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Tom Parish @ Scarab Club

Untouched by Time – for the American painter Thomas Parish

Installation, the image of the artist, Tom Parish (June 11, 1933 – October 25, 2018), 2019, all images courtesy of DAR

He was born in Hibbing, Minnesota 1933, where blistering winters kept the young boy inside his home, coloring the pages from a Sears & Roebuck catalog. When he was four, his mother married Ken Parish, and the family moved to Chicago. He attended a public grade school where he was recognized for his art and later attended a military high school providing a small studio space. There he made paintings that were purchased by many of his teachers. During this period, he repeatedly visited the Chicago Art Institute and was excited by the work of Joseph Cornell, J.M.W. Turner, El Greco, Jean Baptiste Corot, and Edward Hopper. He often said, “My father wanted a better and more highly recognized school experience for his son.”

Upon graduation from high school, Parish’s mother helped him apply to William & Mary College, a prestigious liberal arts school in Williamsburg, Virginia. Still, it was a short time before his teachers, based on his artistic talent, recommended that he transfer to the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Art with its famous museum. Well known for its academic approach to painting, the teachers taught the highly traditional skills of life drawing and painting. He recalled opening an exhibition that included Franklin Watkins, Morris Blackburn, Hobson Pittman, Robert Motherwell, and Willem de Kooning. In addition, the permanent collection housed in the oldest college museum in the country had many masterpieces by William Merritt Chase, Thomas Eakins, and Winslow Homer, and former Academy students Robert Henri and John Sloan.

It would shape Parish’s painting in a way that would soon be discovered.

Tom Parish, Pink Sky, 36 x 24″, Oil on canvas, 2000.

Parish’s graduate degree led him to two years of teaching in North Dakota and a community college teaching position at Forest Park that lasted three years. The offer of a teaching assistantship at the University of North Dakota led him to the art department there, headed by Bob Nelson, who had trained at the Chicago Art Institute and had figurative work at the Corcoran Gallery in Washington, D.C., and the Museum of Modern Art. He made several friends who taught nearby at Washington University in St. Louis, Missouri, with a distinguished faculty, such as Josef Albers and Max Beckman, and again, a rich collection at the museum.

Along the way, the literary influences that he sought out would shape his thinking about painting.  He would say, “An early influence was Cezanne’s Composition: Analysis of Form, by Erle Loran, which helped provide a framework for looking at composition, along with The Story of Art, by E.H. Gombrich, a widely regarded book of art criticism.”  It was his reading of Albert Pinkham Ryder, an American painter, whose descriptions of these moody seascapes, and Hart Crane’s The Bridge, a poem inspired by New York City’s Brooklyn Bridge, that pushed Parish towards landscape painting, albeit surreal and aerial images of objects and buildings.

All along the way, these constant visits to world-class museums and a new type of jazz music during the mid-1950s filtered into Parish’s view of the world. He eventually created a unique island called Zarna, a place from his childhood filled with imaginative landscapes.  These aerial images produced with minor marks of  paint often included train tracks, rooftops, and geometric objects, each with a light source casting shadows to the side.

There came a time in the mid-1960s when an Assistant Professor position at Wayne State University opened up. During a visit to Chicago, Robert Wilbert, the then Chair of Painting, was impressed with the work of Tom Parish. Mack Gilman of the Gilman Gallery said, “Parish is among the best of six living painters in the world.”  Wilbert had found what he was looking for and knew with Parish on board; he would have a good team. At that very moment, Parish was on his way to teach at L’Ecole des Arts in Winnipeg, Canada, when he got a call from Wilbert and was offered an Assistant Professor position on a tenure track to teach painting in Detroit. Located in midtown across from the Detroit Institute of Arts, with one of the most significant art collections in the United States, Parish had found a place to teach and paint near a world-class museum.

