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Sunday, May 4, 2003
Phil Parker makes life, art look easy
By CARL LAUNDRIE
NEWS-JOURNAL STAFF WRITER
FLAGLER BEACH — As you might suspect this beach town is a haven for artists. It´s laid-back style and the funky tempo of life here suits the soul that hears a different drummer.
Phil Parker has lived in Flagler Beach most of his adult life, and despite a 15-year stint in academia (as department head of the Department of Graphic Design at the Florida School of the Arts in Palatka), he has spent most of that time working on his art.
His reputation as an artist of note in the state and the nation has continued to grow. Last fall, he won Best of Show in the Halifax Art Show. Last year he took best of show in Disney´s Festival of the Masters, an invitation only event, and his work was featured recently in a five page article in the national "Chronos" magazine.
His art has been exhibited widely including the state House of Representatives in Tallahassee; Norton Gallery, Palm Beach; Fort Lauderdale Art Museum; and the Princeton Art Museum, Princeton, N.J.
Parker´s art might be described as an eclectic mix of many different forms of art and crafts that draws from widely different skills,ranging from high tech to ancient art. Whatever you call it, it is immensely popular among not only those who appreciate art but also artists themselves.
His current pieces are what can best be described as a sort of shadow box constructed much like that of a guitar or mandolin, glassed in and containing an odd yet connected collection of items created or collected by Parker.
Although some elements of Parker´s work are what is called found art, most of the pieces involved are created or crafted by the artist. Mixed media is the common term for such art work but it doesn´t quite define the widely varied talents and artistry required. Assemblage, or the art of putting together objects both created and found in a three dimensional form, is a more accurate term for Parker´s art.
Parker draws from all his talents and resources to produce an assemblage.
His art involves a gathering process of both wood to create the boxes and materials to make paper. He does the routine chores when nothing is working in the studio.
"There are days when you just don´t want to think about all the stuff you have been taught," Parker said in a recent interview at his home.
"It is a pretty indirect route I go through to get to a finished piece," Parker said.
A talented musician on both guitar, mandolin and mandola, Parker was once a member of Common Ground, a bluegrass band that performed locally. He has since moved on to the intricate melodies of Irish music.
His interest in music lured him into building guitars and mandolins and the talents developed in practicing the luthier´s art gave way to the forms he uses for the body of his art works. The ancient tools of the luthier are not the only craft involved in his pieces. The handmade paper used in his artwork also is made in the same way it was made 2,000 years ago in China and Japan.
The artist has a network of friends collecting mulberry canes from which he peels the bark and cooks the inner white bark of the mulberry to produce a thin, rough edged, textured paper that is the base for his images. The paper-making process is the same as the process handed down through the centuries in paper making families in China and Japan.
The easily propagated mulberry trees were once considered as a paper source here in Florida and were planted widely for that reason. The trees also were planted in groves and used to fatten cattle. As the prolific berry-producing trees dropped their fruit the cattle were allowed to graze in the groves.
Parker also is a lifelong surfer, and living a few blocks from the beach means that incorporating the beach into his artwork comes as naturally as breathing. Worm-eaten exotic hardwoods pop up in his assemblages. The beach also provides a steady supply of hardwoods ranging from mahogany to rosewood and the softer red cedar for building his assemblages.
"After any big storm, I am up on the beach collecting wood," Parker said. His workshop includes the tools, such as planers and sanders, to transform the wood into something suitable for use in his artwork.
Parker´s artwork always has contained the elements of print and photography but silkscreen and the photographic process have been replaced by the digital images produced by computer. "That is one thing I picked up at Florida School for the Arts is the use of computers. It is a versatile tool for working with photographs and producing images," Parker said.
In his upstairs studio in his home that he and his wife, Marylyn, share a couple of blocks from the ocean, ancient craft tools to clamp and shape wood share the work bench with an state-of-the-art computer.
The theme for his art work comes from within.
"I do a lot of reading in philosophy," Parker said. "I study the origins and roots of language and myth. We are sort of trapped in the shadow of language.
"I am interested in the cross culture themes all myths seem to share," Parker said.
History, particularly ancient history and the element of time, also is weaved into his works.
While many artists of Parker´s caliber prefer to sell their work through a gallery, Parker favors shows and festivals. He hits the tours around the state in the spring and fall and spends his summers and winters in the studio creating.
"I like the street shows because you get to meet the people who buy your work," Parker said.
Where Parker´s art will take him in the future is anybody´s guess.
"I don´t really have a goal planned. I go where the work will take me," Parker said. "Really, what is exciting about my work is making new discoveries."