Scholarship blends with whimsy at Altamount Road

Friday, 17 January 2014 - 11:33am IST | Place: Mumbai | Agency: DNA
The life and colours of Professor Leroy Parker–artist, professor and Indophile.

Once upon a time, there was a little boy in Oklahoma named Leroy Parker. As he grew up, he found beauty and magic in ordinary things like drawing and colours, nature, the rain and the woods. But as in all fairy tales, the little boy needed a fairy god(father); he found one in Sam Richardson, his art teacher in school. It was he who convinced Parker to study art and become an artist.

Leroy Parker went on to win a scholarship to the California College of Art Crafts, earning a BFA and MFA and becoming a tenured professor at San Jose State University. Most importantly though, he became an artist, a sculptor, a ceramicist, drawing from his interest in God and the universe and placing them in his work.

The artistic process
Parker’s art is an intriguing mix of scholarship and whimsy. Many of his vibrant watercolours allude to works of Wassily Kandinsky and Andy Warhol. He explains, "My style is called anticipatory-preparatory, which is time-layering, meaning history. Many images are seen super imposed over each other in time." He creates this pictorial palimpsest by taking photographs and printing them in black and white on paper. Next, he "collages the photos (which have been enlarged) on a panel or paper and draw(s) from the live model over that". Finally, he prints or paints over that. The entire process may take years!

Art you can wear
His brush has daubed a variety of divergent surfaces, including manhole covers and paper that he processes from cooked pineapple tops, irises and banana leaves. Every material brims with possibilities. Equally fascinating is his voluptuous use of colour on everyday apparel. His hip hop clothes collection sports splashes of colour–electric blues, sunny yellows and warm reds. He says, "Each garment is uniquely created on items commissioned by individuals. Each is one of its kind."

By donning his art, the patron participates in the art that he creates–it is almost as though they are having a conversation. Parker shares, "Wearing my painted clothing helps to break down barriers between me and total strangers of all ages and genders in a positive way. It makes people treat me like family. It reminds people of the creative freedom of spirit in all of us.... It is like a day-to-day performance of a living sculpture."

India connection
Parker says, “My work is universal; the context being to break down all paradigms (social and cultural)." On his website he writes, "Every culture and race rushes through my blood. I am related to everyone. My parents are a mixture of African, Anglo, and Native American." These are not the words of an idle dreamer.

In Mumbai for a showing of his painted apparel at Sangita Sinh Kathiwada's fashion and design store, Melange, Parker's association with India goes back a long way. "India has always influenced my work. I feel that India is part of my spirit and blood. I felt this even before I had visited India…when I was in college. I have studied the Upanishads and the Bhagvad Gita deeply and my guru is avatar Meher Baba, born in Pune and laid to rest in Meherabad. I have been making regular pilgrimages to his samadhi," he explains. The current collection has been largely inspired by India. "It started with me wearing my hand-painted clothing and some Indians asking to wear my art on their clothing. I am an artist in residence in Mumbai and the work was created in Mumbai, Delhi, and Meherabad," he says. Truly a man of the world!

Stimulating Tension by Professor Leroy Parker
Time: 6:30pm-10:30pm
Date: January 16 
Address: Melange, 33 Altamount Road
Contact: 022 23534492.

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