By Michael Gibbs
Born in 1979 in Fairbanks, Alaska, artist R. Nelson Parrish’s work is an investigation into the contrasts between the natural and man-made.
“I find inspiration in the rugged elements of my native home and my current surroundings in urban Southern California,” says the artist, who draws directly from his experience skiing, racing, and surfing—that is, shifting through landscapes at high speeds. Parrish translates the blur of movement into brilliant flashes of color, which he appropriately entitles racing stripes.
This month marks the end of his most recent exhibit: streetseasky, at Edward Cella Art + Architecture on elite Wilshire Blvd., in Los Angeles.
So it was great to interview Parrish for this month’s Fine Artists column of BeInkandescent.com. Scroll down for our Q&A.
Michael Gibbs: I’m a fan of your interesting work, which are as much sculptures as they are paintings. How do you create your pieces?
R. Nelson Parrish: Each piece takes well over 100 hours of fabrication, and my favorite “paintbrush” is my 8” variable speed Milwaukee wheel grinder. It’s a pretty lengthy process, admittedly, but my goal is to translate the way I see the natural world into art and to inspire others to see their surroundings in a new and unique way. There is a lot of research that goes into each piece, too, including taking photos, shooting video, and sketching. After that, it is just simply a lot of intense, precise manual labor, coupled with chemistry and layering. It’s a lot of work, but I love my job.
Michael Gibbs: How did you develop your unique style?
R. Nelson Parrish: My style came from taking from all of my life experiences and combining them in a way that offers a distinct voice that resonates with people; particularly of my generation. I hope to connect with as many people as possible while challenging their ideas of contemporary art. One can be an amazing innovator, but if no one wants to look or see the innovation, what is the point?
Michael Gibbs: Did you always want to be an artist? How did you get into creating fine art?
R. Nelson Parrish: No. But I think true artists really don’t have a choice in the matter. It is like fighting your DNA. You are simply wired a certain way. When I was younger, I really wanted to be a professional athlete, and spent years denying that I was an artist. Now that I’ve made the decision, I just play hard on the side. It is a much better situation for everyone.
Michael Gibbs: Your studio is in a boatyard in Santa Barbara, and is tucked between a bunch of houses in a quiet neighborhood. That seems like a unique place to work. Does it provide you with inspiration?
R. Nelson Parrish: The best part about working at the boatyard is that most people don’t think I am there. It is unexpected. And I truly love dispelling expectations and being full of good surprises. Most of my studio is outdoors and is flanked by shipping containers. Being able to work while the outdoor light is changing over the course of the day has the most affect on me and my work.
Michael Gibbs: You are making a splash in the gallery scene in LA. How did you break in?
R. Nelson Parrish: It was a healthy combination of luck and hustle. I have a gallery that I have been working with for five years, and two years ago they opened up in Los Angeles. I also joined the Los Angeles Art Association. After that, it was going to a lot of events and meeting people. Even in this digital age, nothing beats face-time.
Michael Gibbs: I’m particularly taken by your totems. Were those inspired by traditional art in Alaska?
R. Nelson Parrish: I cannot deny the influence that it has had on my life. I tell everyone that if you want to study color, go to Alaska. If you want to understand vast and wild, go to Alaska. And if you want to truly be self-reliant, to explore, have a true adventure, and challenge yourself, go to Alaska. All of those lessons translate well into my work. The totem poles of Alaska, which are evident in much of my work, are just a small part of that equation of what Alaska offers—but, clearly, they resonate a lot with me.
Michael Gibbs: Your work also appears in public places. Is that a challenge, especially in dealing with the wear and tear on the art?
R. Nelson Parrish: Of course. Transitioning from private to public space is a huge undertaking. There are so many codes and constraints that you have to work under. It is difficult to do that and maintain the integrity of the art. On top of that, you also have to deal with the natural elements and being able to withstand the wear and tear from the masses. But anything worth doing is worth doing well. I am very lucky to have done public installations at an early stage in my career. It has opened up a lot of opportunities for me.
Michael Gibbs: Your art seems very collectible. Has anyone we’ve heard of bought your pieces?
R. Nelson Parrish: Probably the big notables are actor Rob Lowe, singer-songwriter John Legend, reality TV star Andrew Firestone, music exec and film producer Ray Scherr, and philanthropist and former Canadian politician Belinda Stronach. I am so very grateful to have such a supportive group of people appreciate my work.
Michael Gibbs: It certainly seems like you’ll have a bright future in the art business. What do you aspire to do in the future?
R. Nelson Parrish: I’m pretty aggressive with my goals. I want to be in the Guggenheim by the time I am 40. That’s in six years, but I can do it. It is just going to take hard work, planning and a little bit of luck. Beyond that, I have some very big projects in my head that I would like to materialize. Being from Alaska, going big has never been a problem. These challenges are going to be well worth taking on. Every day, I love my job. I have no problem waking up early in the morning to work on a piece, and then working late into the night. Being an artist is a challenge. It is heartache mixed with success, and it is awesome. I’m one of the lucky ones.
Learn more about the artist here: rnelsonparrish.com.
About illustrator and designer Michael Glenwood Gibbs
An award-winning designer and illustrator, Gibbs has been freelancing for some of the nation’s most well-known publications and companies since attending Pratt Institute as a photography and illustration major in the mid-70s.
His artwork has appeared in Newsweek, Time, The New York Times, The Washington Post, Worth Magazine, Consumer Reports, Harvard Business Review, and publications for United Airlines, Verizon, IBM, Sears, and American Airlines, as well as many book covers and posters.
Need a stock illustration? View Gibbs images, available as stock, at www.stockillustration.com.