Being creative has been Charles Parson’s major occupation for close to fifty years, and the scope of what that entails is impressive: Large-scale sculptures, murals and drawings rendered with skill and an architectural eye all define his prolific art practice. But Parson has also found time over the years to teach, to create illustrations and murals for the Denver Museum of Nature & Science and to play the guitar and bass. In the present, Parson’s role as a mentor continues at RedLine, where he’s currently a resource resident, sharing his knowledge and expertise with younger artists.
This has already been a banner year for Parson, with three exhibitions — two in tandem with his artist sons, Collin and Devon — under his belt since January, and more on the way (details below). Learn more about Parson’s outlook and drive as an artist as he answers the Colorado Creatives questionnaire.
Westword: What (or who) is your creative muse?
Charles Parson: My creative muse has always included poetry and music — but most specifically, the western horizon line (the reason I moved out west in 1974). Nature and the individual’s space and time we each occupy on this horizon line has been and continues to be the driving inspiration and force of my artwork.
Which three people, dead or alive, would you like to invite to your next party, and why?
My late father-in-law, Paul Kermiet, whom I most aspire to “live up to.” I’d probably want a lunch rather than a party, to be able to talk with all three of these folks (partially because I’d be playing bass in the band at the party and not be able to visit). I have always been inspired by his life: for his drive, his giving to others, his value and support of family, as well as for his intelligence and willingness to stand, at times alone, in his ethical beliefs; and his creativity in all aspects of his time here, with his absolute love of life and the result being his having lived a full life.
The second person at this lunch would be Teddy Roosevelt, similar in description to my father-in-law. But I’d love to just sit and listen to his speaking, as he apparently found a balance of those things I also value, such as the richness of what nature can offer us — spiritually affected, yet counterpointed with the incredible sense he had of the human condition in an ever-changing world.
The third person would be essayist, writer and farmer Wendell Berry. Again, he has similar strengths as listed in my previous two individuals, being a person who even now is pulling the most out of life in his elder years, while also giving so much to others. His blend of the most basic sensibilities, as rooted in his farming and family background, have always been a plinth for his philosophical and spiritual awareness of the richness of what life can offer in good and bad times. This has seemingly always been perceived in his writings as one of his greatest strengths.
A lunch, simultaneously, with these three would be a gift. They would merge, conflict, reason, and speak with strength and vigor. It would be a peculiar yet potentially insightful moment, as I do think they would all be interested in one another. What I feel would come out of this would be their perceptions of what needs to be valued and maintained, juxtaposed with what needs to dissipate into the past, evolving into the present…letting go. I would really listen.
What’s the best thing about the local creative community in your field — and the worst?
Best: For me, personally, artistically, the strength of living out here in the contemporary West is the space, the horizon and the Western aesthetic, now additionally cultivated through our culture, making the opportunity of living here unique to this time and place and incredibly vital.
Worst: What is not seen by others’ eyes in the U.S., as well as the world, is this uniqueness spoken of in the previous paragraph, driven by the Western experience. Unfortunately, I feel many who perceive the arts that are genuinely made here, reflecting this time and place, don’t know how to decipher its language and sensibilities. This lack of the deeper reflection on this seems to result in the current emergence of a globally-based, digital generation of creatives who seem to be at times saturated in the immediacy of the moment, but less in the deeper reflective climate that the West offers. There seems to be developing today a missing link to what is viscerally unique right here; as a paraphrasing of the Navajo prayer reflects, “What is above me, what is below me, what is in front of me, what is behind me.” Instead there seems to be developing an immersion in the saturation of the broader global, urban and technological experience, but not being grounded in this place.
What’s your dream project?
Not to sound arrogant, but I think I am living my dream project. I came out west 45 years ago after a bicycle ride though the Utah desert, during which I fell in love with the West’s horizon line. Since then I have done, in as creative a way as possible, what I needed to make a living and try to provide for my family’s needs — all this while maintaining simultaneously an ongoing full-time role as a visual artist, never sacrificing either aspect of my life. The ultimate goal was to live a full, rich life, with the good and bad bringing a richness of awareness. And having as much freedom as possible in my fine arts as opposed to the income-producing differing roles I played. Part of that initial dream was to merge both urban and rural cultures.
