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Less Apparent Abstraction: Tim Parsley

By Dan Swartz

Fort Wayne Reader


Many times, Fort Wayne newcomers wax poetic on the ways that they are kept outside of the “inner core” of city goings-on, and are not made to feel like they can work through this veil of exclusion easily.

Tim Parsley, the program director for studio art and assistant professor of studio in painting and drawing at the University of Saint Francis’ School of Creative Arts, is a relatively new name within Fort Wayne’s art scene. Coming here from Cincinnati, Ohio, Parsley’s work their included being a part of their Artworks mural program, and working as associate curator for Manifest Creative Research Gallery and Drawing Center.

Parsley’s artist statement is efficient and modest; “Through painting, drawing and collage, I appropriate and piece together scraps of historic imagery and collective memory, revealing and reinterpreting the nostalgic anxiety of American history.”

SOCA’s first large presentation of Parsley’s work comes in “Oh Blindness to the Future, Kindly Given”, a large body of diverse works, including everything from painting to collaged works on paper, and assisted ready mades to small installations. Collage particularly describes the conceptual underpinnings of Parsley’s work, which pivots between John and Abigail Adams’ and their use of a quote from Alexander Pope in “Oh Blindness to the Future, kindly given” paired to an image of the Adams couple, buffed out, and stitched together, to an image of 19th century garbed men wrestling and burying horses in the aptly named “Burying the Horses”. Parsley’s work is always thoughtful, and carries with it a philosophy of abundant meaning and connectivity between and among the ideas highlighted in his work. This robust conceptual structure to the work makes Parsley’s work literally feel rich and complete, more than this writer is usually accustomed to within the local art scene. Part of this richness comes from the longer count themes within Parsley’s work like a critical analysis of America’s history and its acceptance and enabled vision of forward progress. This critical analysis is captured in “Oh Blindness to the Future, kindly given”, as it is both an affirmation the innocence captured within the phrase, and the potential problems which this blindness caused and still causes when it plays out within our nation’s events both internally and externally.

In other work such as “Onward they Came”, a hyperbolic image full of the pioneering drama which sums up a great deal of American history and its love of manifest destiny, Parsley’s paintings blend multiple images together beautifully in a surrealist pastiche. It is in these images that the viewer might find a commonality between Parsley’s work and the resurgence of abstracted figuration in international artists like Neo Rauch. While Rauch and Parsley do share certain formal concerns, this writer would note that Parsley’s work began incorporating “collaged” paintings while Rauch was only just gaining international popularity, and so a better fit for inspiration would more clearly come out the later surrealist method of melding high and low art in fantastic, sublime conglomerations of classical motifs and modern graphics, and artists who took this tradition into Pop Art and then Neo Expressionism like R. B. Kitaj, Francesco Clemente, and even Julian Schnabel.

With this overall understanding of Parsley’s work as appropriating culture to craft into small moral narratives, and the use of a mixture of formal concerns to result in delicate, hand crafted pastiche, the viewer then finds his works on paper. These amazing hand cut, collaged pieces bring Parsley’s process into further light and end up feeling like something between a sketch and a maquette, existing in space, but flickering with just enough indecision to make them breathing. Pieces like “The History of Abundance”, a somewhat antebellum image of Walt Whitman, sitting casually with a massive floral and botanical headdress, towering off of the brim of his hat. The background is comprised of multiple overlapping pieces of paper creating a soft structure, and the words “Arouse! For you must justify me” pasted below the image, appropriated from Whitman’s “Poet’s to Come”, from the “Leaves of Grass” anthology.

Like a brief moment of telepathy between viewer and artist, Parsley’s works on paper describe moments in his research and his creative process in a way that would be so difficult to emulate in words. These pieces pull out of staunchness of his paintings, and become more friendly and conversational. And while many of these same aspects exist in pieces like “To Buffon…”, a small painting, the very nature of the object as a painting, and conceits given through the process of making the image instantly formalize it. It is in Parsley’s collaged works on paper that the viewer is able to understand the artist’s conceptual framework, and it is through this understanding that the iterative process of pulling out each works meaning begins. While Parsley’s work stays fresh throughout the exhibition, it does contain incredibly strong themes which are rehashed and retold in some ways from piece to piece. These broad moral narratives are interesting to see in an artist who clearly has great knowledge of the contemporary art world, which many time eschews consistancy.

Ultimately, Parsley’s first solo exhibition, “Oh Blindness to the Future, Kindly Given” should be taken as a shot across the bow to many Fort Wayne artists. New talent means new competition, which is the only way to produce growth. This is an example of our community effectively attracting outside talent, and due to Parsley’s access to our community through SOCA, he will be here for a while, and will get to know everyone. We must learn from and challenge new talent like Parsley, and help them grow further so that if nothing else, Fort Wayne holds a place as a chapter within their own development.

For More Information:
“Tim Parsley: Oh Blindness to the Future, Kindly Given”
Now through December 15th
University of Saint Francis, North Campus gallery

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