A Joyfully Lugubrious Family Affair
by Kristin Nord
Catching up with Robert Andrew Parker and his son Geoffrey proved the perfect antidote to a grey and rainy day not too long ago. Bob was putting the finishing touches on his homage to the British artist Richard Dadd, a man who worked in obscurity from the confines of the London insane asylum St. Mary Bethlehem, and who posthumously was seen as one of the greatest and most original British artists of the 19th century. Geoff had come along for the ride.
Parker said Dadd’s meticulous paintings captivated him as a young man, and one can see the influence to this day in Parker’s own attention to detail and his joyful flights of fancy. Parker’s “Dadd Memorial Park” would be the final major installation in the Parker father/son exhibition on view at the Ober Gallery in Kent, in the westernmost part of Litchfield, County, Connecticut, through May 1. It is a joyfully lugubrious affair featuring a series of cast sculptures and figures repurposed from children’s sports trophies. Charles Addams or Edward Gorey would get a major kick out of it.
The converted barn that is Parker’s studio in West Cornwall, Conn. is in its own way a repository of wonders: there are watercolors, pen and ink drawings and prints of many kinds, proofs for work that appeared in children’s books and limited editions of poetry. There is a framed magazine cover commissioned by Time magazine, and a box full of “Bridezilla” portraits inspired by announcements in a local newspaper. Model airplanes pop up with great regularity, some on shelves, other strung like kites in a drafty skylight.
Parker was among the radical artist/illustrators of the mid-1950s who departed from what had been rendering exact passages of underlined texts and moved to art directly influenced by modern painting. Colorist, fabulist and expressionist, he was dispatched to far-flung and often exotic places over the next 60 years, in what has been a remarkable working life. His light-filled paintings and watercolors displayed in this show present less a cohesive theme than fragments of a great talent.