Paint by magic: Jessica Park is known for her "Pop Architectural" works—not her disability
Art Business News, Dec, 2004 by Debbie Hagan
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"See the sun pillar?" Park asks, pointing above the roof. A vertical spray of white, resembling the beam of a spotlight, rises from below the horizon. Park's face lights up. Clearly she loves this feature.
"Isn't it rare?" her sister asks, referring to the sun pillar. "Have you ever seen one?"
"I saw a faint one because of the transit of Venus" Park says with a lilting cadence. The ends of her sentences lift, almost as if she's singing. On June 8, she and her father, a physicist, watched Venus cross the sun from the Williams College observatory.
This rare astronomical occurrence (seen and noted only five times in human history) has so impressed Park that she uses it regularly in her new work. It's in "The Chrysler Building with Perihelion and Transit of Venus #2," which is available as a limited edition, digital print by Pure Vision Arts, a nonprofit studio for artists with disabilities. The studio is part of the Shield Institute, an organization that provides services to children and adults with developmental challenges.
Park paints the top of the Chrysler Building at night. Stars pop out of the dark, as does the sun which shows the transit of Venus, a dark speck on a glowing circle. In explaining her fascination for the Chrysler building, Park says, "It's full of iridescence and silver." But in looking at the painting, it's easy to see that repetitive semicircular, Art Deco swirls enchant her too.
Numerous Manhattan sites have caught Park's eye, including the Flat Iron Building, Brooklyn Bridge, George Washington Bridge, World Financial Center, and the St. Patti's and St. Andrew's Methodist Church. Of course, she has painted sites throughout New England. One of her favorites is the Mark Twain house, in Hartford, CT, decorated with Victorian curlicues and intricate masonry.
Though Park began painting when she was six, she considers her art career as beginning around age 15, when she entered Mt. Greylock Regional High School. There she made friends with twin sisters who urged her to draw flowers, interiors and even a few portraits. Soon, she became interested in gadgets--radio dials, heaters, mileage gauges and controls for electric blankets. She painted them in crisp rainbow colors with uncanny realism--very Pop Art-like, which might remind one of work by Andy Warhol or Claes Oldenburg.
One such painting is in her dining room. Called "Heater," it is of a thermostat, with a vertical spectrum of bright colors stacked below. Park explains that this grid represents an electric heater.
Park easily progressed from this to architecture. With buildings, she could focus on minute details, repeat patterns, and use the sun-drenched colors that appeal to her. Also, buildings opened up a new element--the mysteries of the sky, one of Park's real passions. A few of her paintings have only clouds, but many feature colorful and unusual atmospheric sightings such as nacreous clouds, eclipses or rosy lightning.
Generally, Park works on commission. When possible, she personally visits the site and makes an initial drawing. "They come out better this way" says Rachel Park about her sister's work. "If you do it from a photograph, you get someone else's interpretation."
She adds, "[Jessica] sees what she sees. Very fast she picks her viewpoint."
Using a ruler and light table, Park draws the image onto Arches paper. She works in her bedroom, part of which is her studio. Next to her work table, Park stacks rows of acrylic paint tubes. "Sometimes I use them straight from the tube," says Park about her colors, "but mostly I mix."
Not only are Park's works celebrated among those who are developmentally challenged and seek inclusion, but so are those of her mother, Clara Claiborne Park. A retired English professor at Williams College, Clara Park has written two books about Jessy: "The Siege: A Family's Journey into the World of the Autistic Child" and "Exiting Nirvana" Both give an inside view of what it's like to live with and raise an autistic child.
In 2002, the Shield Institute honored both Jessica Park and her mother with a National Artistic Achievement Award. "She's a role model for other artists with disabilities," says Bodell. While an artist such as Park might have been labeled an "outsider" in years past, today Bodell thinks of her more as an insider. She says, "Jessy's an important American artist who has a communication disability that turns out to be a magical gift."
For reprints of this article, contact La Tonya Brumitt at 314-824-5504, or e-mail email@example.com.
* PureVision Arts, 212-366-4263, firstname.lastname@example.org, www.jessicapark.com.
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