Parish had found gallery representation in Chicago with Mac Gilman in the 1960s, where he exhibited his Zarna-based surreal landscapes comprised of a compact field of stones, producing a color field. The work attracted the attention of the Martha Jackson Gallery in New York City, specializing in American painting. Parish participated in three exhibitions at the Martha Jackson Gallery in the early 1970s after David Andersen (Martha Jackson’s son) had seen his work in San Francisco. 1980 Parish resumed the relationship with the Gilman Gallery. This was to become the Gilman Gruen Gallery and eventually the Gruen Gallery. There would be ten years of exhibition in Chicago, and by this time, Parish had solidified his reputation for painting in the Chicago and Detroit art communities.

By then, Parish was searching for a direction to take the work until a visit to Europe and Venice in 1986 provided him with a replacement for the Zarna imagery. The canals, corners, terraces, and undulating water shimmering with elongated light satisfied his love for landscape painting. It was an ‘Old World’ atmosphere with the architectural form and mystical light that seemed to draw him into a significant compositional transition.

He needed to keep his teaching position and his studio in Detroit, so he and his wife, Shirley, began to plan extended trips to Venice, sometimes twice or three times a year, spanning the last thirty years. The time in Venice was spent on observation and capturing images photographically during a two-, sometimes three-week stay. The photos were both in spirit and part informational in creating what I have called magical realism, using a literary term. The early work would include a Vaporetto, water taxi, or gondola and be always set against a salty, worn section of architecture and elongated reflections flight on water. The underlying strength is always compositional. Parish returned to everything he had experienced in his reading to his observations of Cezanne, combined with a lucid imagination to form special longitudes of form and gentle reflections of light.

Tom Parish, Sogo Dream, 55 x 75″, 2016

Parish’s work, like Sogno Dream, 55 x 75-inch Oil on Canvas, combines his strengths: a composition that stretches out spatially and draws on elements in abstraction and his command of painting in the reflection-struck water in the turbulent canal. The viewer is drawn into the water’s texture above and below the water’s surface.  Venice, Italy’s famous artists Jacopo Bassano, Giovanni Bellini, Giorgio e, Titian, Palo Veronese, and Tintoretto have left their mark primarily by painting religious allegories. Parish focused on architecture and light.

Tom Parish, San Marco, 61 x 85″, 2014

Writers succumbed to the city’s unique charm, vitality, and decadence including Goethe, Herman Hesse, and John Ruskin. Thomas Mann (1875 – 1955), the Nobel Prize winner in literature, was fascinated by Venice and used it as a setting for one of his most famous novels. He writes the following in 1912 in “Death in Venice”: “Yes, this was Venice, this the fair frailty that fawned and that betrayed half fairy-tale, half star; the city in whose stagnating air the art of painting once put forth so lusty a growth, and where musicians were moved to accords so weirdly lulling and lascivious.”

It took an American painter, Thomas Parish, from Hibbing, Minnesota, home to the musician Bob Dylan, to find the landscape in Venice, part of the shallow Venetian lagoon and an enclosed bay between the mouths of the Po and the Piave Rivers. His Venetian landscapes expose the beauty of the architectural setting and swirls of reflective water that transcend a soft blend of magnitude and mystery.  The memorial exhibition, Untouched by Time, was curated by Dalia Reyes, Gallery Director at the Scarab Club, with assistance from Shirley Dombrowski Parish.

Untouched by Time, Tom Parish, Scarab Club, open until June 17 – 2023. 


Stan Natchez @ BBAC

Birmingham Bloomfield Art Center presents Stan Natchez, Brenda Kobs Russell, and Maria Balogna

Stan Natchez, BBAC, Install 3.2023

The BBAC opened its three galleries with new visual art exhibitions on March 10, 2023, presenting work by a Native American painter, Stan Natchez, a printmaker, Brenda Kobs Russell, and drawings by Maria Balogna.

Stan Natchez was born and raised in Los Angeles. Still, the indigenous artist now lives in New Mexico and brings his exhibit, Indian Without Reservation, to the BBAC with support from the National Endowment for the Arts and Arts Midwest. By taking the philosophies and techniques of both modern life and the traditional Native American heritage, Natchez achieves a complex harmony in his work by using a distinctive Neo-Pop style. He says in his statement, “I paint the life I live, and so every painting, in some way, is a self-portrait. My art is about the way I respond. And that is my experience…my experience is my art…and art is my life.”

