Where Angels Leer at Fred

Wild About Art

By Peggy O’Neill
IR Outdoor Editor Beauty and humor coexist in the creations of Parks Reece

Ask your buddy what he considers to be the qualities of an ideal girlfriend, and he’ll probably say something about beauty and a sense of humor. Ask your buddy what he considers to be the elements of fine art, and he’ll probably scratch his head and try to say something impressive and profound, but you laugh at him anyway.

Livingston artist Parks Reece takes the fear and intimidation out of fine art and serves it up with a sense of humor. If that’s not ideal enough for the average, or even above-average, art appreciator, he also incorporates wildlife and nature themes into his paintings and lithographs.

Eyes Fishing

Take, for example, his painting “Eyes Fishing.” It’s a scene of a guy in an icy blue winter landscape. His fishing rod is flexed presumably by a fish that’s hidden in the deep, dark hole in front of him. There’s a glowing, yellow ring around the, uh, hole… Oh wait, that’s not just a hole in the ice. It’s an eyeball, for goodness sake.

“That was in reference to an old man who would catch perch and pop the eyeball out, put it on a hook and go catch another-perch with its brother’s eyeball,” Reece explains in his lilting North Carolina drawl.

How surreal, you might say. And if you did say that, you’d be saying something smart about Reece’s art.

“I’m a surrealist in the broad term, in the very broad term,” Reece says. “Things are somewhat real looking, but they’ve been skewed in my paintings.”

And that’s about all you need to understand about Reece’s work to appreciate it – things are skewed. If you want to go into esoteric art terms, Reece will tell you that he used to be an abstract expressionist. He studied at the Universidad National in Costa Rica and earned a fine arts degree at the San Francisco Art Institute. If you want to dig deeper, you’ll learn that he began painting at the age of 2 under the tutelage of his mother, nationally noted finger-painter Gwyn Finley Reece, and the originator of the finger-painting medium, Ruth Faison Shaw.

But Reece says he doesn’t like to talk “arty,” so you might as well just look at the art and figure it out for yourself.

“My approach is that I don’t need to be around when you look at the art,” he says. “The art should speak for itself. If I’ve done my job right, I don’t need to tell you anything else.”

Reece’s art hits you in phases. His use of color might strike you first. You see three fish hanging out together in a heavy blue under water world, flecked with yellows, reds, purples. If you wanted to talk “arty,” you might use a word like pointillism. But don’t go there, Reece doesn’t especially want you to.

Then the odd fact that two of the fish are trout and the other is a bass sneaks up

The Bass Hole

on you. You might think it strange that two trout are sharing space with a bass, a particularly unfriendly looking species of fish.

Lastly you read the title of the painting, “The Bass Hole.” The color, the beauty, the humor all come together and you smile.

Reece describes it as “witticism in the process of pulling off beauty.” He also describes it as “peeling back the veil.”

“I’m so simple minded,” Reece says, “it kind of amazes me that I can go to sleep and wake up, and I breathed all night. And I had dreams. There’s just so much going on beyond what we really have a grasp of and I’m always intrigued by that. So when I sit down to paint, it’s my way to pull the veil back a little. I think in art, it’s a way to get a glimpse at what’s beyond.”

So you might ask, what’s beyond the veil?

“You don’t really know what’s out there,” Reece says. “But when you’re painting, it’s just a part of what inspires the painting. When I do a painting, I’m thrilled. It’s not just, ‘I’m gonna paint this painting and let’s see if anyone likes it.’ When I’m doing it, I mean I’m inspired. I’m having a sort of ether experience. I think I’m better for every painting that I do. I think I pull that veil back a little further. That’s not to sound too mystical or anything. I think everyone has wonderings of what the world is about. This is a way of illustrating it to myself and maybe others.”

Reece pauses, thinks about what he just said, and continues, “That’s a good one. I never thought of those words, but that’s about right.”

The Bass Hole

Another one of Reece’s pieces shows a tiny guy dwarfed by a big world of color and light. He could be watching the most beautiful sunrise he’s ever seen. The title of the painting is “Where Angels Leer at Fred.”

What the…, you might think to yourself.

“A lot of the things I do are plays on words, puns,” Reece says. “And ‘Where Angels Leer at Fred’ is, of course, a play of ‘Where Angels Fear to Tread.’ In my mind, there are several layers going on in paintings.

Where Angels Leer at Fred

In this one, it was the chance for the play on words. I like that. That’s funny to me. Also there’s this little guy out in the expanse of the Montana prairie. That sort of said to me ‘We’re fairly insignificant in the whole scheme of Mother Nature.’ So there’s two elements right there. And I hope that it’s a beautiful painting, so that if there were no puns, no wit, no title, you’d be drawn to that. So I think if you hit on the right elements of design, composition, color and beauty that you’re programmed to be attracted to it.”

I test that theory on my buddy Thomas.

“So Thomas,” I say. “What do you think of this painting?”

“I like it,” says Thomas.

“Well, what do you like about it?” I push.

“I like the colors,” Thomas says. “And I like how that little guy looks so small against the whole scene.”

I point to the title, and say “Now what do you think?”

“I don’t get it,” he says. “But I still like it.”