight into its process, it may "extend" its vision in another way or it may be designed to enhance its mystery. There are many reasons names are important...I imagine I'll be re-visiting this topic again another time...right now I have to get started on "Detonator Theory"...

Thanks ~


Next week: Music and Art...stay tuned...

Thursday, July 9, 2009

The Long and Winding Road...

As this is my first "official" blog entry I would like to begin with some words of thanks...and some other stuff. I'll try to keep things short and sweet...

First I would like to thank my beautiful wife Ruth for her patience, her support and her Love. Today happens to be our 20th anniversary (25 years together) so it seemed like a good place to start. It has indeed been a long and winding road and I'm looking forward to another 25+ years of our journey together.

A heartfelt thanks goes out to all my friends and family as well who have been companions on the journey. Thank you for all your support, guidance, inspiration and cameraderie over the years. Friendship is a treasure...

I would also like to acknowledge the teachers who have been important guides: Mr. Kirk, Richard Wilson, Ruben Heredia, Gregg Berryman, Matt Smith, Scott Christensen. Their inspiration and example are important factors in my development as an artist.

The other stuff...

To blog or not to blog...this was a tough decision for me. One of the aforementioned friends recommended I do so (talked me into it) and now I'm looking forward to the prospect. I tend to be very informal and this seems like a good venue to share more in-depth thoughts, ideas and musings about art. My goal is to post something art related once per week that will be useful in some way or at least insightful. We'll see...

Thanks for joining me on the journey...