Stan Natchez, Monopoly, 58 x 58″ Mixed Media

Natchez talks about his influences, Andy Warhol, Jasper Johns, and Roy Lichtenstein, combined with artifacts from the Native American culture. They would be found in Monopoly, where he uses the popular board game as a compositional structure to combine the various corporate logos with Native figures and designs. (I know this writer has worked hard at eliminating the word Indian from my vocabulary to represent Native Americans, yet I find it ironic to see this in the title of this exhibition.)

Stan Natchez employs art appropriation in most of his work throughout the exhibition, where he uses pre-existing objects or images as an artistic strategy, intentionally borrowing, copying, and image transfer is a practice that is traced back to Cubism, Dada, and, more recently, Pop Art.

Stan Natchez, Medicine Crow Living in Two Worlds, 48 x 36″ Mixed Media

Medicine Crow comes from a warrior of the Crow tribe. He was a “reservation chief,” concerned with helping the Crow tribe “learn to live in the ways of the white man” as soon and as efficiently as possible. The subject for this painting is taken from an original black-and-white photograph. The crow symbolism represents messages from dreams or the sub-conscience, and the object he holds is a group of feathers attached to a wooden handle and is used in a variety of ceremonies. Natchez brings the three primary colors across the face to draw attention to the reservation chief.

Stan Natchez, Traveling Through Time, 48 x 66″, Mixed Media

Natchez travels across time, mixing the images of Picasso, Matisse, Marilyn Monroe, Piet Mondrian, and a section of the painting Guernica juxtaposed with several Crow tribal leaders. He is mixing famous western images with Native American icons across time, creating a grid that compares and contrasts. By doing this, he places his people on par with world-recognizable images.

Stan Natchez, Guernica to Wounded Knee, 48 x 66″ Mixed Media

Part of this painting includes features of Guernica, the large 1937 oil painting by artist Pablo Picasso. Natchez spans time with imagery from events at Wounded Knee. It is one of his best-known works, regarded by many as the most moving and powerful anti-war painting in history. The painting here was made earlier in 2012 and then was sold and duplicated at a later date.

Stan Natchez earned his undergraduate degree from the University of Southern Colorado and his M.F.A. at Arizona State University. In addition to being a nationally known artist, Natchez has distinguished himself as a teacher, dancer, editorial advisor, and legal advocate for the Native American community.


Brenda Kobs Russell: Familiar Rhythms

Brenda Kobs Russell, Sequence, Etching Collage

Brenda Kobs Russell is a locally based artist whose work reflects an ongoing investigation connecting her inner life to natural phenomena. Given her time in school, you could look to the abstract influences of Pablo Picasso, Fernand Leger, or Paul Klee. During the 1920s, geometric abstraction manifested itself as the underlying principle of the Art Deco style, which propagated the broad use of geometric forms to influence abstraction. For example, Sequence is an etching with touches of white gouache, making it a monoprint that has been popular among printmakers recently.

She says, “As a whole, my work serves as a record, mapping an interior investigation of my surroundings and a practice of abstracting the familiar. I am interested in the congruities between organic cycles of transformation and artistic process, particularly how an image evolves through the erosion of an etching plate and is further translated by ink into paper.”

Russell is an art educator, having taught students across a wide range of ages and abilities in private schools, art centers, and as a lecturer on the faculties of Oakland University and Penny W. Stamps School of Art & Design, University of Michigan. She earned her B.F.A. at Michigan State University (1983) and her M.F.A. at Cranbrook Academy of Art (1985).


Maria Balogna: by His stripes

Maria Balogna, Darkness to Light III, Ink on Paper

“The Cost. The Wounds. The Enormity. Symbolic themes run throughout this collection of small drawings that outwardly express the salvific work of The Suffering Servant [ reference: Isaiah 53 ].” The abstract drawings of Maria Balogna contain undertones of Christianity without the weight of literary imagery.

The exhibitions will run through April 20, 2023.

The BBAC is open to the public. Masks are strongly recommended.

