For background on the artist and works, see below.
Plain Song, Two Part Harmony – Night
Plain Song Scandinavian Suite Russet
Plain Song, Columns of Light – Spring Light
Columns of Light – Lemon & Grey
Plain Song, Songs of Light & Space – Towards Midday
Small Plain Song – Autumn
Plain Song – The Red Field
Plain Song – The Beaten Silver Plain
Plain Song, Hymns to Light – Blue Seam
About the ArtistThe rivers and reflections, dramatic skies and dust-blown hills of Marlborough and Canterbury found their way into many of the abstract paintings of leading NZ artist JS (John Shotton) Parker (1944-2017). Highly regarded by collectors nationally and internationally, JS Parker is best known for his large impasto paintings within a grid format, full of texture, rhythm and balance within his imposed framework, exploring juxtapositions of colour. He worked in thick layers of paint applied with a palette knife, sweeps of paint which he would pare back to reveal hints of what lies beneath. A keen angler and walker, Parker derived much inspiration from the Wairau River and the Wairau Diversion (The Diversion Gallery is named after one of his paintings), particularly the colours of sky and land reflected in the ‘shifting mirror’ of the flowing water. He didn’t consciously set out to paint Marlborough, but his work captured a spiritual feeling about certain places, like the river or the sea at Rarangi (Cloudy Bay). ‘Or you look up to see what the weather is doing against the hills. Water and sky are the most ephemeral kind of elements.’ Based in Marlborough, he exhibited nationally and his work is held in national public and private collections. Some of his final major works, full of energy and confidence, formed the anchor to the exhibition Colour & Surface in December 2017-January 2018, along with small studies he intended to translate to a larger scale. For more details on the works shown, including price, please click on the image.
Our exhibition to mark 20 years of the gallery is The Lightness of Being – works capturing the ineffable in paint by JS Parker, from the past two decades. He sought to express a pure spiritual light, a lightness of being, in paint – almost a contradiction – especially finding that quality in lemon light against blue or silver, soft hues in the light of the skies, or of the soul.
JS Parker emphatically returned to working on a large scale with his 2016 series, the Vertical Lyric Suite, focused on a single pulsing field of colour, anchored in space by the yin and yang of notches above and below, these sometimes also referring to colour in the landscape that falls through the painting. He followed this series with further major paintings, revelling in the return to scale, and the Mindscape works were among his last, from a painter working with confidence and fire. In 2017 he worked on delightful small studies for Hymns to Light, a favourite composition, these ultimately were never translated to large scale but we have a few of the studies available.
Two books about and by JS Parker are available from the gallery: A new book of his poems from the 1960s onwards, with delightful line drawings, published December 2017 by the Millennium Public Art Gallery, RRP $17.50; and the book JS Parker: Plain Song by Dr Damian Skinner – an excellent monograph, $30.
More About the Artist
Born in 1944, JS Parker was described in the Allgemeines Kunsterlexicon international art dictionary as ‘one of the most substantial New Zealand painters of his generation. He stood out as one whose art centres on the pursuit of an approach where vigour has greater value than refinement’.
Parker studied art at Ilam School of Fine Arts at Canterbury University and in 1975 was awarded the prestigious Frances Hodgkins Fellowship at Otago University (which is where his long friendship began with fellow painter Ralph Hotere). He ultimately settled in Marlborough and focused on the light and colours of the landscape, where he believed New Zealand’s greatest character lies. His contribution and steadfast vision was recognized in 2003 when he was awarded the Order of New Zealand Merit for 40 years of services to painting.
He constantly refined his art towards a horizon of infinite possibility, and experimented with both form and colour – ‘you are not so much creating as discovering.’
The works of this leading New Zealand painter continued to explore the nuances of light and juxtapositions of colour, often inspired by the South Island land, waters and light, sometimes by a feeling of time and place. There is also an enthusiastic following for his unique ‘black and white’ paintings, some using tar alongside white oil paint in a juxtaposition of the staunch and the vulnerable, sometimes jolted with a spike of colour. His Plain Songs refer not only to the South Island plains but also the formal structure of Gregorian chants. A music lover of wide taste, he was particularly inspired by blues, jazz and classical music; his work often shows a musical rhythm and balance, or a fine line like a high continuous note.
Parker’s impasto paintings are keenly sought after by collectors in New Zealand and overseas. His small Plain Song paintings have the freshness of discovery as Parker explored structures and linkages within a tight framework. He is best known however for his large scale paintings of about 1.2 to 2.5 metres.