written by Kathryn Pearce
Nola Parker is enthralled by the natural world, its relation to people, and how we live within it. She paints scenes that are endearingly atypical of the classic landscape genre. Contrary to a majestic Albert Bierstadt landscape, Parker’s scenes neither immortalize nor aggrandize nature, but revel in its prosaic qualities.
In the fast-paced modern era in which Americans are glued to digital devices, we often overlook the mundane aspects of each day, but not Parker. Her keen attention to detail is reflected in her depiction of nature as well as the man made structures that populate her natural scenes. The quotidian buildings are not gleaming examples of tony architecture. In Ridgeway, a paved road leads to a biodome containing a fish farm (as told to me by Parker) and winds its way around a tarp-covered mound weighted down by hay bales. In the background stands a rocky mountain range blanketed with squat bushes. If I were walking past this, I wouldn’t think twice about it; however, Parker manages to transform an otherwise unremarkable, Middle-America vista into a charmingly offbeat painting reminiscent of an intergalactic, dystopian landscape. I envision a man in a biohazard suit and gas mask exiting the dome carrying a strange hybridized fish. Parker’s color and style choices—ovoid plants dot the mountain expanse set atop an acidy green and yellow field—further underscore the bizarre mood of her painting.
A quiet absurdity permeates Parker’s paintings that is at once humorous and slightly disturbing.
Subtly interwoven throughout this body of work is the theme of man trying to conquer and own the land. Despite how much we try, nature will always prevail, and Parker understands this truth. She slyly nods at this with White Mansion, in which she depicts an architecturally sterile, modernist structure with hyphenate levels jutting in and out. Artfully manicured plants surround the home, living organisms morphed into mere accessories. We are allowed a glimpse into the lives of the homeowner by way of the cars in the garage and the gleaming vase or trophy prominently displayed in a window. Wild, bright trees frame the scene, and stand between the viewer and the home. The juxtaposition of the cold building against the unruly, overgrown foliage injects a spontaneous energy into this captivating painting.
Parker’s work invites us to examine our relationships to nature. Making us question if we are taking advantage of it, or if we are doing enough to protect it for future generations.
A quiet absurdity permeates Parker’s paintings that is at once humorous and slightly disturbing. I find this duality lends a further depth to her oeuvre. In speaking with Parker, she touched on the inane idea of humans’ tireless pursuit to dominate the land, a folly especially evident in Condo and Crane and the Aquinnah Cairn series. Each piece illustrates man’s fastidious efforts to shape the natural world with alterations that range from minimal (rocks antically balancing atop one another) to extreme (a bright red crane punctuating the skyline). Again, Parker’s stylistic choices further highlight the man versus nature contrast: manufactured objects are rendered static and rigid, while natural elements are more whimsical. Parker playfully animates branches and leaves with her swirling brushstroke—even the blades of grass and pebbles are imbued with an indelible electricity.
Comparisons of Parker to David Hockney are unavoidable. The artists share a vibrant color palette that is enhanced by the use of acrylic gouache, Parker’s medium of choice. The saturated hues impart a flatness to the paintings that is inherently characteristic of Hockney too. In one of her larger paintings, Big Stacey, Parker douses the canvas in lush shades of green, embellished with animated paint strokes. The painting shows an urban forest with a myriad of trees in unique shapes and sizes. The tops of the trees move with a rhythmic cacophony, and lines reverberate in all directions, like they are dancing to raucous music. How lovely it would be to sit on the bench beneath the trees, watching them shake and move to the beat of the breeze. That’s the undeniable charm of Parker’s paintings: you can almost feel yourself in them.
Parker’s work invites us to examine our relationships to nature. Making us question if we are taking advantage of it, or if we are doing enough to protect it for future generations. It is only if you take the time to sit with her paintings that one is confronted by the work’s thought-provoking themes. With her environmentally conscious lens on the traditional landscape genre, Parker offers social commentary packaged in visual delight, joining a well-established cohort of artists using their medium to comment on our precariously evolving natural world.
20 Landscapes is on exhibit at Wally Workman Gallery through Sunday, November 25th.