EXHIBITION GALLERY HOURS: Monday-Thursday 9 am-5 pm, Friday & Saturday, 9am-4 pm

Rocco Pisto @ Strand Gallery in Pontiac

Rocco Pisto, Installation image, Strand Gallery, 2023

The newly restored Flagstar Strand Theater in Pontiac opened its gallery to a retrospective exhibition of artwork by Rocco Pisto on January 20, 2023, spanning fifty years of painting that began in 1976. Watercolor is a medium that has been around for over several hundred years, yet often thought of as a secondary choice of paint to oil and acrylic. You might look at the early work of Albrecht Durer, Georgia O’Keeffe, Paul Klee, Winslow Homer, and John Singer Sargent to realize its place in history and its ability to withstand centuries. Where oil and acrylic paint are additive mediums, watercolor is subtractive, usually on paper, and translates its nature with its ability to have the strength and capacity of transparency. Watercolor is made of pigments suspended in a water-based solution, which refers to both the medium and the resulting artwork. Rocco Pisto’s 50 pieces range from 1976 to 2022 and reflect the artist’s unique techniques in controlling and experimenting with the watercolor medium.

Rocco Pisto, Telegraph Run, Watercolor, 34 x 42″, 1976

The early work Telegraph Run, done in 1976 during Pisto’s MFA work at Eastern Michigan University, illustrates a fluid construction that builds a composition using carefully placed primary colors and a delicate violet line structure that holds it all together. In his statement, Pisto says, “As a painter for over fifty years, I never tire of the experimental process of starting a piece and solving the design problems along the way to make it a finished work. Spontaneity, discovery, individuality, analysis, visual balance, contrast, and contradiction summarize my thought process.”

Rocco Pisto, Fire & Ice, Watercolor, 1976

Over time in Pisto’s work, we see various categories, including landscapes and figures, with all subjects that have evolved to the abstract expressionism in this field painting, Fire & Ice. The line that begins with the landscape and proceeds to abstraction is not straight. Pisto is back and forth throughout his career, keeping his thinking spontaneous and his trademark unique. He says, “The paintbrush becomes a performer, dancing across the paper, juicy and full of life. My work frees my imagination and provides many opportunities for magical accidents.”

Rocco Pisto, RenCen at Night, Watercolor, 53 x 42″, 2001

More recent is the large image of the Ren Cen at Night,  which relies heavily on the waterfront river reflection looking on from the Canadian side of the river. This watercolor has been used as a backdrop for a commercial poster for the 75th MWCS exhibition. Pisto says, “My painting technique abstractly by dripping, pouring, splashing, and brushing paint allows the work to evolve until it meets my criteria of what constitutes a successful piece of art.”

Rocco Pisto, Marsala Glow, 56 x 42″, Watercolor, 2021

The large watercolor in Marsala Glow is neither landscape, still life, figurative or pure abstraction. To this viewer, it is part aerial, part diagram, with a warm collection of color surrounding blue-green that suggests water, with a circular moat juxtaposed to an inner box. That leaves the interpretation up to the viewer to explain, whether broad or narrow. A viewer, as in all artwork, will bring their experience to the moment and draw a personal conclusion about the meaning of this work.

Rocco Pisto, The Fight for Ukraine, Watercolor, 43 x 55″, 2022

The painting, The Fight for Ukraine, is an example of creating art that draws attention to a current European event on everyone’s mind. What might be at first glance abstract, on a closer look, the viewer sees the bands of blue and yellow under siege with aerial bombardment resulting in the symbolism of the Russian armed invasion. The painting incorporates gouache, crayon, and India Ink, with watercolor to form a multimedia expression. Print sales from the original are currently being donated to first responders of the Ukrainian Army.

Rocco Pisto earned a Bachelor’s and Master’s degree in Fine Arts from Eastern Michigan University in 1974 and has been painting for over five decades. He is the recent President Emeritus of the Michigan Watercolor Society and holds a Signature Member and Great Lakes Fellow designation in that group. He also has membership in the National Watercolor Society, the International Society of Experimental Artists (ISEA), and the Brighton Art Guild. Rocco Pisto earned a Bachelor’s and Master of Fine Arts from Eastern Michigan University.

