Mastering The Still Life
In a downtown studio classroom off Main Street in Warrenton,Virginia, instructor Becky Parrish casually greets her workshop students, who under her guidance will aspire to hone their artistic skill. They respect and trust Parrish’s masterful abilities to lead them on this creative journey. One by one, the infantry finds its way to the many easels arming themselves with sword like brushes, shielded by their paint ladened smocks and preparing for a painter’s battle.
Those challenges aside, Becky Parrish embodies that of a fine artist, and she herself, a self employed artist since 1988, has been conquering the battlefield of fine art for nearly three decades. It’s not a small undertaking and her smock, maybe showing the most scares in the classroom, is decorated in victory!
To visually experience paintings by Becky Parrish, one must read the layers. My battlefield analogy above, is said with complete artistic appreciation of Parrish and harmoniously gives way to her finished works of art. Hers is an exhaustive addition and subtractive process, where paint finds its way to the canvas, to then be scraped away and replaced as she sees fit. “Massing” in the whole canvas with big shapes, while applying a process of removal that shapes the things to come. All the while creating texture so inviting the paint atop it can’t wait to mingle in the conversation.
I ask Becky if she has a favorite color and she lights up, saying “Periwinkle”, and chuckles. I must admit to being delightfully caught off guard on that one, as periwinkle is such a whimsical color and name, I didn’t see it coming. But I ask about Becky’s inspiration and she shares, “Usually it’s a color theme. I’ve become more monochromatic I guess. I try to pick two colors and neutral grays and then I go find the fodder [she grins], the subject matter to accommodate that concept.” Through this, she masterfully applies monochromatic tonal hues, while exquisitely delivering rich color exactly where it deserves to be.
Fine artists are a product of themselves. Their creative voice can be a whisper, a song, or a yell, and here is where Parrish is almost a creative contradiction, because she is a bit of each of those adjectives. Her voice is quiet and her paintings sing with the tranquil nature of her personality. Yet her compositions are abstract and her process is challenging, netting a reasonable percentage of pieces that don’t meet her desired standard. This is far from easy.
With respect to her process, Becky says, “I think a lot of these things are lucky accidents. I don’t really draw, I just mass in big masses. Then usually I’ll scrape through that and then when that dries, I’ll go back in and start detailing areas. [bringing the whole painting forward at once] By massing in the whole canvas you have some sense of a whole, a relationship with all of the objects in the far ground, middle ground and foreground.”
In reference to the scraping she does, she says, “I wrote my thesis on edges.” She shares often working days on an edge. “Some of that scrapping gets really cool edge effects, which even in a still life creates a sense of movement.” Her process to some degree avoids the painted edge, rather bringing forth a created edge. It is her style though and it works, and she admits she really works at it. One must remember, all artistic results are not a walk in the park. For some it’s more like rock climbing. Hard work, but netting a majestic summit.
Born in Kentucky, Becky’s father was a civil engineer for the Illinois Central Railroad. They moved around quite a bit, but finally landed in Fairfax Virginia when Becky was 13. She knew she wanted to be an artist and after graduating with a Bachelor of Fine Arts degree from George Mason University (1982), and a M.F.A. in Painting from The George Washington University (1996), that is exactly what she became. Along the way she was an Assistant Professor of Fine Art for Lord Fairfax Community College, Warrenton, VA. (1998-2003), as well as Assistant Professor, Germana Community College, VA. (1999), and is a very able instructor to this day. Becky currently offers workshops and classes in Warrenton and Unison, Virginia.
I ask Becky what teaching does for her? “It kind of reinforces things, I say things over and over and over again. So it kind of reinforces things in my own head too. And the great thing is when you see a person come in that’s never painted before and in a year or so, they’ve made this incredible progress, it’s rewarding.” With her students she admits it’s all about practice. “I tell the students, you get frustrated, but really painting three or four hours a week [in the classroom only] is not going to hack it. You’re going to have to work at home.” I respond to her that it’s the old 10,000 hour rule. She agrees.
Portraits are as important to Parrish as her still life paintings. She balances the two. Her portraits are most often commissioned, so there’s just always the hope that she is ultimately the creative lead with respect to its composition and feel. She admits it can be a process of “Push and pull.” But ultimately Becky says, “You want something that’s going to have staying power, that’s going to be timeless. A piece of art.”
When Becky looks to the future she tells me, “I’ve been wanting to work on larger more epic type paintings with figures, different environments and stuff like that.” Even dramatic figurative work is in her sights, which this mother of three has the proper inspiration for. Having some hefty mural experience in her background possibly beckons Becky’s thirst for scale, and there’s little doubt that when the time comes, she will not simply take a drink, but a deep plunge. Becky says any reinvention will not change her style though.
It is worth more than a mention of Becky Parrish’s passion for not only art, but artists and the masters of it. In almost a social media flood of information, Becky shares endless reminders of those masters through her wonderful National Gallery of Art postings to her [get this] 2,235 friends! That’s one friendly lady! You may as well friend her too! She’s is a lady worth knowing!
To see more work by Becky Parrish please visit her website - Becky Parrish