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Tom Parish has spent more than two-thirds of nearly eighty years of life creating illusionistic oil paintings. Although Parish, Professor Emeritus at Wayne State University, remains in the Detroit area to live and paint out his remaining years capturing the visual poetry of Venice, Italy, he rarely exhibits a group of paintings in the Motor City. Fortunately the Ellen Kayrod Gallery in mid-town Detroit has eight of Parish’s large paintings of the Venice Landscape on display. Educated at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, Parish’s various art-scene influences run the gamut, but his internal homing device always seems to keep his beacon on illusionistic imagery cloaked in mystery. His body of work spans two thematic periods. From approximately 1960 to 1990 he painted foreign-like structures in an industrial landscape viewed from above. Then from 1990 to the present he has led his audience on a poetic journey through the Venetian landscape. Capturing perspectives in light doubled by reflections from undulating forms of water and architecture, Parish produces magical realism, to use a literary term, manipulating and imagining reality in such a way as to share with the viewer his romantic interpretations.
In the painting Arrival, Parish sets up his way with water to lure the viewer into his composition. Bringing the viewer forward, he delivers on a favorite theme, a kind of elegance that the sea and salt dispatches over time. The bricks of a canal wall become the backdoor to a simple abstraction, part and parcel of an overall realistic landscape image.
Va Diretto capitalizes on a Venetian footbridge used by pedestrians to cross a small internal canal. Giving equal weight to the light and its reflection, Parish’s juxtaposition of red brick with the blue and white of the traghetti docking poles, serves as an invitation to the courtyard behind the brick arch. Letting our eyes rest on the walkway, we imagine the water taxi has just left, and realize how much we long to travel there.
Sinking over the centuries due to natural processes, building on closely spaced wooden piles and the pumping up of freshwater from an aquifer deep beneath the city Venice remains in a state of rebuilding. In the painting Grattacielo Veneziano, Parish seizes on a construction site along a canal and plays with the contrast of the water and its reflection against the semi transparent protective tarp covering the renovation. Here the mystery appears straight forward, and less subtle.
Occasionally drawn to open water paintings in his earlier work, he depicted luxury boats departing on a sojourn we could only imagine. Water, light and reflection dominates the painting Memoria. The spacious composition, depicting an older Vaporetto, creates a moment in time where we peer in on the action through a lens of nostalgia.
Through Parish’s eyes, Venice, a once marshy lagoon built on an archipelago of islands, transforms into place with quiet moments of architecture and light that we yearn for.
The exhibit runs May 3 – June 21, 2013.
Ellen Kayrod Gallery
4750 Woodward Avenue
Detroit, MI 48201
Ron Scott is a pseudonym for a writer based in the Detroit area. View more articles by Ron Scott.