Future Reveries: The Paintings of Anthony J. Parkè. An interview conducted by Carl Turner.
It is said the richest place on earth is the cemetery, because it is filled with the unrealised dreams, ideas and aspirations of it’s deceased inhabitants. There is something of that in Anthony J. Parkés’ imaginary worlds. Specifically Parké is interested in an imaginary dimension where ‘unrealised futures’ lay. I interviewed the artist to discover what motivated his latest body of paintings entitled ‘Future Reveries’.
The backstory to Parké’s paintings revolve around his relationship with his elder brother, who was struck down with a mental ailment at a very young age. From this illness came a world of visions and voices which Parké says provoked numerous destructive outbursts over the years.
I asked Parké how these experiences have motivated his work:
‘I would say that there has always been a sense of guilt for my brother’s illness; that he never got to realise his future, and I did. As a consequence of this there perhaps a desire to somehow fill this void, to repair the damage, heal the wounds… to create the future he should have had, were it not for his illness.’
Throughout art history there have been artists who have taken motivation from familial relationships. A poignant example of this can be found with the American artist, Joseph Cornell. It is well journaled that Cornell initially began his magical box creations as a way of entertaining himself and his invalid brother, Robert, who could not get out. There is a parallel here: a sense of guilt surrounded Cornell, that his brother was unable to physically enjoy life, whilst he could.
Parké’s previous series of paintings entitled ‘Into the Glass’ began with a return to childhood. Again, this work looked to rectify the fragmentation of this period. His brother, a victim of his own relentless illness, would smash numerous glass objects: televisions, window panes, mirrors, even the family aquarium. Parké says, ‘I always remember the fish and glass gushing to the carpet floor, the poor fish flailing in glass, fused in an image of beauty and beauty’.
As such, glass became a prominent feature in his paintings. In his first series, entitled ‘Into The Glass’, he painted glass vessels laden with sensuous still life objects. In this instance, glass became a metaphorical means of capturing and preserving objects of beauty. The aim, Parké says, was to ‘invert the destructive history of glass in his childhood, to invert the destruction of beauty – both figurative and literal, and somehow piece it back together into something whole and beautiful.’
His latest series of paintings, entitled ‘Futures Reveries’, looks to a more magical, symbolist world. Parké explains his motivation here is to explore an imaginary dimension filled with fractured glimpses of a childhood past, and more importantly, fractured glimpses of what his beloved brother’s future could have held.
Parké says: ‘This series began with a very innocent thought. It dawned on me: Who would my brother have become today if he hadn’t become ill? What would his future look like? And who would he have become?’
As Parké recalls, this thought moved him profoundly, such that in that moment he felt an ‘acute sense of loss’. From this he knew he wanted to explore a world concealed within this idea.
Creating a world of ‘lost futures’, as Parké puts it, wasn’t something as straight forward and linear for him as painting a glass bowl with, say, pomegranates in it.
I asked Parké about this substantial departure in his work:
‘I knew this would be an area where I would need to let go of all my acquired rational thinking, that rational thinking would not help me explore this idea. So I tried to let go of reality, as much as anyone can, surrendering more to the imagination, towards feeling. So turned to a language of symbols, images and memories which somehow related back to fractured glimpses of my brother’s childhood, and pointed towards fractured glimpses of his future.’
I asked Parké how he began painting these futures:
‘I never understood how to go about referencing this world, but I had this notion that I would seek out what I would later Roger to as “magical objects”. These are objects which I could somehow embed with almost alchemical properties in so much they would possess an ability to transmute objects, images, or memories, into a painting depicting glimpses into an unrealised future.
One instance of a ‘magic’ object stimulating a potential future, is a recurring avian reference, taken from his brother’s childhood.
Parké says, ‘I recall entering his room. He was still relatively well in those days. On his desk he would have these little wooden boxes filled with cotton wool. Placed in them were tiny, fragile birds eggs. I knew this was a powerful object which somehow profoundly resonated with me. I couldn’t rationally grasp why they were important. They were so beautiful and fragile, and somehow seemed the perfect metaphor for his life.’
The two paintings Ornithologist I & II grew out of this recollection.
I asked Parké how he begins his painting process:
‘Well, I always start in my sketchbook, scribbling images, words, automatic writing, and allowing everything to flow through me without judgement. Judgement comes at the latter stages. What works, what doesn’t. But it is always guided by a sense of what feels right. Relying on the capacity to think irrationally. This loose process gradually gets tauter and tauter. It is then transferred from a sketch book to the computer where it takes on a digital existence. I collect a multitude of images, some taken by myself, many appropriated from numerous sources. I’m a magpie and steal as much as possible, but all is unrecognisable when complete. When the digital image feels resolved, it’s ready for the next stage of development, to evolve into a painting.’
In all of the paintings in his new series there is an unmistakably female face which fills much of the painting. Who is she, and why is she there?
Parké says: ‘She is an enigmatic shaman-like presence, beautiful and in possession of an ethereal quality. When I began these paintings I felt this would be a journey of sorts. From the physical to the metaphysical. I imagined a realm of lost futures, a strange dimension that couldn’t be seen, touched, or rationally understood, but only intuited. I turned to Greek mythology to find the meaning of her presence.’
Here he makes reference to Charon, the ferryman of Hades, who carried the souls of the newly deceased across the rivers Styx. This river divided the material world of the living from the spiritual world of the dead. A coin to pay Charon for passage, usually an obolus or danake, was sometimes placed in or on the mouth of a dead person.
In Parkés’ painting, The Astronomer, we see this danake in the hand of this female presence as she prepares to commune between the physical world to a metaphysical world of unrealised futures.
Parké’s paintings ultimately are about a journey, the journey of an artist trying to make sense of his past, trying to make sense of the spiritual loss of his brother, and a journey about trying to make sense of the future, not only of his brother’s future, but of his own future too.
Interview by Carl Turner
Anthony J. Parke