Jeffrey Vincent Parise’s A Decade of Paintings thoughtfully investigates the creative process of painting while exploring the various roles of muse and artist. The premise of Parise’s art book is that sitters respond to their portraits and to the consummate experience of being painted. Rather than a traditionally passive role as muse, Parise invites his subjects to take an active part in his body of work. The discourse that emerges not only intensifies the paintings, but also produces an entirely new expressive entity. His portraits inspire poetry, short stories, letters, and articles, all of which are bound together to form a reinvigorated composition that redefines muse. –S.O.S.
WHEN DID YOU FIRST CONSIDER YOURSELF AN ARTIST?
As a child I always drew and painted as a hobby, but then in 1997 I was hired to act in a film that shot in Berlin. I had never been to Europe and it was during this time I had my first communion with the masters. I began to see how deep and beautiful this art game really is. I was having emotional reactions to things made hundreds, sometimes thousands of years ago, and they were still participating in the human experience. I decided then that this is the game I want to play. I came home from Europe and have not stopped painting since.
WHAT WAS THE IMPETUS FOR YOUR BOOK?
I had begun to accompany some of my paintings with writings about specific paintings. I painted my friend, photographer and writer Forest Casey, and he was so moved by the experience that he wrote an article about it for Splice Magazine. It was fascinating to me to hear what that was like for him. It made me begin to think of the many portrait paintings by some of my favorite artists that have moved me in the past. Many times it is not only the craftsmanship that pulls me in, but also the subject itself. I often wonder who they are. What is their story? What was it like the day or days that the painting was created? I realized I had the opportunity to answer some of these questions with this book. So I asked many of the people I painted to write something around their experience of being painted if they could remember it. I could have never expected what came back. Not only did they remember, but many remembered in great detail. Poems, short stories, detailed accounts of the day we painted were brought back to life through their writings. I continued to write about some of the paintings as well, but this is how the concept came to fruition.
EXPLAIN YOUR RELATIONSHIP WITH THE PEOPLE YOU PAINT AND WHAT MAKES YOUR WORK DIFFERENT THAN THE TYPICAL PAINTER-SITTER RELATIONSHIP.
I would describe it as a creatively intimate relationship. I don’t hire professional models. I recruit friends, family and lovers to pose. There is something unique about that person that I would like to preserve. They are people who have played a role, large or small, in my life. In painting them I honor and show appreciation for the moments we have shared.
HOW DO YOU CONDUCT A TYPICAL PORTRAIT SESSION?
I am a big believer in creating an atmosphere. My studio is always clean, candles are lit and music is playing. I normally wait to bring out the paints, the drop cloth and lights until after the sitter has arrived, so it doesn’t look like an operating room when they get there. Once the sitter feels comfortable in the room, I bring out the paints, and we find the pose together. Sometimes they have a solid idea of how they would like to be immortalized, while others take a few tries. Once we find the pose, the painting begins. Breaks are taken as needed. Sometimes there is talking, other times not. When it is silent, it’s as if the sitter and I fall into a deep meditation and emerge on the other side with a finished painting.
IN A DECADE OF PAINTINGS YOU MENTION THAT MOST OF YOUR PORTRAITS ARE MADE WITHIN THREE HOURS — NOT LONG, CONSIDERING YOU ARE WORKING IN OILS. WHY ARE YOU INCLINED TO WORK AT THIS PACE?
When I did my first Naked & Famous painting, it was of me. It was done during the wee hours of the morning and at an incredibly desperate moment in my life. I was in a dark place and wanted to escape by painting. No one was around, so I set up a mirror and began. I felt as if the faster I painted, the faster the pain would go away. I finished the painting in two and a half hours, and did indeed feel better. I felt a weight had been lifted. I knew a series had been born and one of the ingredients that brought me there was urgency. I kept this same urgency for nearly four years into the series. I really liked the idea of having the sitter walk into my studio and see an empty canvas and within three hours, have a complete painting. I would fall into a moving, flowing meditation. Sometimes feeling trance-like. It forced me to make bold, decisive and confident strokes. I was working from instinct. If I hit a wall, I would just keep painting until that wall was knocked down. I speak in the past tense, because I no longer use the same technique.
DID ANY OF YOUR SUBJECTS HAVE DIFFICULTY WITH THE INTIMACY OF POSING NUDE? DID YOU?
What I like to do, just in case this happens, is to have a smaller canvas standing by. If a sitter comes to the studio and is suddenly overcome with nerves, I will offer to do a painting of their face. I have another series called In Your Face that is just that…faces. This has only happened twice.
In another instance, a sitter had her arms across her chest psyching herself up saying, “I can do this, I can do this,” to which I responded, “You know, we don’t have to do this right?” I offered to paint her face, but she said, “No, I want to do this!” As she stood, arms crossed like a mummy taking in a deep breath for courage, I said, “That’s it!” She looked down at her covered breasts, looked back up smiling and said, “Really?” “Yes, it’s perfect,” I told her. She settled into the pose and we went on to paint a beautiful Egyptian-looking painting.
I, personally, have only had trouble with the intimacy of the sitter being nude once. It was early on in the series and I had just become single. Although, I wanted to paint this girl, I think more so I wanted to have sex with her. There was palpable sexual tension in the room and I found it hard to concentrate on the painting. I most certainly was not in the meditative flow I had come to learn. I made a choice to separate the two from that point on. It’s either a painting session or a date. Not both. There is a responsibility I assume when I am trusted with the vulnerability of being nude. To cross that ethical line would sour the purity I have found while painting and would most certainly show in my work.
TELL ME ABOUT THE WORK YOU WILL BE SHOWING IN YOUR NEXT GALLERY EXHIBITION.
Besides some paintings from the Naked & Famous series, some new and some that are in the book, I have branched out for this solo show and have painted not only people but also some interesting objects. Most of these paintings are smaller pieces and not part of a series. They will be priced low enough to induce impulse buying.
JEFFREY VINCENT PARISE: A DECADE OF PAINTINGS
THE HISTORIC GAS CO. LOFTS, LOS ANGELES
820 South Flower St.
11 December – 15 January
Book Release: 11 December, 7pm