By Gabriel Salazar
To start this year’s Visiting Artists Series, husband and wife Robert and Shana ParkeHarrison took the stage at Mayo Concert Hall on Wednesday, Oct. 8, to discuss themes present in their photography and sculpture, as well as the influences behind their art.
They started their first project “The Architect’s Brother” in 1995 as an exploration of the sometimes destructive relationship between man, technology and nature. Their artwork conveys the bleak and surrealistic relationship between humans and nature and how sustainability, at the same time, remains a sliver of hope.
“We made (‘The Architect’s Brother’) in the ’90s before it got real,” Shana said, speaking about the state of the environment as a global issue.
As a presentation of their different works of art were projected on a screen, the ParkeHarrisons discussed how they wish to affect the viewer of their artwork.
“We want to hit the viewer in the gut with something visceral, then rise in the body in an intellectual way,” Shana said. In addition, Robert said that the duo “(wants) to play with your sense of reality.”
They elaborated on three main themes present in their body of work: nature, humans and technology.
Describing themselves as “from the Midwest, suburban and middle class,” the ParkeHarrisons felt the need to make art that would transcend race and be easily relatable for any viewer. From this starting point, the theme of the everyman appeared in their work. Using this artistic vehicle, the artists hoped that viewers of their work would be able to put themselves into the image and witness the despair caused by the interaction between humans and nature.
One of the main points both artists emphasized is their desire to challenge the viewer’s perception of reality through different mediums. Their artwork is not just a simple photograph, but rather different artistic techniques to enhance the experience of the viewer.
The couple also discussed challenges, particularly the struggle to decide what artistic medium could be most effective. The question of what will impress the viewer the most is one they constantly ask themselves.
For example, they paint over the photographs and use certain parts of other photos to achieve a multidimensional look — props that were used in their work were presented to the audience as well.
The shift they took from black and white art to color not only altered their style, but also the themes in them. “We became too comfortable with black and white,” Shana said.
They took a couple of years off, did research and created new imagery. Their shift from black and white to color was accompanied with a different way of thinking, as well.
In their past works, the human was the focus, but in their colored works, nature has become the protagonist.
A third form of art they ventured into was sculpture. They worked with shoemakers to create some of their pieces independently from their other artwork. Their largest sculpture to date is seven feet tall.
After an hour of speaking, the ParkeHarrisons opened the floor for questions from the audience. Many questioned the prevailing theme of despair in the work.
“There’s always a balance, but it tips toward despair,” Shana said. “There’s some amount of hope, the possibility of turning the other way as a race.”