The Shot Heard Round The World...Over and Over Again!
It was the shot heard round the world, that has since, set out nation and countless other countries spinning. The reverberation continues, most recently, in Barcelona. Innocent lives lost, we are made to feel blind by cowards who bear a hatred for us far exceeding most of our grasp. We are slowly being educated though, albeit, a painful education it is, born from horrific attacks and senseless casualties.
It is one artist Graydon Parrish was commissioned to capture for the New Britain Museum of American Art (New Britain, Connecticut) even before he - or any of us - ever fully understood what was in-store following the Tragedy of 911. And yet, the magnificence of this body of work, called The Cycle of Terror and Tragedy, captures every second of what the United States and much of the globe has experienced at the hands of terrorism ever since that fateful day occurred, sixteen years ago.
How Graydon Parrish was able to put into paint what no other medium could ever completely capture, outside of the actual video footage itself, is something I had to find out. So I reached out to him and his gracious replies, I share with you, below.
Share your personal mantra.
"Reason is by its very nature tolerant and inclusive." Michael R. LeGault from his book "Think! Why Crucial Decisions Can't Be Made in the Blink of an Eye".
You describe yourself as "a realist painter trained in and an exponent of the atelier method, which emphasizes classical painting techniques". For all those folks who don't speak art, tell them what they should expect from your painting.
The Atelier Method represents our current take on what art training prior to about 1920 might have looked liked, or rather, what it was like in essence. This art training prizes life drawing and painting, drawing after well known antique statues, copying master paintings, color theory, anatomy and archival painting practices.
Share three of your major influences and explain how they have influenced the evolution of your work, thus far.
One of my favorite artists is the 19th century painter, William Bouguereau. He was no doubt a pariah in much of the 20th century, which, to my younger self, was a tempting hero. At one time, I relished going against the grain. However, this was not all: Bouguereau excelled at painting delicate flesh-tones as well as complex compositions. His Nymphs and Satyr at the Clark Museum in Williamstown, MA, is in my opinion, a perfect painting. I have studied his technique for many years.
Another was the recondite painter Charles Bargue who, with his colleague and mentor, Jean-Leon Gérôme compiled the Cours de Dessin, a three part drawing course meant to train the taste and eyes of younger, aspiring artists in the later 19th century. Bargue painted fewer than twenty highly finished paintings in addition to illustrating the Cours. Bargue's lesson is that quality is far more important than quantity.
I know you asked for three, but when I think about today there are many artists who keep inspiring me and driving me to a higher and higher standard. These include figurative artists Sabin Howard, Margaret Bowland, David Kassan and Shawn Warren. Truthfully, I wish I could list them all. It is hard to choose when I live and breath art. I think there is a quiet Renaissance happening.
How do you choose your subjects?
I work on commission these days. Most of my images come from a frank conversation with my patrons. However, I never want for creative freedom.
I discovered you through a work you painted hanging in the New Britain Museum of American Art called "The Cycle of Terror and Tragedy" which depicted the Tragedy of 911. It is remarkable painting on so many levels. Explain how this work came into being, including what it was like to paint it, what it took out of you to create it, and what you learned about yourself and society because of it.
Shortly after the tragedy of September 11th, 2001, Douglas Hyland, the former director of the New Britain Museum of American Art came to my studio. He and I had a conversation about a grand work that would commemorate those who lost family in the catastrophe as well as one that might speak to others in the future.
It is difficult to describe what it was like to paint something that large. I recall it took about four years to complete, and I understand this might, to some, sound excessive. However, I had to carefully plan this, find the right models, do sketches and life-size finished drawings, a complete under-painting in monochrome and tackle fleeting subjects like models expressing distress and ephemeral roses. The latter took three to four days to paint each blossom, and there are around one hundred.
At first, I learned that the world wasn't quite ready for such a picture. I thought, on delivery, I would receive welcome hearts, but instead I faced some painful and vitriolic criticism. After that, though, it seemed that my picture and the public grew together. I knew this when a kind women clutched my hand and insisted that I just had to see the museum's 9-11 painting. All the work was worth it in the end. Since then, I have a warm and ongoing relationship with the New Britain community. Many have expressed their personal take on the painting, and how it has influence their lives.
Do you believe that our nation has gotten better or worse since the Tragedy of 911? Explain.
The world has certainly become more polarized. At my most pessimistic, I think it has gotten worse, coarser and less tolerant of the myriad of opinions that arrive simply from different lives doing different things. At my most optimistic, I see a lot of hard working people who, when they get off their cell phones, smile at strangers and spread love and understanding.
What's next for you?
I am working on my second major piece, a large three-part painting about the eclipse of reason, truth and compassion.
What is one art form you are in awe of because you have no ability to do it?
Great question. I wish I could be an animator. There is no lack of genius in animation.
Share a social cause or cause-based organization close to your heart.
I have two. Opera is an art with far too few advocates. A friend of mine is going through a tough time trying to reconcile his heart and whom his future decisions will hurt. Nothing reflects and expresses this anguish better than an opera. Secondly, I am on the board of the Denali Foundation, an organization that, in part, provides art supplies to children who cannot afford them.
When all is said and done, how would you like to be remembered?
I would like to be remembered for my allegory of 9-11, The Cycle of Tragedy, September 11th, 2001. That, and the fact that I tried to keep classical painting alive and relevant in the 21st century.
Measuring 6 feet 5 inches by 17 feet 6 inches, The Cycle of Terror and Tragedy, is astounding, especially if you take the time to view it in-person, which I highly recommend. It is unfortunate that so many similar bodies of work could be derived from the footprints that arose after its catalyst. When will all of this craziness end? My hope is that our global leaders will come up with a plan soon. Because delaying such an answer might make for some pretty remarkable art but at a price much to high to continue to pay.
Many thanks to Graydon Parrish for making this interview possible