The solo 50-year retrospective at the Flagstar Strand Gallery in Pontiac will run through March 31, 2023.

Owlkyd @ Image Works

Owlkyd (AKA Darius Littlejohn) has a solo exhibition at Images Works in Dearborn, MI

Installation image courtesy of DAR

Installation image courtesy of the gallery

Image Works opened the Detroit-based artist Darius Littlejohn’s artwork on December 2nd with Expressionistic figures produced in a lushness of high contrast color using computer-based software and printed on paper using a large inkjet printer. Chris Bennett, owner and curator of Image Works says, “Deeply impacted by the Neo-Expressionist works of Jean-Michel Basquiat and the Surrealism of Pablo Picasso, Owlkyd melds his love of Realism with the abstract ideals pioneered by the two to find beauty in the clash of these disciplines.”

Owlkyd, What’s It To Me, 40 x 50”, Digital artwork on paper. 2022

To place the artist Owlkyd in context, I recall following a similar artist in the mid-1970, Richard Lindner, the American/German artist born in Hamburg who moved to the United States in 1941 and taught at the Pratt Institute in Brooklyn, NY. Lindner’s works from this period are often characterized by a vague sense of nostalgia and sexual undertones. In Linder’s figurative work, he created powerful images that were both exotic and surreal in concept and bold in their use of high-contrast color.   Lindner’s figures are reminiscent of those by Fernand Léger

Richard Lindner, The Grand Couple, oil on canvas, 60 x 72”, 1971

The works by Owlkyd are created in a digital environment using XP-Pen 15” drawing tablet, connected to his workstation using PaintTool Sai software, and printed out 40 x 50” using a large inkjet printer. These images are fluid Neo-Expressionistic portraits that use profiles of people with small design images spread out over the compositional spaces and set against various backgrounds.

Owlkyd, Regal, 40 x 50”, Digital artwork on paper. 2022

The work Regal has the figure set against a simplistic landscape with a figure that could be considered a self-portrait; again, dispersed throughout the composition are small design elements. At the same time, one arm is rendered in a realistic, painterly fashion, while the other has a flat white outline with three fingers. The childlike background contrasts with the uniformed figure, part realistic, part cartoonish. The expression of that contrast reaches out and grabs the viewer.

Owlkyd, Is My secret safe, 40 x 50”, Digital artwork on paper. 2022

This three-quarter realistic female portrait, Is My Secret Safe, is heavily expressionistic in its surroundings, with small symbols contrasting against an abstract background. Separate from the first two portraits, the figure looks directly at the viewer with a listless expression that draws the viewer in. Owlkyd, in our conversations, mentions the artists who have been influenced well known most, like Picasso, Basquiat, and then Ten Hundred (Peter Robinson), a Michigan artist who specializes in bright, colorful, imaginative character work inspired by cartoons and anime, and graffiti, childlike imagination, comics, and world cultures.

Ten Hundred, (Ted Robinson), Bass Player, Digital Artwork example.

More evident in this figure, No More Opps, with cartoon images on and around the face, is again a self-portrait dressed in regal apparel.

Owlkyd, No More Opps, 40 x 50”, Digital artwork on paper. 2022

Owlkyd, (AKA Darius Littlejohn) supports his livelihood by working in the auto industry managing auto inventory systems for Chrysler. When asked about art school, he says,  “Like many, I didn’t really have the means to pursue any formal training so I am wholly self-taught standing on my various influences.”

Owlkyd, Galactus, 40 x 50”, Digital artwork on paper. 2022

Throughout these portraits are words that express the message, “Not Drugs” and in this work Galactus, it is prominent.  The message appears in the female portraits only and not in male portraits.  It leads this writer to believe it is a statement that has particular meaning for females and reflects the artist’s need to send them a message.

Image Works, located on the far east side of Dearborn, specializes in archival pigment printing, also known as giclée or inkjet printing, for reproducing photographic and fine art imagery. Housed in a storefront on Michigan Ave, it uses the all-glass entrance as its gallery.

The Window Project at Image Works is on display through January 28th, 2023 – Closing Reception: Saturday, January 28th, 1-4 pm

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