NORTH ADAMS - Artist Derek Parker's most recent inspiration for a new body of work came from the most unlikely experience - an attempt to be part of a reality television show that resulted in a fresh way of looking at his creativity.
Parker's work is part of "Speculative Strategies," with wife Anne Roecklein, which is now on view at the Eclipse Mill Gallery. A reception is scheduled for Saturday, July 7, at 6 p.m. The couple also curated The Phylogeny Projects at the Branch Gallery at 18 Holden St. as part of Downstreet Art.
"Angular Momentum," a sculpture consisting entirely of hammers and nails in a wall, represents a turning point in Parker's work, and the new creative direction came from an unlikely experience - an audition for a reality TV show. Parker had been urged by several friends to answer a casting call for "Work of Art: The Next Great Artist," which ran on the Bravo Network, and decided that he might as well give it a shot.
"The line wrapped around an entire city block," Parker said. "I went in and showed them my portfolio and they were like, 'we love it, you're great, you're going to the next level. Walk out the door and there's a guy there who has a piece of paper. Read it and follow those instructions.' I went out there and the guy handed me a piece of paper, and he's like good luck, and it basically said to make a sculpture that uses a hammer."
The challenge for Parker was to ignore his background in fabrication, which allows him to build
"The title 'Angular Momentum' comes from the movement of that lever action over the fulcrum of the hammer when you're removing the nail, and similarly, when you're pounding a nail, your arm becomes a part of the equation as much as the hammer itself," Parker said. "That's where that idea came from, and I started thinking about the repetition, how it's pretty rare that you just pound one nail. It's this repetitive process that created this wave motion. I went along the wall and made a mark and drilled the nail to a specific depth and then the wave pattern of depths in the wall is transmitted through the hammers."
That piece helped propel Parker to the final round as one of the last 50 people from which the 13 contestants were chosen. He didn't make the show, but what he took away from the attempt might have given more to him, in retrospect.
"It was a pretty interesting experience to be under a glass, and have it be not just about whether your art was good," he said. "You were jumping through a whole series of hoops. I was finishing up grad school at the time and that was a whole other set of hoops that you had to jump through, but they were different hoops. It was good to have somebody force you into a paradigm shift that may have not come to yourself. It was a surprise to me to have that realization myself, which is why I really enjoy that piece and what manifested out of that whole process."
It was exactly the sort of change Parker needed to move on with his art work, which meant imposing some structure on his practice that meant he couldn't just pull from his bag of tricks to achieve whatever he wanted. There needed to be more of a challenge and an element of problem solving.
"Coming from such a strong fabrication background, I hit a point where I wasn't excited about making things anymore," Parker said, "because as soon as I could imagine them in my head, I would immediately say, oh, I know how to make that, and I lost the excitement and discovery when you have to work through a project and figure things out. I started setting rules for myself."
Parker developed his rules while working on "Cut From The Same Cloth," which had him take two shirts - his father's and his own - cut sections out of them and applying traditional paper-folding techniques to the sections.
"The rules I set out for myself are that I can only manipulate this material in the fashion that this material would normally be manipulated," said Parker. "It would have been very easy to coat it with Fiberglas or resin and I could have made the thing stand up and do some weird things, but that whole piece is only cut with fabric scissors and ironed and starched. There's no smoke and mirrors. I was excited to deconstruct what the material could do and then re-visualize how it could become something else."
This set into motion Parker's own relationship with the materials he chooses, which is not so much about reuse as it is reimaging. Given any item, Parker will spend time with it in order to figure out the possibilities of how to manipulate it with his own rules applied to the process. "I usually do sit with the materials for a long, long time, and I'll fiddle and turn it upside down and put it away in a drawer and come back to it a week later, and then finally, it will be so simple and so obvious," Parker said. "You wonder why you didn't think of it right away, but you can't think of it right away because usually something I've picked up on already has some use that your brain just doesn't want to let go of. It takes awhile to imagine of what it could be."
Parker cautions to not take the show at face value, however- he's not breaking rules so much as interpreting them in a creative way.
"You could very easily go into the show and say, there's the kind of artist who re-purposes material, but that's not really what's happening," he said. "The show is representative of that process of accepting the material to use and then imposing the rules upon myself to only use whatever method or tools or tricks or whatever you would normally use for that material, I use that, and I just figure out a way to make it something interesting and beautiful to look at rather than doing what it's normally supposed to do."
Parker can be found online at derekparkerart.com.