Artist Collin Parson on new ways of exploring light and why he loves Pirate: Contemporary Art

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Collin Parson's Reflections explores light in a completely new way for him: by removing it. The artist's past work has used everything from LEDs to phosphorescent paint to explore the power of the glow, but Parson is relying solely on external lighting and mirrored acrylic in his new series. Reflections opens with a reception from 6 to 10 p.m. Friday, March 14 at Pirate: Contemporary Art, where it runs through March 30. In advance of the opening, we spoke to Parson about his new experiment in light, how curation affects his work as an artist, and why he loves Pirate.

See also: 100 Colorado Creatives: Collin Parson

Westword: This will be your sixth solo exhibition at Pirate. How is this one different from the past five?

Collin Parson: The past five have all incorporated internal lighting of some sort, from fluorescent to primarily color-changing LEDs. But I'm doing it differently for this exhibition, which is what every artist should do. Which is that you take a risk, and that's what Pirate's about. It's scary, putting yourself out there and trying to do something new. I removed all the internal lighting components and I've cut everything out of mirrored acrylic to use exterior lighting to show my intrigue with light and shadows. It's interesting because it kind of throws the perspective back onto the viewer. This is the next step in my continued investigation and love of light. It's a little more subtle this time, and I hope it comes across that way.

What made you want to stop using internal light and focus on external light?

I would say a lot of it was just pushing myself to see if I could not use internal lighting. It's not that it's a crutch, but that I want to be known as a light artist, but I don't want to be known as the light artist who has to always use light. There are a lot of light artists out there who use the sun, the moon, starlight, glow and the dark stuff, whatever, to get their point across. It was more of a challenge for myself. And that's not to say I won't stop doing my older type of work. A lot of times my work, when someone purchases one of my internally-lit pieces, they say they need a dark space for it and a plug to plug it in. This one, you don't. My goal is to slow the viewer down and really investigate how light interacts with the environment and the work itself.

What attracts you to working with light?

I got my undergrad and my BFA in theatrical lighting design at Boulder, so I had formal training. But I didn't like theater design because the director always had the ultimate say. As an artist, I'm the director. There's something magical about light. Think of all the Mayan temples and all these buildings that were built to celebrate the solstice or the equinox. That all has to do with light. Our universe is made of light; that's how we know it's out there. It's really intriguing to me. One piece I did is a large installation where I painted these rings with phosphorescent paint so it gets energy from the sun and it glows. I put it out in our field in our property in southern Colorado and it's just very magical to me.

You're also the curator and exhibition manager at the Arvada Center. How does curating affect the way that you create art?

It's my job, unfortunately, to tell artists, "Thanks, but no thanks." So there's a lot of pressure for me to put myself out as an artist because I'm allowing those people to say, "I don't like his art and he chose that person's art?" It really affects me because I think as a curator when I work with the artist I know the emotions, the commitment, the pure energy they put into their art, and I think it helps me understand and makes me put in extra effort to showcase their art the best we can here at the Arvada Center. And it's kind of opened up another world. There's the art administration world and then the artist world. It allows me more resources, more potential partners, more potential future artists to showcase. For Pirate, I think of myself purely as an artist. I don't have to be an administrator there.

Why do you choose to keep showing your work at Pirate?

Pirate's great. The reason Pirate exists is for exhibitions like mine and many of the other artists who show there. It's pushing the boundaries, taking risks. A lot of this work, some of it may work and some of it may not. I'll tweak it in the studio and hopefully have the experience to take it to another institution where it may be more polished. Pirate allows for that risk-taking opportunity. And the history of Pirate is just amazing. I grew up there as a kid; my dad's an artist and he showed at Pirate a couple times.

Any of the major, in my opinion, successful artists in Denver and Colorado I feel like at some point showed at Pirate either as a member or as a guest or as part of a juried exhibition. Current Pirates and former Pirates, we all have something in common. We all understand. So many artists like Monique Crine and Christine Buchsbaum, who are fellow Pirates, continue to show at Pirate and also show at all these great galleries in town as well. I think they continue to show at Pirate because it allows them a testing ground. And that's why when you go see an exhibition there it's exhibitions you would never see anywhere else because of that fact. I love Pirate. It would be a hard day for me to leave Pirate.

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