We’re fortunate to live in a beautiful, inspiring stretch of the California coast. We’re also fortunate to be surrounded by individuals who actively search out and explore this beauty through their creative pursuits. As a tribute to them, we’re launching a video series called the Coastal Creatives.
For this first video in the series, we had the opportunity to sit down with local artist, surfer and generally awesome human being, R. Nelson Parrish, whose bio-resin totems draw inspiration from California while also giving a nod to his home state of Alaska.
Big thanks to our good friend, Chris Orwig for producing this video.
Reacting to Southern California living, Alaskan R. Nelson Parrish voices his work through color. Drawing from skiing, surfing and auto racing, Parrish uses personal experience as source material. The objects are comprised of: resin, pigmented resin, racing stripes, wood and fiberglass, resulting in a hybrid of painting and sculpture. The work concentrates on the disengagement of the participant from the peripheral, as occurs in adrenaline sports, and forces a focus upon the present moment. In these moments, a heightened sensation of calm is induced, despite the tumultuous and chaotic surroundings. The melding of these emotions, and seemingly disparate elements, create a synergetic experience. The objects are a visual translation of this synergy. Using experience and materials as signifiers, the work is a reflection of our current landscape. This synergy ultimately centers upon the question of natural versus synthetic.
When did you realize that you were an artist?
I was 22 and was in San Francisco visiting my mom in order to buy a suit for an internship at the U.S. Senate. We went to the museum and I saw my first John McCracken and my first Gerhard Richter.
Those two pieces give me goosebumps just thinking about them. They made me want to give that feeling back to the world. I want to inspire people and invoke that feeling in people. That feeling is very empowering.
When did you start working with resin?
I really love photography. It was my first love. I still do, but it’s full of limitations. People can’t get past the medium or the subject. People couldn’t look past the subject and get into the conversation that I was trying to have.
I came into color out of that frustration. When I was in grad school I was trying to figure out how to do this and then I had this Aha! moment. I was working on my thesis and one of my roommates was a surfboard shaper. It made me start looking at things that fall into color - sports cars, sports equipment, surfboards.
I made a painting and dumped resin on it. I was playing with fiberglass. The glass started to delaminate and I was so frustrated that I just ripped it off the painting. So then I poured it on directly and it did exactly what I wanted it to do.
From there I just started playing with it as though it was clay. What can I do with it? How far can I push it? I figured out the chemistry. Then the toxic aspect came up. Working with that stuff all day was too much. So one of my collectors told me to go and talk to Fletcher Chouinard about bio-resin. One of his assistants gave me a name and then I went down to LA to talk to this company started by two brothers who surfed and skied and wanted to find a way to make their equipment more environmentally friendly. They both got PhDs at Berkley and then came up with this stuff. I did some beta testing for them and now it’s the greatest stuff. I was lucky to get in with them at the ground level because now I know more about this resin than artists of much greater renown. They’re calling me now and wanting to know about it.
Do you think of yourself more as a craftsman or more as a conceptual artist?
That is a huge dialogue. Craft used to be first. Then conceptual came out.
My work is about translating a feeling. I’m interested in the language of color. I’m a color theorist more than an artist. Color is my language and I’m using that to communicate with the audience. The materials are there simply for putting color into a tangible form.
Speaking of color, what’s your favorite? Do you have one?
Pacific is a house paint color by Ralph Lauren. They don’t make it anymore. It's my favorite color in the world.
Photos courtesy of R. Nelson Parrish