An Original View

This Week

Flights of Fancy – The ‘not so serious’ Parks Reece releases new lithographs

By Jessica Mayrer,

Published January 2-8

This Week – Bozeman Daily Chronicle

An Original View

The meaning of the universe, social criticism and parody are on display in Livingston as local artist Parks Reece rolls out four original lithographs he completed last month.

They’re  still wet.  Lithographs are the product of a laborious process and, accordingly, take a long time to dry, Reece said last week with a faint southern drawl, gained growing up in North Carolina.

Although he focuses on mastery – he studied galaxies in astronomy books before recreating the cosmos in his work – the painter is not shy about sticking his tongue out at the art world.

“I thought art took itself too seriously,” Reece said.  “I wanted to make it

The Hawk That Ate The Habanero

accessible to more people.”

This attitude is clear throughout his new series, but it is especially obvious in “The Hawk that Ate the Habanero,” in which a raptor takes flight, smoke streaming from his rear end, wings outstretched abainst an immaculately penned sky.

“I have been told I quit developing when I hit 11,” Reece said.  “And they weren’t laughing when they said that.”

The Artist’s casual style was inescapable Christmas Eve when his dog Appa followed art lovers, tennis ball in mouth, through Parks Reece Gallery located on Main Street in Livingston.  The yellow Lab waited anxiously while Reece showed off his second new lithograph, “Looking for the Big One,” in which a fisherman stands atop an island-sized fish, searching still for the perfect catch.

Looking for the Big One

“We’ve got everything we need right here, but still, we’re here looking around,” Reece said, pointing to the piece.  A fish-eye sun illuminates a pink sky.  Blue green mountains from jagged peaks in this ode to contentment and Reece’s childhood home near the Smoky Mountains.

As Reece struggled to recapture the hue of the North Carolina sky he shared with his grandfather as a boy, he was forced to let go and remember his own advice.

“If you don’t try to force the work, it will show you things,” Reece said.

That lesson serves well, especially during the dicey lithograph-making process.  Because Reece draws each shape in black and white before it goes to the printer for color, much of the method relies on educated guesswork.  Reece worked 10-hour to 14-hour shifts, repeating the shape-color cycle 25 times.

“It’s the most adventure you can have without risking your life,” Reece said.  “It’s white knuckle.”

And though he’s a pro, displaying work across the United States, Canada and Europe, he still agonizes over the creative process.

“Is this going to look stupid or is this going to be brilliant?” He asks himself while mulling over the next artistic tool.

The end result of Reece’s labor is a series of ethereal creations.  Lighographs, with no paint accumulation, are lighter than oil paintings.  Airbrushing, a technique Reece used for his current lithographs, leaves an atmosphere of small delicate dots, the detail visible only under a magnifying lens.

Adding to the complexity of lithography is collaboration.  Very different from the solitary painting process, Reece relies on a “Pressman,” or lithographer, who is capable of dreaming up color blends with him while communicating with a sometimes anxious artist.

In 1798, when lithography was invented, it opened up a whole new world for visual artists.  In addition to providing an opportunity to use different techniques and stretch creative skills, it enables artists to manufacture several identical pieces thereby cutting the consumer’s price, said Geoff Harvey from Sunlight Graphics in Livingston, who worked with Reece on the lithographs.

Reece and Harvey produced 150 limited edition copies of the four original lithographs and destroyed the plates.  The pieces sell for between $300 and 4600 and can be seen at the Livingston gallery.

“It can never be printed again,” Harvey said.

Each artist he works with has quirks and idiosyncrasies, and Reece is no different, Harvey said.

“Imagine going n dates with different people,” Harvey said.  “He’s got a great sense of humor.”

It’s that humor, along with approachable wisdom, a perfectionist’s eye for

Buffalo Jump

detail and a dash of social commentary that  makes Reece’s work unique.  The artist’s quirky style comes through in his 2008 lithograph “Buffalo Jump,” in which a cowboy is chased off of a cliff by a herd of buffalo.

Swirls of smoky-blue pastel clouds become buffalo.  As a cowboy wakes from a daydream, he realizes the lumbering creatures have come down from the sky and are chasing him off of a ledge.

This humor, too, is clear in “The Shadow Caster,” in which a bear casts a shadow puppet in the shape of a fly, faking out a fish.

The Shadow Caster

“It tickled me, the thought of a bear shadow casting,” Reece said.

As the bear plays tricks, a spaceship soars overhead, a reoccurring theme in Reece’s work.

I’ve seen UFOs,” Reece said.  “I like to stick them in periodically.”

Reece’s fascination with space and UFOs is clear in much of his work, including the earlier lithograph, “How Infinity Works,” in which a squirrel strolls inside a figure eight against a galaxy of glittering stars.

Humans see only the tip of the universe, Reece said.  But, if one looks a little closer, ore readjusts perspective, sometimes, another layer opens up.

“I like to think that art can sort of pull back the veil a little bit,”  Reece said.


Story by Jessica Mayrer/Cover photo of Parks Reece by Erick Petersen of the Chronicle.