Monday, April 19, 2010

Liz Parkinson's Art Brings Joy to Unhappy Hipsters

If you appreciate modern residential design you are likely a regular reader of "Dwell" magazine, and enjoyed "From Brown to Green", an inspiring story about the Adams-Fleming residence (an abbreviated on-line version can be found here). Much as I like the magazine, they do have a peculiar slant to their editorial policy: children and pets are photographed as if they are mere fashion accessories, and the home owners appear to be in a state of perpetually disaffected ennui. This makes for easy pickings for the hilarious tumblr/blog "Unhappy Hipsters" which gave the following caption to this image from the Dwell article by photographer Lorne Bridgman:
(click on the photo to enlarge)

His first day in the house and little Alfie was alarmed—even their hobbies were joyless. (He’d be hitting the catnip hard.)

Good One!

Full disclosure: Adams and Fleming are personal friends and clients of A.K. Collings Fine Art. They are both wonderful cooks and generous to their wide and varied circle of friends and students. Their home is made for entertaining and it is at it's best when it is full of people, as it often is. Art makes a major contribution to the sense of warmth and humanity felt by their visitors, a fact which is not captured in the photos accompanying the article. Adams and Fleming have a very good collection of Canadian contemporary craft and fine art, and so it was a pity that none of the artists were properly referenced in the article. (Note to Dwell and other architecture and home dec mags: don't you think it's just as important to credit the artists as it is the makers of faucets and fridges? This same room was previously featured in a Canadian design publication, which saw fit to mention a chunk of wood gnawed by an anonymous beaver, but said nothing about the (human) artists.)

The two large works on the rear wall are gorgeous drypoint prints by Liz Parkinson, from her Copperplate Appellation series. The series presents late-season weeds as oversized specimens. Scale denotes importance: the familiar nuisance is identified and its individual visual attributes championed. In size (48"x31.5"), concept, beauty and technical execution, these prints are a real tour de force.
Parkinson recently had a mid-career retrospective at the Visual Arts Centre of Clarington. I've shown A Morphology Naturalized (veil) at my own gallery in the past, but to see it hung in the the third floor loft of this former barley mill was breathtaking. Veil is printed on translucent gampi (a handmade Japanese tissue paper). In the iteration for this installation, it measured an extraordinary 16'x16'. With the slightest breath, breeze or motion past, the veil moves as if it were alive. To quote Parkinson: "The veil shifts and sways from tradition to lyric to perhaps thoughtless richness and ruin. It contains elements of a formal morphology transformed into decorative language. It is an enormous print and an ephemeral sculpture. It is a botanical marvel; a familiar setting; a dandelion; a weed."

The exhibition was sensitively curated by Maralynn Cherry, who wrote the following:

"Fair LONCIERA prints the dewy lawn And decks with brighter blush the vermil dawn; Winds round the shadowy rocks, and pancied vales, And scents with sweeter breath the summer-gales.
(Erasmus Darwin The Love of Plants 1789)

Printmaking techniques are steeped in the history of text and illustration as ancient Chinese rubbings transform into intaglio woodblocks, etchings and lithography: skills that reshape the social history of representation. Liz Parkinson uses the art of printmaking to extend the boundaries of natural form and pattern. The detailed layering of her print work runs parallel with her sensitive perceptions of memory as an inherent archive. Botanical illustration and the insights of the naturalist are ever present in the work. Parkinson methodically guides the viewer through an assemblage of floral prints presented in arrays that evoke, at times, the wallpapers and tapestries of the Arts and Crafts movement, early fresco’s or the beauty of Redouté’s lily classifications. Taxonomy weaves an underlying thread throughout the exhibition. Here the act of naming the specimen combines the aura of the field journey with the aesthetic bonding of art, science and nature. Our imaginations are tempered by the poetic and structural composition of these floral patterns. Yet, Parkinson’s sight does not rest here. Rather, she reinvents the gaze of the floral to encompass both the social and historical documentation of a living morphology."

I have had the pleasure of placing Parkinson's work in a number of homes, as varied as the owners themselves. The fact that her art works in such a wide variety of settings is a testament to her skill. The work is simultaneously gentle and strong, and capably holds its own without overpowering, wherever it is placed. The following monoprint will soon be hung in the dining room of a rambling and wonky farmhouse which has had multiple additions (mostly incongruous) over its 150 year history: it is as un-modern and un-designed as can be imagined, and aside from also being inhabited by two people who are also generous hosts, this farmhouse is as different as can be from the Adams-Fleming residence. Derrida's Field is a large 4'x4' monoprint, employing multiple printing techniques, as well as the application of gold leaf, imparting a layered and painterly feel.

Derrida's Field Litho, drypoint, relief, acrylic and gold leaf on wet mounted Japanese paper
48" x 48"

The following two monoprints are from Parkinson's Morphology series, and use drypoint and flocking techniques:

Morphology In and Out, monoprint, drypoint and flocking, 36x48, 2003

That was the Colour, monoprint, drypoint and flocking, 31.5x34, 2003

Parkinson's works are at their best when seen in situ. Here they are in installation at the former A.K. Collings Gallery. The blown glass sculptures in the foreground are by Eva Milinkovic.

Parkinson is a master print maker, and her works are prominent in the well-known Ernst and Young Print Collection. In addition to her many private patrons, Parkinson's works are held in The Canada Council Art Bank, The Federal Ministry of Foreign Affairs, The Federal Business Development Bank, The Canadian Securities Commission, The Toronto Stock Exchange, The Tom Thompson Gallery and many other public and corporate collections.

She lives and works in a re-purposed circa 1850 fire hall in a small town outside of Toronto.

For inquiries about availability of these and other works, contact akcollings(at)sympatico(dot)ca.
More images can also be seen at Parkinson's website.

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