Gallery View: Resonating with Catherine Parker
Catherine Parker is one of Buffalo’s most respected and admired artists. That reputation has grown steadily since her return to her hometown in the early 1980s after a protracted absence that included time spent in the southwest and on the west coast. In recent years she has also developed a very loyal following of devoted collectors who eagerly await the opportunity to see and purchase her newest work; it’s common to find individuals who own multiple examples of her oeuvre. All of this attention is well deserved. Simply put, her recent and current works are the most exceptional and successfully executed paintings that the artist has produced in her long and accomplished career. If you ascribe to the notion that artists experience “golden” periods, then Parker is clearly having one now.
These facts, and a number of other reasons, combine to make her solo exhibition at the Kenan Center in Lockport, on view from October 9 through November 13, a very special event. With forty-five paintings (the majority of which were completed in the last three years, including several that were created especially for this show), it is the largest exhibition of Parker’s artwork mounted in over a decade. It’s also the first time the artist has exhibited her work in Niagara County and represents an occasion to introduce her talents to a new regional audience. Incorporated into the exhibition will be a small selection of (mostly smaller) paintings from the early 1990s to 2000 intended to demonstrate the artist’s stylistic development and provide a framework conveying how Parker arrived at her present level of artistic maturity.
Planning for the exhibition began in spring 2010, soon after Parker began to be represented by art dealer and consultant Dean Brownrout of 20th Century Finest. Prior to establishing a relationship with Parker, Brownrout (another Buffalo native who returned after time spent away) had focused on presenting satellite exhibitions of important WNY legacy artists, working with artists’ estates, and dealing in historically significant artworks. That activity still continues, but Parker has become the first working artist he has chosen to represent on a permanent basis. Brownrout enthusiastically embraces Parker’s artistic career and notes that “representing Catherine exclusively is a logical outgrowth for me; she is an artist with strong ties to Western New York who has the potential to attract wider commercial and scholarly attention.”
The location of the exhibition is both serendipitous and advantageous. The centerpiece of the Kenan Center, a 25-acre campus whose mission includes arts, education, and recreation, is the 1880s-built Kenan House. The architecturally elegant rooms of the mansion have hosted art exhibitions since 1966 and Kenan executive director Susan Przybyl points out that the very first gallery exhibit consisted of works by Parker’s father, noted American watercolorist Charles Burchfield. Przybyl adds, “We are pleased to be contributing to this ongoing family and artistic legacy.” Considering the environs of the exhibition, a stroll through the autumn-hued gardens and lush treescapes that surround the Kenan House would be an ideal way for visitors to experience some of the natural stimuli that inform so much of Parker’s work.
The title of the exhibition—Resonance—is quite appropriate since Parker’s work has repeatedly been influenced by and in many cases deliberately responded to other creative disciplines such as music and poetry. Collaborations with the Buffalo Chamber Players, various area poets, and Buffalo-based composer Roland Martin have all yielded highly evocative paintings. Included in the Kenan exhibition will be recent works that Parker created in response to Olivier Messiaen’s Quartet for the End of Time, Alban Berg’s Seven Early Songs, Richard Strauss’s Four Last Songs, and the poetry of Pablo Neruda.
Describing Parker as a watercolorist would be a misnomer. More accurately, she is a “water media” artist who primarily uses gouache (a more opaque version of watercolor) as well as charcoal. Over the years, she has developed a distinctive style that balances the physicality of the media with the expressiveness of her vigorous brushwork. Regardless of the subject matter—architecture, landscape, or waterscape—the compositions teem with energy and movement and Parker continues to fine-tune her use of abstraction as an effective lens to interpret the visual references for her paintings. It’s a logical connection that Parker (who has a degree in music education and studied and performed on the cello) is so strongly drawn to music for inspiration. She is also quick to point out that much of the vocabulary used to describe music—terms and concepts like rhythm, scale, motif, and so on—is also used for art. At this stage of her career, Parker talks about how she has learned to trust her instincts and how she has achieved a certain level of “comfort and satisfaction” with her work.
The introduction to the exhibition refers to Parker as “an acute observer of her surroundings who revels in small and large occurrences, finding ideas in the boundlessness of travel and the intimacy of watching a flower grow on her kitchen windowsill.” Illustrating this point, the exhibition includes scenes drawn from locales as close as her own backyard and as far afield as Belgium. (The artist visited Bruges earlier this year.) In all her work, Parker successfully and definitively melds observation with imagination.
The opening reception for the exhibition is on Sunday, October 9, from 2 to 5 p.m. at 433 Locust Street in Lockport. Call 433-2617 or visit www.kenancenter.org for more information.
Gerald Mead is an artist and educator who collects and has exhibited Catherine Parker’s work.