These two aspects of my life played out into a more defined opportunity two decades ago. Living both in the Denver-based urbanization with its own exciting energy, contrasted with the remote, rural sensibilities of the family-built private art retreat we’ve had for almost two decades in southern Colorado, was a beginning fulfillment of this initial dream from that bicycle ride. The art that I make now comes directly from those two ongoing living experiences, which encapsulates my initial dream, which I started in 1974. It is an open-ended dream that never will be complete, but I never have waited to live it, instead taking repeated unknown steps toward always developing and then maintaining it.
You’ve come this far in life. What’s still on your bucket list?
As a recent retiree from full-time college teaching, I aspire to still connect and mentor the next generation of creatives. Simultaneously my bucket list has become more restrained because I sought to fulfill it by age forty, with the remainder of my life being perceived as “icing on the cake.” I still seek an incredible amount of time alone in solitude, which continues to be one of my biggest needs as an artist. I seek now to spend as much quality time as I can with my wife of 42 years, as well as with my three grown children and their respective families. The goal of both solitude and family allows participation and observation, ideally watching and playing whatever part in the fulfilling of their dreams. I aspire to just spend real quality time in all endeavors and continue to grow with family and the friends, finding sanctuary in every moment of whatever I am doing. Corny, but that's it.
Colorado, love it or leave it? What keeps you here — or makes you want to leave?
It’s my home. I feel both grounded and rooted here now.
Who is your favorite Colorado Creative?
Many come to mind. But by far, one of the most influential persons to me, and of major impact to the Colorado, national and international literary scene, is publisher Fred Ramey. He is also a writer of fiction as well as an essayist and critic, a quiet poet, a well-known editor and renowned publisher; on the side, he is a musician and a great blues singer. His various pursuits in maintaining the literary excellence of culturally based publishing of wonderful writers of fiction have been esteemed by the national press applauding his support of so much maintenance of high quality, deeply moving and thoughtful literature, affecting many. His newest publishing venture, Leaping Man, is working to present creative landmarks that are not market-based, but whose value is culturally based.
What's on your agenda in the coming year?
Currently I am exhibiting at the Lakewood Cultural Center with my two sons, Collin and Devon Parson, at a show titled Three Views. This exhibition runs through March 28. I have another show with my sons up through March 30 at the Durango Art Center. My next one-person exhibit at the gallery that represents me, on Santa Fe Drive, Mai Wyn Fine Arts, opens March 15. I am continuing my new residency as a resource artist as part of the RedLine mentor program, occasionally supplementing that with teaching workshops and artist talks. I will be installing a permanent exterior sculpture at the new Kirkland Museum late this year, as well as participating in a group exhibit celebrating the book Colorado Abstract at the Arvada Center this fall. I will continue to install sculptures this summer at our 35-acre art retreat in southern Colorado, and will be completing a new mural to install in the nearby area. Leaping Man publishing will be developing a book with an overview of my drawings as part of their ongoing series of creative endeavors.
Who do you think will (or should) get noticed in the local arts community in the coming year?
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So many are deserving. As mentioned previously, Fred Ramey is one. Longtime sculptor, educator and artistic icon Robert Mangold is another, as he gets close to his ninetieth year. His longtime impact in the area, as well as nationally, needs more recognition. The incredible spirit of RedLine and the wide-open climate of providing artistic support and freedom there is orchestrated in such a positive, constructive manner under the incredibly organic leadership of director Louise Martorano — another person to consider.
Horizon’s Harmonies, a solo exhibition of new sculpture and dimensional drawings by Charles Parson, opens with a reception on Friday, March 15, from 6 to 8 p.m., and runs through April 13 at Mai Wyn Fine Arts.
Parson will also contribute to Colorado Abstract +10: A Survey, an exhibition opening at the Arvada Center on September 12 in collaboration with the Kirkland Museum of Fine & Decorative Art.
Learn more about Charles Parson and his work online.