On May 6, Santa Barbara artist R. Nelson Parrish, whose work has been featured in publications like Santa Barbara Magazine, will reveal his new exhibit to the public. From the Studio displays a collection of creations that stem from Parrish’s investigations of how the natural world and human-built environments collide and fuse.
A transplant from Alaska, Parrish has been immersed in the natural world from an early age. His art is influenced by the different degrees of wilderness he has experienced, from moose bedding down in his backyard during winters in Alaska to having to actively seek out interaction with nature while living in Southern California.
While obtaining his MFA from UCSB, Parrish developed an intense fascination with color. He began researching color theory and approaching color as a language of its own - a language that could transcend barriers. “When I was working with colors, I got the same feeling as when I would go ski racing, surfing, or driving fast,” Parrish explained. “My mind would get going a million miles a minute, but somehow it would also remain calm and peaceful. I wanted to translate these sensations, but traditional words were just an insufficient vehicle. Color, on the other hand, worked.”
Parrish now incorporates this color thrill in his work in the form of stripes. Every piece of his work has a unique pattern of colorful lines woven into the fiberglass. “When you put a racing stripe on something, it’s immediately faster,” he explained. “There’s a visceral reaction.” Parrish uses an intricate, labor-intensive fabrication process to achieve this effect. His works are crafted from native Alaskan wood and require the careful application of paints and numerous hand-rubbed coats of resin. Each finished piece represents months of work.
It’s also important to Parrish that his work has deeper resonance. “It’s got an underlying tongue and cheek to it,” he said. “Surprisingly enough, the wood I use is far more synthetic than the racing stripes I apply. The racing stripes are in their natural state, but the wood has been harvested, milled, and shaped into something unnatural.” Such layers of contradiction are what he wants people to walk away with after seeing his art. They symbolize the contrasts he sees in the world around him, such as when he’s surfing out at Rincon and sees dolphins breach 10 feet in front of him. “It makes me think, ‘There are wild animals right next to me; I’m on a board made of foam, floating between a speeding highway and oil platforms, but everything seems natural,’” Parish mused. “Our current landscape is filled with these dualities.” He strives to express that duality in every one of his creations.
Parrish’s work also contributes to the vocabulary of West Coast Minimalist art, contiunuing in the tradition of iconic artist John McCracken. Beginning in the 1960s, McCracken pioneered a new typology of artworks that were displayed off the wall and pared down to their elemental colors and forms, fabricated from high-gloss lacquer and fiberglass. With their acrylic and automotive enamels suspended within layers of colored translucent resins, Parrish’s works are a kind of remaking of McCracken’s minimalist objects.
Whether you come to analyze the theory behind his work or simply to enjoy the colors and aesthetics, Parrish encourages everyone to check out the exhibit. “In the end,” he said, “no matter which angle you are coming at it from, good art is pretty neat.”
Shannon Switzer is an intern for the Independent