Review: The Industrial Aesthetic of Father and Son Artists Collin and Chuck Parson

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Continuance: Charles and Collin Parson Colorado Springs Fine Arts Center 30 West Dale Street, Colorado Springs

Charles "Chuck" Parson is one of Colorado's preeminent abstract and conceptual sculptors, with an illustrious career that stretches back to the 1970s. His son, Collin Parson, is best known as a curator in his role as gallery exhibition manager at the Arvada Center, a part he's played brilliantly for the past several years. But Collin is also an artist who creates installations using light, and his works have been exhibited in venues such as Pirate and Z Art Department.

See also: Seventy-Year-Old New Mexico Artist Sam Scott Is Still Hitting His Marks

It's this unusual circumstance -- in which a father and son are both committed contemporary artists -- that inspired Blake Milteer, museum director at the Colorado Springs Fine Arts Center, to put their works together in Continuance: Charles and Collin Parson. Though Chuck and Collin have, on a few occasions, found themselves in the same exhibit, this is the first time the two have been brought together in a major effort. The show runs for another month and is well worth the trip to the Springs.

Although for obvious reasons it seems logical to link the two, the connection between their work is not so readily apparent. That's because, in some sense, they come from opposite poles. Chuck's pieces have an emphatic presence; they are made of repurposed industrial materials and convey a sense of weight and monumentality. Collin's works are often light -- literally -- since he sometimes uses hidden LEDs, the glow of which is projected onto the walls and has no actual physical presence except on a molecular level.

So is there any association whatsoever? "They share an interest in an industrial aesthetic," Milteer notes, and he's right. And I would add that, as different as their respective oeuvres are, they are both working, in a broad sense, with conceptual abstraction. The distinction is that Chuck can be grandfathered into the late-modernist category, while Collin is too young for that and thus falls into the neo-modernist one.

Although there's a major wall piece by Collin at the base of the CSFAC's grand staircase and one by Chuck at the top, the show proper gets under way in the galleries, with each artist having his own dedicated space and aesthetic: The Collin section was organized by curator Joy Armstrong, and the Chuck section was curated by Milteer.

Collin comes first, and the wide corridor that does double duty as an exhibition space is lined with wall works done in laser-cut mirrored acrylic panels. For visual interest, these works rely on the subtle appeal of the pierced geometric patterns in the mirrored panels and the shadows they cast onto the walls behind. But undeniably, the crescendo of the younger Parson's selections occurs in the first large gallery accessed off the corridor. This room has been darkened (even a vertical box window has been covered over) and is lit only by the LEDs that are included in the works here.

These pieces are site-specific and were custom-made for this show. Entering the space, you can't miss the tour de force "Untitled," from the artist's "Divided" series. It's gigantic yet incredibly simple in form. A huge, flat circle of wood floats a few inches out from the wall, running from just above the floor to just below the very high ceiling. Behind the face of the circle, Collin has installed hidden strips of RGB LED lights that adhere to either side of the armature that holds the circle. One strip faces the circle's interior, filling the space within it with light; the other strip is adhered to the exterior circumference, so that it bathes the walls around it in light.

Using an Arduino controller, Collin has pre-set the lights so that they continually change color in a leisurely progression. Since one strip of lights faces inside and the other is outside the circle, a duality is set up in which the work is seen as having only one pair of contrasting colors at a time. Those colors, though, are constantly in flux. There are a handful of other works in the space that utilize the same technology. These other lighted works are essentially rectilinear and have a pierced pattern. The colors Collin is able to create are stunning, being deeply saturated in tone.

The mood that's struck in the two large galleries that hold Chuck's work marks a radical shift in the exhibit. Whereas there's a nighttime feeling to Collin's pieces, Chuck's are all about daylight. In the gallery immediately adjacent to the darkened Collin space, Chuck has constructed a site-specific installation from his "Still and Centered Point" series that involves a panoramic view of the horizon at Sisu, a tract of land in southern Colorado that he maintains as an art retreat. The "Still and Centered Point" piece comprises white-painted I-beams raised up on simple legs with flat square bases. These I-beam constructions have been set up in a cruciform that creates a fence defining a walkway set within it. At the intersection of the two paths at the center is a plate of patterned steel that makes noise when visitors walk over it.

On the walls of the gallery, completely surrounding the piece save for the doorways, are panels of paper linked together and placed behind sheets of transparent acrylic accented with shiny hardware, creating a horizontal band that runs around the room. The piece is a signature one for the artist, with its use of connecting hardware such as steel beams, bars and plates -- which he links to the joints in a figure -- as well as its white paint and clear acrylic sheets.

Less well known is Chuck's longtime interest in the landscape. And not only is "Still and Centered Point" a conceptual reference to the landscape, but it also shows off the artist's traditional drawing skills: The sheets of paper that line the walls feature actual views of the landscape rendered realistically in graphite. The whole thing really works, and it will leave you breathless when you first take it all in.

The second gallery of Chuck's work is also impressive and takes up the same cause of combining drawing with sculpture and non-objective abstraction with realism. In this section are a good-looking installation, some sculptures, and a bunch of graphite drawings encased in constructivist compositions made of clear acrylic.

Continuance is the latest example of the Milteer-led effort to showcase the state's most significant artists in important solos at the CSFAC. In addition to the Parsons, the list thus far includes Terry Maker, Floyd Tunson, Carley Warren, Matt O'Neill and many others. It's a decidedly worthy cause.

Turn the page to see more photos from Continuance.

Continuance: Charles and Collin Parson Through February 15 at the Colorado Springs Fine Arts Center, 30 West Dale Street, Colorado Springs, 719-634-5583, csfineartscenter.org.

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