Parks Reece Finally Grows Up – The popular Livingston artist finally gets categorized
Story by Scott McMillion
Livingston – Parks Reece growing up? A guy who hoots at pedestrians from his fourth floor studio, munches cloves of garlic for lunch and generally behaves like a teenager until he drops like a puppy? Maybe not. But at least his paintings are.
Long known around the area for his antic miniatures of unlikely occurrences – an antelope meeting a cantaloupe, for instance – for the past year the 36 year old artist has been applying his skill and wit to larger pieces, some as big as 20 square feet.
“You can see, ‘em from farther away,” is the way Reece explained it this week.
Concerns for the myopic notwithstanding, Reece has entered a new dimension in his artwork, maintaining his irreverent attitude and unique methodology but applying it to broader canvases. And it works. While his comic miniatures pull you in close, bring your grinning face right up to the artwork, his new pieces can command attention in anybody’s living room.
They have also enabled critics and gallery owners, frequently categorized as a rather myopic lot, finally to hang a label on him: “modern mythological surrealist.” – a description Reece is only marginally comfortable with.
“You have to have a classification and I seem to have got lumped in with the surrealists,” Reece said.
But the new label fits, up to a point. Witness “Prairie Pegasus,” an expertly rendered albino buffalo taking somber flight over a moonlit landscape. At first glance, it looks too solemn to be a Reece work. There’s a message here, you think.
Filled with luminescence, the landscape of “Prairie Pegasus” is certainly surreal. A winged buffalo could qualify as creation of a modern myth. For some people, it might spur lengthy conversations as far-ranging as myth and its reinterpretation, flight as metaphor, and the endangered species act. If Pegasus reappeared as a modern American, what better beast than the one we hunted almost to extinction?
Then you notice the befuddled white bunny in the painting’s lower right corner. His expression is just like yours would be if a buffalo flew over your head; befuddled and ready to duck. The rabbit keeps both the conversation and the painting from making that fatal last step into pretension.
Although he is a graduate of the San Francisco Art Institute, (“I just went for the girls,”) Reece holds little respect for the output of most art schools. As a parody of modern “art school art,” Reece has been saving used palettes for years. He intends to wallpaper a room with them someday.
“I learned more from my mother than I ever learned from art schools,” the North Carolina native drawled.
His mother, Gwyn, was a student and friend of Ruth Shaw, who developed fingerpainting as both an art form and psychoanalytical tool. Starting when he was three years old, Reece put in long hours fingerpainting at his mother’s side and, when she held shows along the east coast, she would hang a few of Parks’ paintings up alongside her own.
“I used to make $150 in an afternoon sometimes,” Reece remembers.
But that was a long time ago. Using a technique know as frontage, Reece now begins a painting by applying numerous layers of acrylic pigment to fibrous paper. This gives him a multi-dimensional canvas that he calls his “sub painting.”
“It’s an infant at that point. It’s just begun.”
Then, not unlike a sculptor with raw stone or wood, he picks up a brush and goes to work on the feature he finds in the sub painting. Cliff faces, brushy gorges, river bottoms, bare bottoms, and the flames of hell. He finds it all in there and, through his brush work, brings out the details for the viewer.
Then he incorporates characters, sometimes people but usually animals. Reece frequently taking an odd twist on the ethnocentrism with which most people view animals. He gives them personalities and human characteristics but he lets them use those traits to look back at us.
In one painting, a bear, a buck deer, a rabbit, and a raccoon all line up to ponder a brassiere
hanging on a pup tent rope.
In another new, large painting, “Mol Heron Cutthroats,” you see ranks of vivid trout, their dignity assaulted, finning downstream fast through an eerie subsurface creekscape. The rainbow hues match that of a petroleum sheen. There is no punchline to this painting.
The painting, as Reece explains it, is his chance to draw attention to what he calls the “degradation of the land” in the Mol Heron drainage, where he fondly remembers fishing for the same cutthroats many years ago.
“I used to worry that there were a finite number of good ideas,” he said, flipping through the sketch book of painting ideas. “But not any more. They’re limitless.”
Now have a look at a story: Some Town Trout
For a report on Parks south of the border,
check out Tim Cahill’s piece written for Outside Magazine