The Alameda painter ponders Alameda’s pastoral innocence and contentment.
Alameda painter Ginny Parsons has been wondering something about her town. In work for an exhibit at Rhythmix Cultural Works in Alameda in July entitled Alameda as Arcadia, she asked: Is Alameda a place of pastoral innocence and contentment?
The exhibit of fairy tale watercolors with bedraggled birds included a talk by Eric J. Kos, Alameda historian and co-founder of the Alameda Sun. The question is a continual concern and reference point for the artist in her work.
Inspired by nature, she paints with everything but the kitchen sink, incorporating materials like household cleaning products, dirt, glue, and bacon grease along with miscellaneous bits of daily life into the more traditional media of acrylic paint, photos, and beeswax. Capturing landscapes, still life, and other abstracted beauty, Parsons deeply layers and builds onto canvas and wood, the latter found washed up in the estuary, from San Leandro Bay or salvaged during Coastal Cleanup projects, and used as a primary surface.
Parsons considers herself an intuitive painter who works spontaneously, employing methods of dripping, splattering, and scratching. “I also paint over my work, so one canvas might have eight different layers,” she said. As an artist who creates a lot of work but doesn’t want to leave too much behind, she repurposes her canvases in a sort of revolving door of creation. “Once paintings come down from a show, I work right over the top of them,” she added.
Raised in Chico, Parsons completed a B.A. in graphic design at California State University, Chico in 1985. Parsons also took painting classes at San Francisco School of Art and San Francisco State University in the 1980s and ’90s. She considers other artists who have gone before as her “spirit guides,” rather than referring to them as direct influences. American painter Richard Diebenkorn, Matisse, and Monet are the artists she most often goes to for questions on color, line, and form. Andy Goldsworthy, who reorganizes natural materials into sculptural installations, is also a reference point in her work. Her children have also been guides, with Parsons following their lead of free, uninhibited drawing. But her connection to nature is her primary inspiration. In fact, she hangs paintings outdoors to invite continual collaboration with nature and its elements.
Before getting into her studio for the day, which is in the dining room of her Alameda home with a gate to Lincoln Park, the first thing she does is take a walk. Heading out to the water, Parsons follows the waves and the birds, the crabs and the plants. Once back home, the structure of her work comes from photos taken of the natural world and the freedom to manipulate and play with the unusual materials she weaves into her textured paintings. “I like to involve chance, which is why I often choose found surfaces for my work,” she said.
Parsons doesn’t particularly care what people experience when they look at her artwork. She creates for the process and doesn’t think about the viewing experience. For works from her landscape and still life series, however, Parsons incorporated photos taken while stuck in traffic and she wonders if we will think about one thing: She would like people to get out of their cars and walk more often, maybe contemplate the spaces where orchards once stood and the fate of other threatened or vanishing natural landscapes. As for the exploration and the answer to the question she posed for herself in her Alameda as Arcadia series, Parsons is still pondering the theme. “Sometimes it seems like a place of innocence and contentment and other days it seems like we are in trouble, like we are heading towards rising seas and high-priced homes that only tech millionaires can afford,” Parsons said.
Besides being an artist, Parsons runs Ginny’s Art Camp for kids. She is married with two children who are now in college, she swims at Lincoln Pool, and hangs out with her neighbors. “I’ve lived on Liberty Avenue in Alameda for 20 years and plan to never move,” she said. Ginny Parsons curates and exhibits her work at Rhythmix Cultural Works in Alameda with an upcoming exhibit in May/June 2020 and Gray Loft Gallery in Oakland’s Jingletown neighborhood. For more information about her work, visit her website at GinnyParsons.net.